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Exclusive Interview with Harry Frank

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Read Time: 8 min

I had the pleasure of meeting Harry Frank, the founder of Graymachine a resourceful website filled with various tutorials and many articles related to the industry. He is a popular freelancer and a veteran in Motion Graphics and is extremely popular for his training series "After Effects Expressions" and his training series on Trapcode products.

The Interview:

First of all, Thank you very much for doing this & Can you briefly tell us how did you get into the industry?

It was a very gradual process. I had a college major in Audio production and at that time, I was an audio engineer at a studio. It's like in the mid-90's where we had an All-in-one 'Media 100' production facility if any remembers what it is. So, I got into doing both Audio and Video production there and since my background is more technical, I gradually moved from doing Audio into Video Mastering and then into Video Editing and finally started using After Effects. It was version 3.1 and I don't even think the term 'Motion Graphics' was coined yet.

What did you think has changed from the mid-90's to the current day in terms of the industry?

It's pretty much the same thing, there are same design principles people always implement and we are still complaining about the render times. The video resolutions increased on par with the computer speeds (From 640x480 to today's HD) and the designs got more complex. Other than that, I don't see a major shift in the industry.

Being an experienced freelancer, Can you tell us how did you deal issues with your clients?

You just have to show them various solutions and explain your idea behind it. More accurately, it depends on your role in the project. If you are an animator, the real challenge is to take the design and make it look good and animate it 30frames per second, which is where many people run into problems. Being an Art Director, it is hard to come up with ideas, but it is easy to make changes later on. For the animator, it is very difficult to bring those changes into life. So I guess, you have to deal with the situation depending on your role in the project.

Freelancing or Working for a studio? What do you like doing more?

(Laughs) The grass is always greener. Sometimes, it feels good to freelance & work all the time with higher pay and some other times, I just feel like punching the clock and enjoy the stability. You just have to appreciate the good things you have and stick to the decisions you make. I decided to go freelance long time ago and it has been good so far. But I am no longer young and keeping my health in mind its very hard to keep on doing it.

Did you ever try to use a different program other than After Effects?

I remember when Apple Motion was announced, I thought it will considerably change the industry, especially after seeing how Final Cut Pro took a huge chunk of market share from Avid and Premiere to become the de-facto editing standard. So I tried using Motion for a while, but it lacked many features back then. Even today, it lacks many features compared to AE. There are a dozen compositing applications out there,but AE has a strong hold on the Motion Design industry. On the bottom line, AE has the complete toolset for a freelancer as a hybrid Compositing/ Motion Graphics application.

How did you come up with an idea to do Video Training on AE Expressions?  Do you have any prior programming/scripting background?

Interviewer's note: for readers who don't know about it, check that out. It is the training series that started everything for me.

I had experience in every defunct programming language out there and back in the early Commodore days, you really have to program something to use computers as they aren't that complex and functional. I guess that indirectly helps, but other than that I don't have any prior programming or more accurately javascript experience. When Adobe introduced expressions for AE, I started playing with and spent most of my time researching it.

Yeah, I reference it even today, you really explained everything in a great detail!

I tried to look at it as somebody who doesn't have any experience in scripting and come from a complete design background. I really spent a whole year doing the training, explaining everything in detail so that anyone can understand the purpose of expressions and how they can become an invaluable set of tools for the daily work. Lot of people aren't interested or scared to use them. So my goal was to make them more accessible to the community and every designer out there. I also priced it very low in order to make it affordable to everyone. Mark Coleran once told me that I under-priced the product, but I wasn't that upset since I was trying to help the community.

Graymachine was one of the first few sites that had AE training. But today, there are numerous websites offering all kinds of tutorials, which many of them are free. So what do you think of this phenomenon ?  Do you think it is helping the community or deluding the spirit of it?

Brian Maffit was interviewed by John Dickinson on Motionworks, and he was asked a similar question i.e., there is so much free content out there on the internet and how do people who make a living on training survive? I guess I fall in the same category too. Free tutorials are usually more specific, whereas training series are usually comprehensive covering many concepts. For example, my training series on expressions, it covers almost every expression available in AE at that time, along with comprehensive introduction to scripting in design. But these days, I see overlapping of various concepts and ideas between tutorials, but I guess it benefits the community in a way since it introduces many new users and creates new markets.

What suggestions do you give to people who are about to come to the industry?

If you are talking about Motion Graphics, you really have to focus on the design aspect..well more like explore as much design as possible irrespective of the medium. Be it print, web, paintings, TV spots whatever new comers should really observe the composition, design, color, timing etc., of various artworks. When you start observing them, your whole perspective on design changes in a gradual process. It's more like how you interpret things and what makes something look good. There are many subtle things that actually make difference like a little Depth of Field, slight color changes, etc., At the same time, knowing the right tools is also important.

Another important thing related to the tutorial community is, people just get caught up in the whole end product and often forget the purpose of the tutorial. I usually get comments like 'the end product doesn't look that finished' etc., I tell them that the whole point of the tutorial is to teach you something that might be useful for you to make such finished products.

With various programs getting more & more complex everyday, How do you see the future of Motion Design?

That is a very tough question. It's hard to predict something in this era. Like, when Flash came out, it literally changed everything on the web. All of a sudden everything started looking vector and clean. Technology always has a huge impact on design in general. It's kinda like the Youtube phenomenon, you never know until something new pops up and everything changes. But, I can say that we have a better understanding motion design now than a few years ago. Similarly, the design gets more complex with a better understanding and better use of technology in the future. It only sets the bar higher and higher.

What do you say about Trapcode plugins? I find it very hard to believe that all of them were coded by one person! Do you think they have become a vital necessity?

If you are talking about Trapcode Particular, Yes. I think Particular is almost like it's own program except that everything happens through a single layer. I released a training series long time ago and whenever I meet Mr. Peder Norrby he thanks me for the series and I thank him for the plugins. Everyday I discover something new in Particular. Coming to Trapcode Form, it is still in it's 1.0 release and I can't wait to see all the amazing things that are about to come in the future. I hope we continue to see some great things from Mr. Norrby.

Can you tell us about the future of Graymachine?

I have some project only training stuff and other project files right now, but I am working on a library of Motion Design elements which will be a great addition for Motion Designers and Video Editors. It should be coming out in October. I also have some training ideas, especially integrating Cinema 4D in the workflow etc., There are many tutorials on Cinema 4D, but they are highly specific which makes it really hard for somebody on a deadline to learn the program. I am still working on it right now and I will release the details later on.

If you come out with the training, I will be the first customer since I think you are a great teacher and I learned a lot from your expressions training series. Thank you very much for your tips and sharing your ideas and I hope to see you again!

No Problem, you are always welcome.

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