Research Map 003: Sander Van Dijk on Animalators

In follow up from Sander Van Dijk’s After Effects Features Wish List, I listened to an interview with him on the Animalators Podcast. As a series, Animalators is proving very useful as its actually very valuable to hear insights from motion designers about topics relevant to the industry.


At the beginning of the podcast, they listed off a brief overview of Sander’s career. His contribution to Blend Vancouver was mentioned in passing but I wanted to note it down since it is a conference which serves as an annual hotbed of ideas for the motion design industry, and I believe it also feeds the growing DIY culture.

Sander’s creative career started when he studied architecture, he comments that he thinks it is closely related to motion design as he has used carpentry and lego time and again both in front and behind the camera.

Moving now into the body of the podcast, Sander explains that he decided to leave his job at Buck due to a mismatch of values. He was doing a lot of advertising jobs and eventually he realised that many of the largest brands sell us things that aren’t particularly good for us. Think fast food, fizzy drinks etc. Sander left to freelance so he could regain control of his practice. The freedom to pick and choose to projects he works on helps him to define himself as a designer.

To change the world we need to change ourselves.

Still, there are a lot of for-profit companies doing good work, Buck and Giant Ant included. As a freelancer, the best way to stay aligned morally is to choose and reach out to companies who are changing their business model to a more sustainable one. Work with people who share your vision and your work will shine if it is what you believe in.

You only need to looks at gifs and emojis to see that visual communication is becoming more central to our lives. As it becomes more important, so too do the tools we use to create them. This is one of the driving motives behind Sander’s work to improve After Effects with his own contributions to the DIY culture that surrounds motion graphics. At the moment motion graphics is used for advertising first and foremost. However, there is potential as we progress through the digital age, to make it do more and achieve more. He wants to progress the tools we use, to make it easier to create visuals and nurture visual communication to its full potential.

Once people can imagine a better world they can start building it, and share that vision with other people.

Sander believes in the power of motion design to show and share a vision. I think that he created this wish list for the same reason: to help people imagine and share in his vision of a better After Effects.

In this interview they also touch upon another article in motionographer about trends and how they can come about from one piece of work. Sander comments that:

Original work originates from you asking what style fits best to this project.

He says that exploring the changing landscape of mediums (VR, 360 video) also helps foster ideas for original work. I’m going to look further into this article at a later date, as I think it will help the point i’m planning to cover in my dissertation about how rubberhose has affected the appearance of character designs across the motion design board.


A.03: Research Map 004: A conversation with Jay Payne

Today I had a conversation with my tutor Jay about my project, but also more widely, the culture of Ad Hoc, DIY modifications both digital and physical. He made some interesting points, which I was able to note down.

For context, Jay Payne is a lecturer at the University of Huddersfield and a practising animator. He is undergoing a PHD and his specialism covers Adobe After Effects and Cinema 4D. Jay’s input is incredibly useful to me as he has been in the industry much longer than I have, and can personally recall the development that After Effects (and our attitude toward it) has undergone over time.


To begin with, as I explained the area of research I’d be undertaking, he suggested I look up Gmunk, (Alias for Bradley G Munkovich) a technical developer who’s work surrounds modifications and hacking. He even delivers lectures, so I’ll be sure to have a look for those later.

In response to my idea for Ad Hac, Jay told me that the beginning to his involvement with hacking and modifying was with clothes. Rooting from a frustration with what was available to him in stores, “they never were quite the style that I wanted..” he began to make his own clothes.

Jay is dually interested in building and tinkering with physical objects as he is with code and software.

Upon reflection, I think many of us are, Sander Van Dijk’s career began in carpentry, and even I’ve been invested in both physical and digital modifications…

In many cases, Jay’s included, most tinkering of the traditional kind happens where you might expect: the garden shed. I have my own memories of building and modifying go-karts and bike ramps to play with. But I never used a workroom or shed, perhaps my age or gender was a factor, or perhaps it’s just simply because in my case the family shed was too full of junk to function as a workroom.

