Career Stories

Max Halley

Motion Graphics Designer

Motion Designer

What type of formal education or training did you pursue and how has it influenced your career?

I studied Visual Communications at IADT because I didn’t see myself becoming a film director, but I was drawn to the motion graphics modules in particular. I remember one lecturer saying, “Max, you struggle a bit with the typography side but seem to have a bit of flair for motion graphics, so maybe you should move more towards that,” which I did. The course gave me a strong foundation in design thinking, attention to detail and the ability to shepherd a project from concept to completion.

I graduated right after the recession hit, so I involuntarily freelanced for a couple of years. Floundering a bit technically and directionally, I stumbled upon and subsequently enrolled in, a motion graphics course at Hyper Island in Stockholm. The course instilled in me a deep understanding of creative leadership and teamwork. What really stood out, though, were the diverse perspectives I encountered from industry professionals during the weekly talks. It was like a crash course in understanding the industry landscape and refining my career aspirations.

How does the reality of your career differ from your expectations?

I never anticipated I’d freelance for as long as I have, but being my own boss suits me. Although I sometimes miss daily collaboration with others, and droughts like last year can be challenging, the freedom of self-employment is hard to let go of.

How has your career evolved over the years – did you start in another discipline before transitioning to your current field?

Although I’ve mainly focused on 2D motion graphics using After Effects, Illustrator, and Photoshop throughout my career, my approach has evolved, in that I’ve become more adept at embracing discomfort, handling larger contracts, making tough decisions, and thriving under pressure.

Were there any pivotal moments, insights or decisions that significantly impacted your career path?

While in Stockholm, I remember being shown the work of a London-based company called Animade and immediately thinking that was the kind of work I wanted to do. Minimalist animation that was filled with character. So I sent the company a long email expressing my keen interest in doing an internship with them. Fortunately, they took me on. I learned so much in those six months and still freelance for them regularly, a decade later, which is always a pleasure. Lovely, talented people who’ve massively shaped my career.

What three skills do you believe are crucial to succeeding in this career?

To function as a self-employed motion graphics designer, you need to have the organisational skills to find the work, the technical skills to get the job done, and the soft skills to get hired again. After twelve years, I still struggle with all three.

How have you continued to develop your skills throughout your career?

By braving commissions that require learning a new skill even if it’s uncomfortable. Pushing myself to make self-initiated projects that are creatively fulfilling is another.

What are some of the highlights or most satisfying moments of your career so far?

After the aforementioned internship with Animade (which was definitely a highlight), I left my brain and plenty of job opportunities in London and followed my heart to Austria where I spent two years barely working. In sheer desperation, I made an animated video of my girlfriend as a chicken called “Where’s My Keys?” which got me a lot of traction online when I badly needed it. It’s still the best thing I’ve done and it got me job opportunities. Overall though, the most satisfying moments are probably when I can’t relate to other people getting the Sunday Blues. I do enjoy my work.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in your field?

Try to recreate work you find inspiring until you’ve figured out the technique. Then start bringing your own personality and ideas into the equation. Don’t despair over the first draft which is usually terrible. Never accept it either. Keep going and it will look better. Do whatever you can to get experience working with people you genuinely admire and whose work you can relate to. That will make everything easier.

How important has networking or being part of a professional community been in your career?

One of the most useful things I was taught to do in that course in Stockholm was to contact two people in the industry a week whose work I liked and just see if they were open to answering a few questions. Shockingly enough, most people like hearing you like their work and are more than happy to share some insights about their journey and give advice for yours.

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently in your career?

I probably should have stayed on in London a bit longer.