“Portfolio reviews are invaluable”: How 3D motion designer Charlie Ellis landed a role at Bolder Creative
Before studying graphic design at uni, Charlie Ellis had never trained in any artistic subject. Despite this, he found himself drawn to the principles of photography and design – which eventually led to him developing a love for motion. After graduating, he began self-teaching using free online software such as Blender and applying for a flurry of internships. Eventually, he landed a position as advertising agency Bolder Creative’s junior 3D motion designer, where he works across 2D and 3D motion projects. Living and breathing his craft, Charlie also runs a blog where he interviews prominent figures in the design world. Here, Charlie discusses his interest in Welsh landscapes, and shares why portfolio reviews are an invaluable resource for emerging talent.
What I do
How would you describe your job? And specifically what you do at Bolder Creative?
At Bolder Creative, I work primarily across 2D and 3D motion projects, with a focus on 3D lighting, texturing, animating and rendering.
Generally, most of our work is advertising based (content for websites, socials, product and brand videos and so on), so our workload gets split up around the studio. If a one-minute advert is needed, I may be required to look at, say, 10 seconds of animation. Most days I’ll be working across multiple different animations – and sometimes multiple projects.
I’m the youngest employee at the company, so I certainly feel some pressure to keep progressing. It’s refreshing to work alongside other awesome creatives who I can bounce ideas off. There’s also always someone to help with troubleshooting. We work alongside freelancers a lot, so a key part of my job is collaborating with people who have different ways of working.
Most of the projects within the studio are completed pretty quickly, and with the nature of fast turnaround projects, it’s hard to get bored – because before you know it, you’re emailing a client a delivery folder!
“With the nature of fast turnaround projects, it’s hard to get bored – because before you know it, you’re emailing a client a delivery folder!”
What kind of skills are needed to do your role?
There are many skills required in a motion design role, whether it be software or design knowledge.
Working across live action and CGI projects means you need to be able to work with video files, know about different colour spaces and working with ever-evolving software. This includes (but isn’t limited to!) Cinema 4D, After Effects and Premiere.
Motion designers also need time management skills, as creating and rendering an animation can be very time consuming. For example, knowing how long a task typically takes is key. It’s something I’m still learning about!
There are some absolutely fantastic courses out there. Sites like School of Motion offer some amazing content, but there’s a huge amount of free content on YouTube (or, for a small fee, some brilliant creators on Patreon) that you can learn from.
Motion graphics – 3D mostly – look daunting to people, but it’s really not that hard to get into. Platforms like Blender are free and have thousands of tutorials, and Cinema 4D has free educational licenses for students.
You just need some time, patience and persistence. You can learn so much from just opening the software and playing around.
“3D motion graphics look daunting to people, but it’s not that hard to learn. Platforms like Blender are free and have thousands of tutorials.”
What recent project are you most proud of?
In my final year of university, I made a title sequence for the Netflix show Top Boy (below). It was my most ambitious project by far.
It took a few months to theorise and create. Everything was made from scratch – all the 3D models. I was persuaded against spending such a long time on the project, but my vision for it was clear. I was going make the best project using Cinema 4D I possibly could. It’s probably the reason my interviews after university went so well, and I’m incredibly glad I chose to spend the time on it.
I’m really excited to see some of the work from the studio come out this year. Last year was extremely busy so it’ll be nice to see all the hard work out there!
How I got here
How did you land the job?
After my post-university internships finished, I saw Bolder’s listing on LinkedIn. I loved their work, and jumped at the chance to send my CV and portfolio over. My interview went well, and it was clear they were a studio I could contribute to.
The absolute best thing I did was start applying as soon as I’d finished university. I’d had so many interviews and portfolio reviews by the time I’d had my Bolder interview, so I’d had plenty of practice.
Portfolio reviews are invaluable! You can see which projects people are drawn towards, and the ones that need more information. They are a great way of connecting to people in the industry, and all they require is an email and a portfolio.
Don’t be afraid to send emails to studios who you may think you’re not good enough for. The creative industry is incredibly helpful and welcoming, and there are so many creators who will gladly reply back with advice and suggestions, whether it’s to apply for jobs or critique your portfolio.
