An Interview with Motion Design Entrepreneur Ian Frederick

An interview with Motion Designer and 3D Artist Ian Frederick on making animated concert visuals for EDM artist Wooli. 

Ian Frederick is a motion designer and 3D artist based in Seattle, Washington. When he’s not working on product launch videos for Amazon, Frederick spends his free time collaborating with EDM artists to create animated concert visuals. Among his many clients is Adam Puleo, a.k.a. Wooli, an American record producer and DJ. 

Recently, he worked on visuals for Wooli’s 2021 tour, which had a “fire and ice” theme that was quite challenging, Frederick recalls. But, using Cinema 4D, ZBrush, World Creator, and Houdini, he was able to create animations that included fire, lava, smoke, cloth, and plenty of destruction.

We sat down with Frederick to talk about his Wooli concert visuals, which he describes as the best Wooli project yet, as well as his 3D journey and how he keeps pushing himself to learn more. 

PremiumBeat: How did you get started in motion design?

Ian Frederick: I went to school for graphic design and didn’t really get into motion design until the past few years. I was doing freelance work for a while, then, about eight years ago, I got a job at Amazon doing graphic design. After around four years of that, I showed up to work one day and they wanted to transition me into an animation role, doing things like device videos, launch videos, title sequences for conferences, and Amazon Smile animations. 

I had never opened After Effects, and I didn’t know anything about animation. My first project was due in five days, so I just dove into YouTube tutorials and learned what I needed to in a couple of hours.

I was fortunate enough to be paid to learn new skills that were really cool, and I saw the potential of learning After Effects and motion. So, I dug in and decided to get really good at it.

Ian Frederick
Motion designer and 3D artist Ian Frederick. Image courtesy of Ian Frederick.

Eventually, I started to realize 3D was a path I wanted to go down. I took a crash course in Cinema 4D and just spent every waking moment watching tutorials on the bus or the treadmill. Designers at work took me under their wings, so I was able to ask questions and learn from them.

Recently, I transitioned to the new devices team where I work on high-end device launch videos and things like that. In my spare time, I still work and learn motion design and 3D by creating concert visuals for musicians. 

PB: How did you start creating concert visuals in your spare time?

IF: I was taking on any side projects to learn, and I wanted to do concert visuals. I’m really into electronic music, and I remember seeing the awesome visuals on the massive screens at festivals. I wondered how to get into that industry, so I decided to make a music video for fun. 

I picked a song I liked and made a video to the best of my ability, posted it on a Facebook fan group for a DJ that I liked, and explained that I was an animator looking to get into the business. I got around 120 responses that day, and one of them was Wooli. 

Motion Design
Image courtesy of Ian Frederick.

Over time, I’ve discovered that there are two different paths with concert visuals. Some artists just want a ten-second, seamless loop that can match up with anything at 135 beats per minute. Others, like Wooli, want specific animations for songs. He likes to cue videos to a specific song to create a short narrative. With electronic music, there aren’t a lot of lyrics so it’s mostly abstract sounds, which allows for a ton of creative freedom.

PB: Tell us about the latest visuals you made for Wooli.

IF: I’ve noticed that there aren’t a lot of high-end simulations in concert visuals, like flames, liquids, and cloth. Only the top artists have those types of animations. I wanted our work to stand out, so I worked on intense particle sims.

The music has a mix that is often melodic and beautiful, and that is blended with heavy and mechanical sounds. So, I was drawn to a fire and ice theme, which was Wooli’s idea. 

Since his logo and theme is a Wooli mammoth, fire and ice seemed to fit well with the primal and prehistoric environment that a mammoth might have lived in. The ice sort of represents the cooler, more melodic songs. And, the fire represents the more aggressive dubstep songs, which allows for lots of creative environments and simulations within that universe.

Image courtesy of Ian Frederick.

I wanted to make something that would make people lose their minds when they saw it in concert paired with dubstep. I used the volume builder in C4D to model the droid and did an animation based on robot references.

Next, I took the alembic into Houdini and added flame emitters before bringing the file back into Cinema 4D for texturing and lighting. I used Redshift for all my renders. 

PB: Where did the concept for the world and landscapes come from?

IF: Those were Wooli’s idea. He wanted to have a quick zoom effect with different landscapes, and a camera that just pulls back and whips into a new landscape. He likes fantasy landscapes, like Magic: The Gathering, type of stuff. So, I went in and made a variety of landscapes in World Creator, trying to make things with wild juxtapositions of color and content that could be read very quickly. 

Prehistoric Concept
Image courtesy of Ian Frederick.

Every time I make something in World Creator, I’m impressed by what the software can do. Everything just looks so realistic. Then, I brought those landscapes into Cinema 4D to build the compositions and set up the cameras.

I also used some KitBash3D packs for the architectural details. Once I had the animations and camera moves set, I used Houdini to simulate the lava. 

Fire Concept
Image courtesy of Ian Frederick.

PB: Did you learn anything new while working on Wooli’s visuals that you’d like to share?

IF: Every time I make new visuals, I learn something new. The great thing about concert visuals is that they are highly experimental, and I get to try things I wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to do at Amazon or for another corporate client.

Before doing this latest round of Wooli visuals, I didn’t know how to make fire, destruction simulations, lava, or electricity in Houdini. Fortunately, Adam gives me lots of time to learn and experiment, so I was able to figure out how to do all of that during the process.

Electricity Concept
Image courtesy of Ian Frederick.

PB: What do you enjoy most about making concert visuals?

IF: The freedom of creative expression. Working for Amazon, or doing side work for other corporate clients, is very structured. The designs have to be sold to committees of non-creative, MBA-type people who often pick apart the work until the final product becomes very watered down and not as cool as it could have been. 

While I do enjoy doing corporate work, it can be creatively stifling at times. Doing concert visuals is the opposite of that. It’s pure creative freedom. There’s little-to-no-narrative, no product being sold, and no boardroom of people who need to sign off on it. It’s just about making something that looks awesome when synced to music, and experimentation is highly encouraged. 

Electronic Concept
Image courtesy of Ian Frederick.

I get to try out new techniques, think of big crazy ideas, and people actually like them. Also, working with artists is fun because they are creative people too, and they have good ideas. When they do have feedback, it’s generally for good reason and it makes the piece feel more like a fun collaboration. 

PB: What are you working on next?

IF: It sounds like I’ll be working on some more concert visuals this summer for Wooli and a few other DJs that I have been really into for years. It’s really exciting that I’m even on their radar—it’s flattering. Maybe even some music videos! We shall see. 

Find more motion graphics/3D inspiration with these bonus resources:

Cover image courtesy of Ian Frederick.

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