From intern to motion designer: How curiosity got Tom Merry through the doors at Art&Graft
Describing himself as a person who “never settles on one style of design,” Tom Merry is a highly curious creative. Starting out at animation and design studio Art&Graft as an intern in 2021, before working his way up to a motion designer, the seeds he planted in his final year of university are now well and truly in bloom. From applying for a number of design studios long before graduation, confidently contacting creative directors and creating an impactful sustainability campaign for skate brand 2nd Nature – his continued success at Art&Graft is no surprise. Speaking on his creative journey, here, Tom tells us about the importance of narrative and mastering your portfolio.
What I do
How would you describe what you do? And specifically what you do at Art&Graft?
I am a person who never settles on one style of animation or design – I’d rather keep my curiosity high, and find new ways to explain a narrative visually. Motion design allows me to do this and constantly grow a wide range of skills in an ever-changing industry.
I joined Art&Graft last summer as an intern, and over my three months there, I fell in love with the studio, the work and people in it. The time was great for finding my feet in the company, working on a variety of briefs and contributing to the studio culture.
My current role at the studio is a junior motion designer. This role is perfect for me, as someone who’s very curious about the subject, especially because every project has a new set of challenges from both a creative and technical perspective. Day-to-day I am helping to support on projects from pitches and style frames to 3D animation and compositing; no two days are the same, which keeps the job exciting.
What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
The main influences behind my work include the combining of different mediums such as live-action and animation or CG, while keeping my mind open to new styles and techniques. The industry is driven by new developments in technology, which I love.
What recent project at Art&Graft are you most proud of?
Something we always have running in the background at the studio are “Sparks Sessions” where we collaborate with each other in any available downtime. This allows us to express and explore any new directions and ideas that could lead to commercial work. The first “Sparks” project I helped work on was published across social media and it is nice to see an animation I worked on in the studio’s shop window.
I am also very proud of my final year university project as I believe it has real market potential. The project was a branding and marketing campaign for 2nd Nature Skateboards, a skate and streetwear brand. My project focused on sustainability and self-expression. This project also tested my creative and technical abilities with a large mix of 3D, video, photography and graphics. It was during this project that I also came to appreciate the importance of a strong brand and narrative – it’s the backbone to any project, no matter how nice it looks. I also won a competition with UNIDAYS with this project.
“As a motion designer, it’s good to understand how graphic design and animation principles work together.”
What kind of skills are needed to do your role? And would you say you need any specific training to do what you do?
Many of the skills involved in my job were obtained while studying at university, with others being self-taught in areas where the curriculum fell short – this is where my peers and Youtube proved to be a great resource.
As a motion designer, it’s good to have a strong understanding of both graphic design and animation principles, and how they work together to make a great piece of animation. Being able to communicate ideas is a key part of my job; and though I’m not directly talking to clients, I am discussing ideas and solutions with the team at Art&Graft. It is important to be able to understand others’ ideas as well as articulate your own.
On the software side of things, I use a lot of the Adobe Creative Suite, but After Effects is essential to my work. Cinema 4D is also a great 3D software and widely used in the industry, along with Redshift to render.
If you could pick one meme to describe what it’s like to work at Art&Graft, what would it be and why?
[Below] There are many moments working at Art&Graft where we discover new techniques or small time-saving tricks in software, which always lead to these kinds of moments.
How I got here
How did you land the job?
I got the opportunity to work at Art&Graft through applying to their internship scheme in the spring, and started mid-summer. The application process was simple: Send in a showreel and or a website, and if the studio was interested they would reach out for a further discussion about you and your work!
I only sent in my 20-second showreel as I didn’t have a website, which goes to show that you don’t need a website or lengthy showreel to land a job. My reel only had five or six pieces of my best work, along with projects I was proud of and like to talk about. I also reached out to the creative director of the company to ask a couple of questions about the application process, big up the studio a bit and show how much I was a fan of their work. I don’t think this got me the job but it certainly kept me on their radar and showed how eager I was about the opportunity.
“I sent in a 20-second showreel, which goes to show that you don’t need a website or lengthy showreel to land a job.”
My advice for anyone looking to get into the industry after university is to go through your portfolio and only keep your very best work, and the type of work you want to create more of in the future. When it comes to showreels, pay attention to the edit and sound design; a showreel should be its own miniature narrative and have an overall flow to it. Shorter showreels are great as they leave whoever watches them wanting more.
What was your journey like when you were first starting out? Did you find your feet quickly?
I was very fortunate to start working at Art&Graft only a few weeks after finishing my undergraduate degree but I had been applying for jobs months prior to this. I had offers from other companies around the time I interviewed for the internship, but this was the job I wanted more than any other I applied for. It was just what I was looking for.
Starting at Art&Graft felt like stepping into a very large pair of shoes – the talent of the small team in the studio blew my mind. It was pretty intimidating at first but everyone was super-friendly and helpful. From day one I was working on new projects, and I’m grateful to the studio for giving me the opportunity to work on big projects so quickly. In the first couple weeks, I worked on style frames, 3D animation and compositing!
“Starting at Art&Graft felt like stepping into a very large pair of shoes – the talent of the small team blew my mind.”
If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
There are so many places, people and pages I’ve been inspired and learned from but my top three picks would be…
Firstly, Pwnisher AKA Clint Jones. He used to work for my favourite YouTube channel Corridor Digital which have been a big inspiration of mine too from a very young age. Clint creates incredible work and recently started his own channel where he shares insights to his process and useful tricks and workflow tips for budding 3D artists.
Secondly, I have always really loved listening to industry-related podcasts for career advice, and one I have listened to more than any other is the School Of Motion podcast. It’s packed full of guests from all corners of the creative industry and is easy listening for the journey to and from work. I have learned so much – from portfolio advice to how to approach progression in your career.
Finally, I spend pretty much every weekend longboarding with my friends, which has been a great way to develop a skill outside of design. Like design, it takes a lot of dedication and discipline to improve and helps keep my motivation high. Plus, it’s a nice way to spend lunch time if I take my board to work.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
I’ve always struggled with believing in myself, or that I am as good as others say I am – I always hold myself to high standards. When I achieve them I raise the bar further which can sometimes lead to me not appreciating my achievements so far.
What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
Taking on the internship at Art&Graft was a big pay cut from what other places were offering me at a junior level, and less than I was earning doing freelance work but it was the right decision for me at this early stage in my career. I’ve learned from others around me who have been in the industry for longer than I have – and enjoying the job far outweighs how much money you earn. The money will always come later with hard work. Enjoy the journey and learn to live in the present.
What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
“Luck is when opportunity meets good preparation.” I only heard this recently but it is something I have been utilising for a long time, and is definitely how I got my current position at Art&Graft. It was perfect timing because I was just finishing university, and good preparation because I had a better understanding of how to successfully apply for a job, having already put together portfolios and applications for other job listings.
What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
Look closely at what is currently being done in industry and reflect this in your work, whether that’s delivery specifications, style of design or platforms being used. Doing this will show that you are engaged with the industry and understand how it works today. Also never see the deadline as an end to a project – spend time later on improving or adding to it to make it a stronger portfolio piece.
I also think now that we are coming out of the pandemic, it’s worth trying to go to any events that companies are holding that allow for networking. You’ll be surprised at how small the industry is, as everyone seems to know someone somewhere else. Make a good first impression and who knows where that first conversation can take you!
Interview by N'Tanya Clarke
Mention Tom Merry