“Portfolio reviews are invaluable! They are a great way of connecting to people in the industry, and all they require is an email and a portfolio.”
What was your journey like when you were first starting out?
I’m not an artist. I can’t draw, paint or model things out of clay. I don’t think I’d ever done any branding or real logo design before university. I’ve never done any art education aside from my university degree, and I’m mostly self-taught when it comes to 3D and moving image.
Something important I learnt was to lean on my skillset when it came to design projects in university, and alter briefs to suit my style. I’ve always been interested in moving image and photography, so I thought, why not use those strengths to my advantage? If a brief asked me to create something I didn’t know or couldn’t do, I found a way to make it work for me.
“I leaned on my skillset when it came to design projects in university, and altered briefs to suit my style, using my interests and strengths to my advantage.”
Obviously being in an art and design course at university – surrounded by people who are much better at traditional art – is daunting, but I worked incredibly hard to make sure I wasn’t left behind. My tutors were very helpful – they helped me to realise that we all have different ways of working, which lessened the pressure when a project wasn’t going right!
When it came to searching for jobs and being an intern, I asked questions constantly. I’m not afraid of asking for help or needing some advice. Engaging with the people around me allowed me to quickly make friendships and work relationships. That helps when you’re starting your first design job.
Being a junior designer isn’t easy, but if you’re willing to listen and be proactive, you’re going to go far.
If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
In the first year of my course, I read The Freelance Manifesto by Joey Korenman. Joey is the founder of School of Motion and a longtime motion designer. The book details his career, from studio to freelance, and gives some incredible tips on networking, production workflow, salary information and a huge amount of useful content. It’s a great read for any designer, but if you’re wanting to get into the motion design workspace – 100% give it a read!
Nature is a big part of my design progression. I live in the middle of nowhere in Wales, surrounded by fields, animals and trees. It’s a peaceful place, and easy to relax and reset. Just going for a 30-minute walk a day, or spending a whole weekend in nature, can really help you think clearer.
My blog, Interviewing Idols, has also been instrumental for me. I started it in university with the intention of always being active in the 3D and motion community. It’s a place for me to talk to brilliant designers, and learn some tricks of the trade – whilst growing my network.
Things like Instagram are great, but actually talking and interacting with creatives is so much more worthwhile than just endlessly scrolling on the main feed. Don’t be afraid to email people – who cares if they don’t email back? There are always others who will!
“Things like Instagram are great, but actually talking and interacting with creatives is so much more worthwhile than just endlessly scrolling on the main feed.”
What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
A key thing for me has been to utilise the tools I have at my disposal. There are some fantastic free and cheap resources online and might give you just as much information as an £800 course. Do some deep research into what you want to learn.
Having a savings account dedicated for some of your earnings is a fantastic thing to do. You never know when a huge sale on a piece of software is coming, or an unexpected bill turns up out of the blue. Try to prepare and give yourself a bit of breathing room financially.
At university, I frequently worked as music photographer, where I would do paid and unpaid gigs and photoshoots. Most of the unpaid work was done for free tickets to gigs, or just to help out. You do have to be really careful about this. You can’t – and shouldn’t – always work for free. Equipment and software can be really expensive, so gaining that confidence and experience of actually charging for work is really important!
What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
Dive in headfirst and don’t be scared to fail. Some days you’ll feel better and others worse, but the main thing is to never lose your drive and love for what you do, and push yourself to create work you want to create. Don’t stress, but just get on with it – you’ll get a heck of a lot more work done!
What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
If you’re wanting to get a job in 3D, CGI or motion design, download a software and start making. Just make things – anything! Watch tutorials, talk to people, be proactive. Don’t hide, email anyone whose work you like, and spread your Instagram and portfolio far and wide. Let people know you’re there!
Take some time to really find out about your industry. Spend a few days on Behance, It’s Nice That, Creative Review and so on. Look at as much content as you can. See how people made things, look at behind the scenes of animations.
Network, as the more people and creatives you discover and know, the more of them you can talk about in an interview. Likewise, the more people will recommend you to others. If you’re finding it hard to get a job, it also makes you feel less alone.
It’s not easy when you’re starting out, but the main thing to do is keep learning and evolving.
Interview by Frankie Faccion
Mention Charlie Ellis