- Matt Alagiah
- 17 August 2020
Googly eyes, curious critters and perfect comic timing combine in Doug Alberts’ animations
The Chicago-born creative has worked on a host of impressive projects while studying, displaying both technical precision and maturity.
- Matt Alagiah
- 17 August 2020
It’s rare to see motion design and animation graduates who are already ridiculously accomplished at what they do. Not through any fault of their own, but simply because these disciplines demand so much from someone so young – from strong storytelling to a natural feel for pacing, a tonne of patience, and, of course, bags of technical skill. When we first encountered the work of Doug Alberts, we were immediately blown away, because it shows off all of these qualities and yet carries them with incredible ease and lightness.
Originally from Chicago, Doug studied at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. He admits he hasn’t landed on a precise personal style (though he isn’t sure he necessarily wants to), and has clearly experimented a lot, judging by the painterly style of Brother, the claymation aesthetic of Bugged, and the collage-like look of Plan(t). Even so, throughout his work there are plenty of details that reveal the creative’s own personality – in particular the colours, the playfulness and the perfectly judged comic timing.
Another challenge that animators and motion designers face is that their work is incredibly collaborative – more often than not, you’re working as part of a small team, rather than alone. And this is again something that Doug seems to have grasped early on as a student. “As fun as it is to explore independently, I owe all my knowledge to past employers, faculty, friends, and my parents,” he tells us. It’s this attitude that has seen Doug not only work on personal projects, but also pick up some client ones too (for MTV, Lyft and Ted Ed, to name just three), all whilst studying his craft. All this makes him a very deserving Class of 2020 Graduate.
It’s Nice That: What’s the most valuable lesson you learned during your time at university?
Doug Alberts: The one golden little nugget I recommend is doing personal work. I remember someone telling me that the ability to make what you want doesn’t start once you graduate, it starts whenever you decide that for yourself as an artist. After hearing that, I attempted to make a personal project/short film every month. Disclaimer: that’s an insane goal and completely unattainable, so please don’t do that, it’s unhealthy and you’ll hate me. But, when I graduated, I finished with just over 20 shorts I can call my own, ranging from client to independent work. It’s been a joy. Also, make time for yourself. There’s no sake in slaving away for days and nights, and I really feel it puts people on the fast track to hating whatever they do. I would often separate myself physically and mentally from work and take a jog to clear my mind. The result was that tonnes of ideas came from moments of rest.
“The most fulfilling bit is realising the story you’ve kept near and dear begins to communicate exactly what you wanted.”Doug Alberts
INT: What does your general creative process look like? How do you go about creating your work from start to finish?
DA: I must warn you, it’s a bit messy sometimes. Just kidding, I usually start with going on a run. I’ll be jogging and suddenly ideas will come out of nowhere and I have to write them down. I have accumulated a list of ideas, words and phrases that spark interest. That notepad file probably looks crazy to someone who doesn’t know what it’s for. From that list, I’ll find the ones that have substance and doodle what mood I want to convey, what characters might look like, what I want the viewer to feel, and start storyboarding. I sometimes even go into Garageband and start playing with synths and instruments and find what sounds best represent the story. It’s a blast.
I then start working on styleframes and usually just design in After Effects. People have gasped at that before but I really enjoy it because I have everything layered and ready to go for animation. After every shot is designed, I’ll begin animation (which is personally my favorite part). The most fulfilling bit is realising the story that you’ve kept near and dear to yourself begins to communicate exactly what you wanted. It’s one of the most rewarding things about what we do.
“Aesthetics will always be an ongoing adventure. I just enjoy making people giggle.”Doug Alberts
INT: Your work has such a clear aesthetic and often a playful, humorous tone. How have you refined and developed this tone and aesthetic over time?
DA: I feel the “look” has really started growing slowly all by itself. I’ve always kind of put googly eyes on things and enjoyed how silly they look. The crazy thing that no one tells you is how long it takes to find an aesthetic. It includes so many wrongs before it feels right, genuine, and that it came from you. I feel I still don’t have a single aesthetic but have made enough things to know what I don’t like and what makes me smile. Aesthetics will always be an ongoing adventure. In terms of the playful tone, I think I just enjoy making people giggle. There’s something about a serious/emotional piece that makes you feel like you owe the audience a huge payoff in the end. With a playful tone, everyone in the audience is having a good time, even the guy who made it.
INT: Which project you’ve done yourself, or been involved in, are you most proud of and why?
DA: I’d have to point towards the Blend Titles from Gunner. It was the summer of 2019 and I was interning with them. If you don’t know the crew there, stop by and say hi because they’re absolutely incredible and talented people. We began the summer with storyboards, sketches and styleframes, but I think we all realised how large an undertaking this project was in the first few weeks. It was this “uh oh” kind of moment. From then on, we powered through and with many late nights, coffees and pizzas, we made the Blend 2019 Titles. I had a part in animating the little critters that had anywhere between two and six legs. It was an animator’s dream. Above all, it was such a blast to play a part in an awesome team and make something entirely original.
Beside that project, I’d love to mention rewarding personal projects like my Instagram series Lé Décision, which allowed viewers to vote for a story direction and see which path succeeds. Followers really got into it and it was one of the most rewarding projects to see the audience interact with a piece.
Still from Plan(t)
Still from Plan(t)
INT: What are your future plans? Are there any projects you’re really looking to get into in the coming months/years? Any challenges you're looking forward to tackling?
DA: I would absolutely love to start a studio. What this looks like exactly, I’m not too sure, but if we were the size of two people, I’d be ecstatic. It’s always been a dream to work directly with clients large and small. I feel with a small team, we’d be able to compete for gigs that a larger studio couldn’t afford to take on. In addition, commissions for MTV, TED Ed, and Lyft are always a blast and would love to do more of them. The thing I dream of most is starting a studio that plays as much as works. This means keeping doing jobs, but adding personal work to that. The things you could make would be incredible! And best of all, you’re doing that kind of work just for the sake of fun. That’s the dream.
About the Author
Matt joined It’s Nice That as editor in October 2018 and became editor-in-chief in September 2020. He was previously executive editor at Monocle magazine. Drop him a line with ideas and suggestions, or simply to say hello.