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Daniel Savage

Daniel Savage is a lot of things. A director, graphic designer, illustrator, animator, musician, and artist. He’s spent the last fifteen years trying lots of creative things for both enjoyment and to pay the bills. Nowadays, he does a little bit of everything and makes sure he’s having fun while doing it.

Making The Internet Fun Again
Making The Internet Fun Again

Making The Internet Fun Again

Ep
181
Mar
23
With
Daniel Savage
Or Listen On:

Life is short. Don’t waste it doing things you don’t enjoy.

Daniel Savage is a lot of things. A director, graphic designer, illustrator, animator, musician, and artist. He’s spent the last fifteen years trying lots of creative things for both enjoyment and to pay the bills. Nowadays, he does a little bit of everything and makes sure he’s having fun while doing it.

We talk with Daniel about connecting the dots in his career path and how he went from studying avant-garde percussion to designing animated patterns for Volvo.

One through line in Daniel’s body of work is how he brings graphic design and hand drawn forms together. It’s a unique trademark that’s found a place in his latest experiment: Infinite Grid. A limited edition series of generative NFT animations that blend his sense of design, illustration, and rhythm together.

Episode Transcript

Dan:

If anyone asks me, I always say, "Go to the cheapest school you can find that has the best instructors. It's not about the name brand." Even though if someone says, "Oh, I went to SVA." You're like, "Oh, cool." You know that brand, but I don't know, does it really matter? As long as you have a good portfolio, no, I don't think so.

Chris:

I don't get that many opportunities to talk to people who are still working in the motion design field that are directors in the space. I was a little confused. I know you're in Los Angeles, but then you have all these things about New York.

Dan:

Yeah.

Chris:

Are you in LA now, or are you in New York?

Dan:

I'm in LA, yeah. Yeah, I've been here for five years.

Chris:

Okay.

Dan:

I grew up in Long Island, and I was in New York until five years ago, basically.

Chris:

Okay. All right. Very interesting. Okay. For people who don't know you, Daniel, can you introduce yourself and give us a little bit of your backstory?

Dan:

Yeah. My name is Daniel Savage, designer, animator, director, artist, whatever you want to call it. I've been working professionally for about 15 years, I guess. Went to school for music, ended up switching to graphic design. Then I found motion design through that. Then I worked at Comedy Central. That was my first job out of school, and that kind of kicked things off. Went into the motion design field for a while. Got a little bored of that. Went into interactive and more experience type stuff. Got bored of that. Went into more film animation, then illustration doing some more editorial stuff. Then now I'm kind of ticking everything and mixing it all together. That's where I am now. Yeah, been mostly independent for my whole career.

Chris:

Okay. That's cool. I'm going to go back and ask you a few questions, if you don't mind. In regards to your job at Comedy Central, what did you do and how did you get that gig?

Dan:

It was on-air branding. The funny story is I got the gig because I found a... Remember Mograph.net? It was like a message board.

Chris:

Yes, I remember it very clearly. Yeah.

Dan:

I was trying to... Chris Scarlata, the creative director, made a post there looking for designers. I just responded to that, and then like a week later I was working there.

Chris:

Mograph.net was the precursor to Motionographer, right?

Dan:

I think so. Yeah.

Chris:

Yeah. So you're like old school there. You're pre Motionographer. That's super cool. I love that.

Dan:

Yeah, I was definitely a superfan back in college, just checking every blog I could get my hands on. Right. Remember Surfstation?

Chris:

That I do not know, Surfstation.

Dan:

Okay.

Chris:

We can put a time on this. When did you graduate school?

Dan:

2007.

Chris:

Okay. All right. So you see this job posting, and was it a simple matter of applying and just nailing the interview and getting that gig?

Dan:

Yeah, that was, pretty much that was it. It was pretty simple. Yeah. I don't know. It was kind of funny. I remember, this is probably a stupid story. My mom was like, "You better wear something nice." I was like, "I'm going to wear a hat, just to show you that I'm in a cool industry. No one cares." I don't know. It's like just a 21-year-old rebel trying to be cool. Then you get the job and you're like, "Yeah, none of this matters."

Chris:

It doesn't matter.

Dan:

Yeah.

Chris:

It's funny, because you know, parents are, they're like, "Hey, make a good first impression. Show up for the job that you want." Right?

Dan:

Yeah.

