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Finding the story in the abstract and annoyingly refined world of Hernán Lindenbaum | #MemberSpotlight

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Hernán Lindenbaum is a man that, in his own words, “entered the industry sideways.” But whoever said that being a successful creative meant getting in first time through the front door?

The Argentinian freelance motion designer has enjoyed a varied and consistent career in everything from film and TV to rebranding and live performances. He’s a team player and a maverick rolled into one and we can’t wait to get to know him a little better. That’s why we’re shining our member spotlight on him this week!

How did you get into the industry?

I think that, in a sense, I entered it sideways. I majored in filmmaking and was working in post production from early on. Mostly editorial jobs, I still love editing, but every now and then I’d get asked to add some animated titles, some VFX, some compositing magic… And little by little I got seriously involved with animation. 

My drawing skills are almost none, so it was great to be able to explore the rhythm and flow of animation from a different approach, using software. Eventually I got invited by a friend (Gonzalo Castro, shoutout) to join the studio he was working on, which was fully dedicated to design and motion graphics. And I stayed pretty much in this niche ever since. 

Where are you based now and who do you work for?

I’m currently based in Porto, Portugal. Needless to say, a gorgeous small city and an amazing country to live in! Portuguese are the best, and coming from the furthest corner of Latin America I feel that we have much more in common than I initially expected, we share the same relaxed vibe. 

I freelance remotely for several studios and clients, and have been doing so from around 2013 or 2014. So the pandemic, despite its many downsides and struggles, wasn’t such a work change for me. Almost no change, I’d say. I feel like I hit the ground running in that sense and it took me no time to readjust my routine. 

I’m currently working with FutureDeluxe, they’re based in London, and previously I’d been working with Tendril (Vancouver), NotReal (Madrid) and Wolf&Crow (Los Angeles). So it’s all over this blue marble. So many people I’ve never met in person (and maybe never will), it still feels a little bit crazy in that sense.

If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

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Good question… I enjoy playing music and fiddling with sound in general very much, so working at a recording studio would be a great gig. I used to work in sound design for film and TV, and wouldn't mind going back to that for a while! 

Other than that, I love construction work. I even studied that for a couple of years, so anything that has to do with tools or that is building related, I’m game for it. 

Can you explain your creative process? What makes it unique?

I think I carry a lot of my filming experience into it. There's a mantra in movie making that “everything happens for a reason”. Meaning that, in a production, everything you see involves a directorial decision. No colour, no camera movement, no object or tiny detail has been left to chance. It’s a fully controlled environment. 

And that applies to storytelling as well: why is this scene here? What is happening now and what other events will it set in motion? I think my creative process is guided by this background. Every time I can, I try to bring that to the table and infuse the creative process with those notions. 

In motion design there’s a big tendency to lean heavily into the design aspect, when the final piece is actually an audiovisual work. Sometimes the pretty shapes, colour gradients and fancy textures take the wheel, and there’s little storytelling behind the final assembly. But even in the most abstract work, as long as there are shots edited together and a sound landscape, there’s room for a loose narrative structure. So I keep my eye on that and hope to help out with it.

How would you describe your style?

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Oh I’m such a work for hire nowadays… The years of experience have turned me into a generalist in the broadest sense of the term, so I stylistically jump around a lot..! 

Still, I think I can see a common thread in my work, at least rhythmically. Animation style isn’t as visually clear and in the forefront, like a designer’s style might be super noticeable.

I’m very detail-oriented too, so I think I could describe my style as “annoyingly refined” as well, heh. Especially when it comes to finishing and colour grading.

Which individuals do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?

Nando Costa, Gmunk, Simon Holmedal, Nidia Dias, Adam Swaab, Milton Gonzalez, the people from Buck, Lobster, ManVsMachine, Onesal… So many impressive visual artists in this industry! Oh, Alberto Mielgo, my favourite director today, he’s an absolute hero of mine. Genndy Tartakovsky is another constant inspiration in everything that’s about character animation. I could go on forever, really! So much talent. 

It’s a bit concerning that there aren’t many women directors I can refer to right now, the motion design industry is super unbalanced in that sense. We really need to add a lot more feminine sensitivity to our ranks, and we need to do that soon. 

What tips would you give to aspiring creatives looking for work?

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I’m clearly biassed by my own path, but I feel like an in-house experience is very important. I see many new artists that come into the job learning alone, self taught, clearly talented, but their knowledge seems to be… Patchy. 

They learned a bit from here, another bit from there, but they never spent time soaking in the daily experience of a studio. I feel like that really gives you an overhead view of the whole process, as well as a crash course in the do’s and don'ts of the industry. 

I learned so much just by sitting next to more experienced animators and constantly asking “how the heck did you do that?”. So if I was to give advice, I’d say look for a full time job in a studio, at least for a while. It’s a good starting point, and it’ll pay off.

Also, if you’re working directly with clients, always try to get inspiration from other disciplines rather than your own. In fact, motion design has turned very self referential in the last few years and I’m not sure how that happened! I don’t think writers are reading other people’s books and thinking “I like this, I’m going to copy that in my next novel” or painters go “what a nice style, let’s do exactly that for my new piece”. 