As I think and remember more examples of things I’ve built a modified myself, I start to fall a little off topic. Which examples are relevant enough to be included in Ad Hac? What constraints should I put in place? Why does it feel like ‘changing the image for the cusor on school computers’ and ‘making own clothes’ are on topic but ‘building a bike ramp’ is not? I’ll need to find more examples to investigate this. (See AdHac 001)

Jay also mentioned that he thinks many consumers (that’s all of us) feel a wall of detachment between them and the designer/builder/engineer of the product they’re using. And when the product doesn’t meet our needs, we are constrained by the role we assume (the consumer) to not take action by rebuilding or modifying it. Of course maybe a warrantee agreement or contract may stop you from tinkering with electronics, but there is also this unspoken rule of ‘user doesn’t create, user consumes’. Jay has his own ethos that drives him to break through this wall, and it is simply that ‘if a human being designed this’ I can too.

Curiosity plays a major part in this tinkering attitude too, so maybe this is the catalyst that septal users who use and users who modify. Maybe the reason why media authoring software is more often modified by its users than any other subset of software is because of this curiosity trait its users (creatives) all share.

Jay thinks that everyone to an extent has this trait, but the separation here is when the curiosity overrides the doubt. Perhaps this is when thinkers (wonderers) become do-ers.

Sander Van Dijk’s After Effects Wish List

In August 2015 Sander Van Dijk released a project he had been working on for a while. It was an in depth and fully visualised wish list of changes he thinks should be made to the way After Effects operates.

Many of these suggested changes are small and easy to incorporate (Like a suggested keyboard shortcut for trimmimg down the work area). Some of the suggestions, involve a complete reimagining of the way we deal with properties (Like the concept for Parent in Time).

Reading through all of his suggestions, I can really get to grips with Sander’s frame of mind. Of course as an experienced motion designer, he is used to communicating his vision, and this shows. It’s equally as interesting to read the reactions, and comments from other motion designers.

Screen Shot 2016-12-05 at 06.02.58.jpg

What I admire about this project is that Sander is sucessfully starting a conversation among motion designers by presenting his suggestions first, then asking people to vote on the ideas, comment their opinions/criticisms and suggest their own features.

I was especially excited to see other influential figures in the industry comment their thoughts. Like for instance EJ Hassenfratz, who is responsible for practically 90% of the shared knowledge currently online surrounding flat motion graphics in C4d.

Screen Shot 2016-12-05 at 06.14.57.png

I liked his comment so much that I adopted it as a working title for my dissertation.


Research Map 002: Software Takes Command p39-42

As my research widens itself, the key I established for this mindmap must grow with it. The new colour code is as follows:

  • Grey is neutral
  • Purple denotes facts and events that can be used in my timeline
  • Blue denotes my own ideas and arguments
  • Green denotes other people’s arguments or ideas that fall on my side
  • Orange denotes other people’s arguments or ideas that I’m not sure about/have no opinion on
  • Red denotes other people’s arguments or ideas that I don’t agree with

light = ideas
dark = arguments

Below i’ve mapped out the points that came about as I read pages 39-42. I flagged up this section of the book to read through in an earlier post. Although I set out to read only these 3 pages, my natural course of reading took me a earlier points in the book too; around page 20 where Manovich defined Cultural Software and page 17 where he commented on the increase of public interest in programming.


Manovich begins this section of the book by pointing out that public knowledge of the history, development and pioneers of cultural software is severely lacking. Compared to the history of literature, cinema, architecture and other cultural practices, our knowledge and, more widely our interest in the development and turning points of the development of software does not match up to the impact that it has made to our way of life.

One idea I had that sprung from this is that, possibly, DIY culture could be a remedy to this. As users of media authoring software, our involvement (especially online) in DIY modifications could be the gateway to improving our awareness. Since the development of software is becoming ever more user-influenced, perhaps people will be more in tune with the origin of new techniques and software capabilities as a result.

The only reservation I have about Manovich’s point on this, is that he is referring here to Cultural Software as a whole. Whereas I think this is true for all cultural software, I’d like to focus more specifically on media authoring software, this will enable me to made more pinpoint suggestions and arguments, rather than trying to apply an idea to the whole spectrum of cultural software.