Chris:

You're like, "No, it doesn't work like that, Mom." I'll tell you a funny story though. My younger brother, who only took a couple years of college, and he wound up working for me for a period of time, and there was a job opportunity for him at this company. He shows up, dressed up in like a oversized, a suit jacket with slacks. He tried to make that appearance. What happened was, the guy who hired him, his name is David. David's like, "You got the job, but never come dressed that ever again." They had a good laugh about it.

Dan:

That's great.

Chris:

That goes to show you, sometimes you do have to dress for the job, but not always what you think. It's not the uniform of business attire. It's to say, "You know? I have a perspective in the world." And we like that, especially in the creative field.

Dan:

Yeah, for sure.

Chris:

Yeah. How long did you last at Comedy Central?

Dan:

I was permalance there.

Chris:

Oh, okay.

Dan:

Nine months in, they were like, "You either have to go staff or hit the road." I was like, "All right-"

Chris:

[crosstalk 00:05:03]

Dan:

Yeah, I was like, "All right, I'm out." But yeah, it was super awesome job, and I learned a lot.

Chris:

Yeah.

Dan:

Then it was like, I don't know. I was excited to work at the studios, to see what that was all about. So I worked at Superfad. I feel like my whole resume is studios that don't exist anymore.

Chris:

I want to talk about that. I want to talk about that. Superfad, are you in the Jake Banks era of Superfad, or post Jake Banks?

Dan:

Was he LA?

Chris:

He is LA. and he's the founder.

Dan:

Okay.

Chris:

I think, was it Matt [Marque 00:05:43] who started the New York office, maybe?

Dan:

I'm not sure. Yeah. I don't remember. I was only there for, again, it was probably a six or seven month run, you know?

Chris:

Yeah. It probably was. I feel like 2007, it would still be under his guidance. Anyways, let's move on from that. I want to take us back in time, before you're studying music, before you find graphic design, and then motion design and do all the stuff that you're doing now. When did you know, at what age and what was the catalyst for you to think to yourself, "You know? I want to do something creative with my life."

Dan:

I don't think there even was one. I think it just was always, it was always there.

Chris:

Oh.

Dan:

I thought I was going to be like a Disney animator, is what my dream job was as a child, or just cartoons in general. I wanted to work in entertainment, I guess. Then I just lost interest in it, and started playing music. But I don't know, it's always interesting to hear people talk about like, "Oh," when they realize I can make money from doing this. I don't know. Maybe it was an arrogant thought process, but it was like, "Yeah, this is what I'm going to do, and I'm going to make money." There's no question. That was me at 10. It's like, "Yeah, I'm going to do that. What's the worst that could happen?"

Chris:

What is it about you, or your parents, or your environments, or your culture that said, "Yeah, you can be a creative person. You can make a living doing this, no problem."

Dan:

Yeah. I wonder if it is just encouragement from my folks. Actually, my dad passed when I was a kid. So maybe there was also this thought when that happened that was like, "Oh, life's short." You grow up real quick, and you're like, "Life's short. I'm going to do whatever I want for the limited time I have." That could have been a big part of it too. Yeah. Then my mom has always been, whatever I do, she's stoked about it. So that was pretty cool.

Chris:

I have to imagine, how old were you when your dad passed?

Dan:

12, I think?

Chris:

Oh my goodness. That is really young. Okay.

Dan:

Yeah, it was brutal.

Chris:

Yeah. I mean, how did that impact your family? I still have my father. For my family, my dad was... Both my parents worked, but he was the primary breadwinner, and he was the stable force in our family. Without my dad, it's like, what direction are we all heading? He was the disciplinarian. He was a lot of different things. How did that impact you and the family?

Dan:

Oh, geez. I guess, if anything, it made us all closer. I don't know. It's so weird. I've never really talked about this. It's just an interesting question. I never thought about it. How did it impact us? I don't know. I mean, it definitely fucked us all up a little bit, but then made us stronger long-term. Pretty impressed that my mom kept everything together, and we're all successful and have happy families and everything. Yeah, my dad was always smart about long-term thinking. So he had set up enough to where my mom could still just be a mom. So that was helpful. I don't know. I don't even know what else to say about it.

Chris:

Okay. Let me see if I understand a couple of things that you're saying. When you say us, do you have siblings?

Dan:

Yeah. Yeah. I have two sisters.