So yes, trying to bring something new to the game would be my advice. Stay away from the same industry references as much as you can. I know it’s easier said than done, frequently it is the client who’s coming to you with a reference already at hand. 

What tips would you give to other professionals to get more clients?

I cast a wide net, and that has worked for me personally. Again, I might be an outlier here, because I don’t have social media and I wouldn’t like to change that. Despite many producers having told me that their primary sea to fish in is Instagram. Hands down. 

So I guess having a strong IG presence must be good for business. But since I don’t have the will to do that, I try other routes: I join several job boards, other platforms, Slack groups, LinkedIn, even the good old email is a tool I frequently use. 

If I see a studio that I’d love to work with or a professional that inspires me, I look them up and just send them an email (avoid the “[email protected]” or “[email protected]” email addresses whenever possible, try to find a personal contact). I send out just a friendly greeting, expressing how much I like what they do and what parts caught my eye, and ask them if they’re ever up for a chat. 

It doesn’t have to be a proper job interview, we’re lucky that our tiny industry is still quite informal in that sense and a quick video call with anybody isn’t hard to arrange. I’ve done many of those, and to me that human contact is valuable networking. I can attest that some of those calls have paid off even years after the fact. You just put yourself in their radar, not just through an impersonal written message, and eventually you might get contacted back. 

What kind of tools/kit/software could you not do without?

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First and foremost, a trusty mouse with high sensitivity and the best monitor that I can afford. I work a lot with colour, so sharpness and accuracy are important. And it’s the thing you’re looking at all day long, so I try to make sure it’s a good one (that goes for my work chair as well, seems irrelevant but working comfortably makes a difference). 

Software will always be software, it evolves and changes constantly. And we’re always learning newer and better tools. It’s a good thing about this line of work, it keeps you studying. Still, in the last almost decade I feel very comfortable animating in Cinema4D, which is my daily tool, and compositing in Nuke, that’s such a joy. 

Apart from that, being from Argentina, it’s mandatory to be drinking “mate” all day. That’s the other thing I could not do without. It has to be on my desk.

What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?

I love watching movies. No surprise there! And great TV shows. Old movies are a treasure trove of inspiration. Movies from other countries too, there are so many platforms nowadays to watch content that was impossible to find a decade ago. Podcasts are a great daily companion and some of them throw very interesting and inspiring stories and questions at you. Live music also does it for me. Small gigs, big shows, whatever. It’s a great inspiration to see musicians killing it onstage. 

And whenever I feel like my general motivation is waning, then it’s time to take a trip. In my case that’s a clear sign that the mind needs to move away from the computer. So a daily excursion somewhere new, a weekend getaway into nature, hopefully a few days abroad or on a bike trip is due to recharge those mental batteries! Nothing motivates and inspires more than visiting a different place. 

What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?

I think it’s the opening titles for Netflix’s “Song Exploder” documentary series. The end product is a very short animation, nothing too fancy or complex really, but it combined several achievements: working for a project that I was already a huge fan of (the Song Exploder podcast in this case), collaborating under Adam Swaab’s creative direction, but also being given the creative freedom to do all the animation, shots, editing, etc. 

It was the tiniest of teams but the project flowed with such ease! And even though it didn’t win any awards or anything like that, I still regard it as a personal achievement. 

What is the one thing that you would change about the industry?

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I mentioned it before but I’ll say it again: every new team I join, the presence of women is frequently nonexistent. I’m aware that it’s a highly technical and “nerdy” niche, if that's any excuse, but there are really few women being hired for animation, and if they’re part of the team they’re usually in production or graphic design roles. We need to balance that asap.

Ok, I know it was just “the one thing” but I have another one: let’s keep an eye on the schedule to avoid early delays, so the animation and compositing tasks don’t get squashed against the deadline. Animation usually comes later in the creative process, but it’s a job that’s very time consuming. 

There aren’t many shortcuts or easy ways to make it faster, really. So keeping an even schedule guarantees that you won’t end up with a beautiful design that was hastily animated to its own detriment. There’s no joy in rushing it, and we all want to do the best work we can (instead of the little we could achieve, given a short timeframe). 

Any websites, books or resources you would recommend?

Graphic novels are a sure shot if you are used to reading books, are willing to dive into comic books, but don’t want none of that superhero thing. There are a lot of indie authors crafting beautiful stories in the form of graphic novels! “Asterios Polyp” by David Mazzucchelli is a perfect diving board. Don’t be afraid of this medium and you’ll find a ton of material to sink your teeth into.

“The Freelance Manifesto” by the crew at School of Motion is a necessary resource for people in this line of work. And even if you don’t draw well (like me) but love animation, always keep a copy of “The Animator’s Survival Kit” by Richard Williams at hand. You’ll find yourself consulting it more than you can expect, he was an absolute master of the craft (“Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, enough said).

And last but not least: websites like Motionographer, GoodMoves, Art of the Title and even Behance are endless repositories of motion design talent. It’s humbling to see all that high end work being constantly posted. If you are from this industry you already know them. But if you aren't, make sure to stop by and fall down the rabbit hole of amazing motion design that they provide.

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