My current stance on this argument is that currently this may be the case, however there is evidence to suggest that the situation may change in the future, not only for media authoring software – where I expect the phenomenon of DIY software modification to bring us around to a more informed position – but also more widely, in all form of cultural software culture. This idea came from reading over p17 where Manovich states, with reference to the article “A Surge in Learning the Language of the Internet” (March 27, 2012), that there has recently been a significant increase in people taking an interest in programming, through night classes and online learning platforms. Its clear that there is a shift in interest taking place, and I believe that a rise in public knowledge of software pioneers will follow, delayed as it may be. Still, this falls in line with the quote Manovich used at the beginning of the section:

Every description of the world substantially lags behind its actual development.

I also had to read back through the book to define cultural software. My definition, which is now in my glossary is as follows:


On p27 I found an interesting point about the ‘habit’ that content-access software has to ‘leak’ into the neighbouring realm of content-creation software. We hardly ever have software that stays in it’s box: ‘access’ becomes ‘access + authoring’. This gave me the idea that maybe this is simply a mirror to our inability to be content with one task/job/function? Maybe this is why ‘authoring’ becomes ‘authoring and modifying’.

I agree with Manovich that the reason for the dip in public interest when it comes to the history and background of software is largely due to what is commodifyable and what is not. Old movies, art, and video games can still be sold as separate entities to their modern counterparts, but the very nature of software -that it builds and improves upon itself – means that it does not generate the same public interest. I believe that is due to to the split between content and technology. People still want old content, but old tech is pretty much useless and counterintuitive to buy.


Research Map 001


This is the first installment of my research map, after reading the introduction of Software Takes Command and setting out the ideas and potential areas of interest for my dissertation in order to write my Abstract.

Orange denotes facts and events in the brief history of After Effects and its community of users. Blue denotes ideas (light) and arguments (dark) that can be explored in my dissertation.

SimpleMind also allows me to make notes on the individual bubbles. I’m using this to escreen-shot-2016-11-13-at-23-14-14xpand on those points, and get down the ideas and frame of mind I was in when I created them. Some notes have flagged up issues and areas that require more research. Beneath each update from now on, I will be recording the queries that arise every time I make a modification to the map.

Innovation in Motion Graphics?
How does innovation come about in the motion graphics industry?
How do trends, new styles and techniques come about?

Ownership, originality & creativity
Where will new ideas come from?
If you use a plugin/template/script is it your work?

Commodifying,copyright and copyleft
Does Adobe encourage this activity?
Should be market be kept open?
Should individuals profit from their contributions?

Is the sandpit infinte?
How much open source material is too much?
Will this ever become privatised/controlled/comodified?

Past and future factors
How the role of DIY culture has changed over time and in phase with the fluctuation of trends. How it is expecting to change.

Planning a Research Approach

On November 15th, I will be attending Sauce, it’s a talk at Animade in London and it will be the first time I have networked with the Motion Graphics community since I began my project. This is my first chance to collect some good quality primary research that will flesh out my dissertation argument and inform my FMP work and Special Study.

In order to make the most of this trip, I need to prepare. This involves:

  • Building my knowledge of what happening in the industry, so I am up-to-date, and know what i’m talking about
  • Reading around my dissertation literature, so I can pin-point the important topics/questions/argument and use this to…
  • …prepare what questions I need to ask
  • Lastly, prepare a research collection approach that fits nicely into the causal social context (will I pose the questions at the event and ask for quotes over email? always keep thinking… do I want quantity or quality?)

From these bullet points, I have begun to formulate a more indepth plan, across the next two weeks, I need to conduct 3 different types of research,

  • Firstly, I need to read Software Takes Command and formulate my argument structure, by mind mapping the important parts and use it to develop my questions.
  • Secondly, I need to listen to the animators podcast, prioritising the episodes with people who develop plugins and scripts for After Effects
  • Thirdly, i’ll read articles on motionographer, again prioritising the ones that surround modifications to After Effects.

I was expecting originally to create 2 separate mind maps out of this process: One for important people and turning points in the industry (as I mentioned earlier in the week, this in itself could turn into an output of its own, in the form of a timeline), and another highlighting the points and arguments surrounding DIY culture in motion design. Now however, due to the fluidity and interchangeability of my research, I think I would benefit from having one mind map that holds both. I can then use colour to define where each item sits on the spectrum from Event or Fact to Idea or Argument.

This changes my Progress Bar model plan but only slightly, it is the nature of that model to be easily altered depending on shifts in my ideas.