Chris:

What is your birth order here?

Dan:

I'm in the middle.

Chris:

Okay.

Dan:

Yeah.

Chris:

Did either one of your sisters react in a stronger way than you did?

Dan:

No.

Chris:

Because the story is, with my dad, he has eight or nine brothers and sisters. His dad also passed relatively early, and he had to assume the father figure for the family. So it changed his personality. It changed how he carried himself. I don't know, I'm just fascinated. I don't know either one of my grandfathers. They passed before I was born. All I know are grandmothers, and so I'm just curious. Because you're in a place where you, actually there was a time that you know before and the time after, and how things changed. Did anybody in your family, like your siblings especially, did they react one way or the other?

Dan:

I don't know. You know, what's the craziest thing about that whole situation? I feel like leading up to it, and then the next couple of years, you almost just black it out of your memory completely. Then it just becomes your normal, and then you don't really remember life before it. I mean, I'd say like I started rebelling and dressing crazy and everything like that, but would that have happened regardless? I don't know. That's something I've never really thought about, I guess. Yeah, I guess my older sister's always been more of the second mom of the family. I've always just been the weird middle child, who just kind of goes in the corner and does weird creative stuff. Everyone's like, "Well, what's he doing over there?"

Chris:

Right. Fellow middle child here, so I feel it a lot. For sure, I feel it. It sounded to me like your dad, prior to passing, was good with the finances, and it didn't put you guys in a weird position, which added some stability. So his passing created a vacuum, but you guys came together as a family, and made it through together in your own ways, right?

Dan:

Yeah. Yeah. For sure. I mean, we were far from rich or anything, but he had a steady government job. He actually fixed computers for a lab in Long Island. That also was what got me into computers early. He would bring home spare parts, and build a computer for us to mess around with. I was on AOL 95 and all that, screwing around.

Chris:

People are scratching their heads like, "What are we talking about? AOL who?" Internet, if you're under 20 years old, you won't even know this company AOL, but at one time they were a very big important company. It's how many Americans connected to internet using dial-up even. Right?

Dan:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Yeah.

Chris:

So you in the late '90s, early 2000s, we're just talking about the beginning, the dawn of internet 1.0. Now they're talking about internet 3.0, but that's where we were back then.

Dan:

Yeah.

Chris:

It's fascinating. I'm finding a lot of parallels between your story and my own. My older brother was really into computers, and so we had the very first IBM PC that was available. It was grossly underpowered by today's standards, and super expensive. I think it was over $3,000.

Dan:

Geez.

Chris:

We were doing word processing on it. Everybody let that sink in. It was a big deal that I can actually type something, and undo and revise what I wrote. It's kind of interesting how fast technology changes.

Dan:

Yeah.

Chris:

So your dad introduced you to computers. You had access to computers, so this became part of your normal day-to-day interaction, right? You weren't afraid of these things.

Dan:

Yeah. Yeah, for sure. I feel like everyone in my high school thought I was a hacker, just because I understood the internet. Everyone, they were one-by-one slowly joining. I was kind of a troll, and I was really into programming little punters that would kick other people offline. Did you ever hear about those? I don't know.

Chris:

No.

Dan:

It would send a crazy HTML code. It was like in bracket H333333, or something like that. Font equals H333. Then it would just send that through the IM chat, and it would freeze the other person's computer. I don't know.

Chris:

Total troll maker.

Dan:

Yeah. I had a lot of fun with that, but that also was what got me, what introduced me to Visual Basic and very, very simple C++ programming. Then obviously the Photoshop part, or the design part of creating those little punters was more interesting.

Chris:

I think you did more with the computers you were given than I did, because I mostly played video games and dreamt about making things, but you actually made stuff.

Dan:

Right.

Chris:

That was pretty cool. Another thing that you said that I want to underscore here is about this message that you picked up as a 12-year-old, that life is short. Life is short, and you don't know when you're going to lose it, so why waste it doing something that you don't love?

Dan:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris:

From looking at your biography here in terms of the different things you've gotten into, I think you've followed that to the T. Where you're like, "I'm into music. I'm going to do this." I think percussion, right?

Dan:

Yeah.

Chris:

Then I'm into illustration. I'm into fine art graphic design. How do you know, from your own internal compass or radar, if this is a worthwhile pursuit, or do you just follow your heart?

Dan:

Yeah, I think I just blindly go for it. Actually, what's interesting about that is that's why I think I changed my interest so often. I get into something and I go all in without thinking of the bigger picture. Then I kind of get to a ceiling or the end of the path. I'm like, "Wait. Oh, this is the wrong path." Then I go back. I think that's, I guess it's a good thing. Because you pick up all these different things that you can apply to the bigger picture. I should take a step back and think more, but yeah, I kind of just go for it and hope for the best, I guess.

Chris:

I'm going to reveal something about myself. In no way should you feel pressured to reveal something about yourself, but I'm seeing parallels. I have a pretty obsessive addictive personality, and that's why I stay away from drugs and alcohol. Because when I find something I'm really into, I go really deep. I do that deep dive, and I don't care about anything else. When I'm into like fishing, I'm buying magazines and books. I'm reading. I'm talking to every single person. I'm looking into buying tools and things to make my own fishing flies and things like that. I'm buying multiple reels, and all the gear in the kit. Then I reach saturation. You call it ceiling. It's like, "I'm done. I'm good with this. What else is new and interesting?"

Dan:

Yeah. Yeah.

Chris:

I do that. Does that sound like you?

Dan:

I think so. I get discouraged with side hobbies. Like I've got the guitar right here.

Chris:

I see it.

Dan:

I started learning the guitar, because I'm in an apartment, I can't play the drums. I was like, "Oh, I need something to be a creative outlet," so I started that. But now I'm into trying to learn how to surf, and I'm completely uninterested in learning how to play the guitar. I'll get back into it eventually. So I dabble a lot. I'd say more so than going fully in and hitting that end. Yeah.

Chris:

I see.

Dan:

But that's more with hobbies. I guess with the art and work stuff, it's probably closer to what you were saying, with becoming obsessed with it. Like right now, and I think the reason why Greg introduced us was, right now I'm completely obsessed with NFTs and Web3, and where that stuff is going. That's my obsession right now. Yeah.

Chris:

Okay. I want to definitely talk to you about NFTs. I want to stay on this whole dabbling thing. All right.

Dan:

Yeah.

Chris:

Oftentimes, I'm telling people that I'm working with, I'm trying to coach them, I'm like, "You know what? Pick your hobbies carefully, because you only have a finite amount of time. You want to focus. Whatever it is you want to do, I don't care, but focus in on those things and get really good at something. Have that discipline so you learn something about yourself. It builds self-esteem, it builds character." You seem to be, "Okay. I'm going to dabble with this. Nah, that didn't work. I'll try this." What is the internal narrative, in terms of what's happening inside your head, when you try something and you don't want to pursue it anymore? How do you give yourself permission to say, "You know what? I'm actually not that interested in that right now. I'll come back to this later."

Dan:

I think it's more so I get really into it briefly and then, to be honest, it's probably usually just work gets busy. Then I take a break from it, and then it's hard to find that motivation to jump back in. Because you're not in a routine of both, this is with the guitar specifically, playing every day. Getting back into that habit is really hard.

Chris:

Some people, that's all they do. They just keep dabbling, and they actually never find anything to go deep in. Some people are super hyper focused, and don't dabble at all. I think it's a mix of these two things that actually gives us joy, but helps us to build enough authority or expertise in what it is that we want to do.

Dan:

Yeah, for sure.

Chris:

Okay. All through your life, it seems like you knew what you wanted to do. You had the self-belief and self-awareness that, "You know what? If I'm going to do this, I'll be successful. I'm not really concerned about that." It seems like you've manifested that into reality. I want to talk a little bit more about your work. I look at your body of work as a combination of a couple different things. I'm going to say it the way I see it, but then I'd love for you to describe it in your own way. It's kind of hand-drawn looking low-fi illustrations that are combined with cel animations, and some of these Memphis style patterns. If you don't know what I'm talking about, it's a design thing. How would you describe your aesthetic?

Dan:

Yeah. I mean, that sounds right. I think it's playing into my limitations, and exploiting them to try to find something that I can make my own, rather than avoid something because I'm not good at it. It's like make it bad on purpose or something. I don't know. I mean, I'm probably the most confident about my work is the rhythm of the animation. That just comes back from playing drums, I think. But then the design part is always, I don't think it comes as natural. I feel like I'm going on a tangent here. Yeah, but I guess so the point being, "Oh, I'm going to take that insecurity or limitation, and just try to own it and not shy away from it," I guess.

Chris:

Yeah. I like that. Let me see if I understand this. I mean, you're saying an idea that I feel in slightly different words. Playing into your limitations, and not worrying too much about the things that you're not good at. It's like, if I don't want to do 3D, I'm going to just focus on hand-drawn or cel animation, or things I can control. Right? Then trying to develop something unique that comes out of that place. Did I hear that right?

Dan:

Yeah, I'd say so. Which actually it's funny. Going back to the dabble thing, I did start learning Blender, and then work got crazy and I stopped it.

Chris:

That was during that period where you're like, "I've got to bring 3D into this."

Dan:

Yeah, exactly.

Chris:

Yeah. I saw on your website something about Something Savage IPA. At first I was like, is this a real thing? Then at the bottom, there's a 3D credit down there from a guy named Justin Lawes?

Dan:

Right, yeah.

Chris:

I was like, "Oh, so this is definitely..." I mean, is this an example of like, I have an idea/ I know what I'm good at in terms of design, color, blocking, and patterns and printmaking. And then someone else could make this look like a 3D can. That's not my thing to do right now.

Dan:

Yeah. Well that was actually, that was a real client project.

Chris:

Oh, that's a real client.

Dan:

Yeah. They're called House of Cans, based I think in London. I think every month, or every other month, they invite an artist to design the can. Then they come up with a name based on it, so they named it to something. It's funny, because it does sound like a fake student project. You're like, "Oh, I'm going to name it after myself," but they came up with that name. Then we didn't get high-end product shots, so I just asked my buddy Justin to do some 3D renders for it. Yeah.

Chris:

Oh, okay. Okay. I wasn't sure, because I was like, "I think there's a real project, and it's a real can." But then there's a 3D credit, so it threw me off a little bit. This company, they do limited release artist inspired cans?

Dan:

Yeah. Yeah. It's pretty rad.

Chris:

Yeah. That is really rad.

Dan:

I think they're, it's just a small storefront somewhere in the city. They just make their own beer, and collaborate with artists, and that's it. Yeah, it's awesome.

Chris:

Same beer, different cans, or different beer?

Dan:

It's a different beer every... They're constantly experimenting, and they'll have a beer that they'll collaborate with someone on, yeah.

Chris:

Oh, very cool. I'm going to ask a question that's going to sound really weird. How do you taste?

Dan:

They couldn't send any, because shipping to LA would be too crazy or something. So I never even got to-

Chris:

So you weren't never able to-

Dan:

I never even got to drink my own beer. I know.

Chris:

All right. If you were to describe how you might taste as an IPA beer, what would you describe? What are the notes it's going to hit? I'm just curious.

Dan:

Oh, no. I'm not even a big beer guy, actually.

Chris:

Yeah. Might it be spicy, fruity? I don't drink beer at all, so I have no idea.

Dan:

I guess, fruity. Something fruity.

Chris:

Fruity? Little fruit notes there. It comes from a good hop. I don't know. I'm just making this stuff up that I don't know anything about. But the illustrations that are on the can are so unique that I think it would just jump off the shelf. I mean, it might even attract a different kind of customer like, "Oh. Hey, mom, I'd like to try this drink." "No, it's a beer."

Dan:

Yeah.

Chris:

There's something really fun and attractive about it.

Dan:

Yeah. Thank you. I appreciate it.

Chris:

The other thing that you mentioned, which I'd love for you to speak about, and people don't fully understand it when I say this. When I was first starting out my company, there was a guy, his name is Ben Lopez. He was really into music and composition, electronic music. When I started working with him, he just knew how to animate like nobody's business. From that point forward, I always thought to myself, people who have a musical background, either playing an instrument or composition, they can see rhythm. I cannot.
The way that he would adjust the key frames, I just couldn't even keep up with him. At that point I'm like, "Ben, I surrender. You animate all of this. You're just way better at it than I am, and I'll go do something else. I'll go type set or something." You mentioned before, the rhythm of the animation because of your background in music and percussion. Do you know why it seems like people who are into music have a better job at animating, or can do a better job?

Dan:

Well, I guess first I wouldn't say a better job, but there's definitely people who don't play music who are way better animators than I'd ever be, but it helps. I think it's... Yeah, I mean, it's just timing, right? When you learn about, for example, in playing the drum kit, there's something called ghost notes, where it's little accents that are in between the main. It's like, if there's a main beat on like the one and three or something, in between that you could do like a eighth note here and there that's little accents. Just that way of thinking definitely translates into, "Oh, if I need this circle to go from point A to B, it can hesitate for a second before it goes." It's almost exactly the same type of thing. If you do that for, whatever, 10 years, every day for two hours a day, then it's just going to become natural to think that way.

Chris:

I think it's, and I'm probably going to butcher this, but music is in the silence between notes. It's a spacing, right? You're talking about this ghost note, and that's kind of interesting. I've not heard that term before, but when you talk about animation, then I get it. Some of the things you're talking about is anticipation and overshoot.

Dan:

Yeah, for sure.

Chris:

We feel the... We want it to move, and then it hesitates or it pulls back, and then it moves. Then it misses the mark, and then it comes back. Those are the kinds of things that I see really prevalent in the work of people who understand animation. I see it in your work obviously, but it feels human. It doesn't feel digital and cold.

Dan:

Yeah, definitely. It's adding a bit of style to it too, to give it that extra little whatever it is. The thing that-

Chris:

The je ne sais quoi, whatever that is.

Dan:

Yeah. The thing that draws you into it, right?

Chris:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, even if you are not familiar with animation or rhythm, you can feel it in your body when you're looking at the work. There's something really attractive about it. If you study animation, that's what you do. You can point out, "There it is. That's what it's doing. The motion curves look really good. It's speeding up here and it's slowing down there." Most definitely, when you look at something that isn't done by someone who understands this, there's something that's off. It feels super digital and it doesn't have that kind of finesse.

Dan:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris:

Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back.

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Chris:

Welcome back to our conversation... Switching gears, you started Something Savage in 2014. Is this your production company?

Dan:

Yeah. It was me sort of escaping the in-house booking type work, and trying to get my own clients. I think at first I had ambitions to make it a bigger studio. Then as I started getting clients and hiring freelancers to help me, if I was juggling a couple of jobs at the same time, I realized I was just being more of a producer than anything. I wanted to be, I would be jealous of the guy or girl I just hired.

Chris:

Right.

Dan:

I'm like, "Oh, I want to be doing what you're doing. This sucks. Then I was like... That's also actually what drew me into the illustration type stuff. It was the way an illustrator does business was really appealing to me. It's all project based, and they don't get... I mean, obviously you can do like a contract type booking, but it was like, "Oh, here's the scope. Here's what it's going to cost. I'll talk to you next week when I have something to share." That was really appealing to me, so I'm like, "How can I take parts of that, while still doing animation, and not have to build a big production company?" It's finding that middle ground of where I can fit in the cracks between the two different things. Yeah.

Chris:

Now, when you're juggling more work than you can process, are you having to continue to work in that producer role, or are you hiring someone to help do that, so you can actually do the work?

Dan:

Yeah, no, it never really gets to the point where I need to hire a producer. I'll hire friends to help me animate. Usually character animation is the thing that's my weak point, I guess, when it comes to animation. So I'll hire someone who's an expert at that, that I'm friends with, that I trust and I don't need to babysit them. I'll go back to what I'm doing, and then they'll check in whenever. It's like that type of thing.

Chris:

Yeah.

Dan:

But it's not even, it's not really, it's not that often. I try to keep a good work life balance, I guess. To where I can do the work I want to do, without being too much of a manager, I guess.

Chris:

You're in this position where I think a lot of people would love to be. Where you got out of school, you did full-time freelance, and then you freelanced around different studios. Sadly, many of them are not around today, and it's fine. It's not your fault. You're not the angel of death here, right? Then you're now an independent, where you can actually have a direct relationship with clients, and have the possibility of hiring freelancers to do what you used to do for other studios. How did you go about acquiring these relationships with clients? I saw that you do work for Volvo. How did you get that client?

Dan:

That one specifically came through an agent who helps me find work. That one came through them. It was through ACNE, there's a agency somewhere in Europe. I can't remember exactly. There was some layers there. I didn't actually get to meet anyone from Volvo, but I think that's also, it's an agency job. That happens often. Yeah, they help a lot, but I've only been on their roster for two or three years, maybe two. Before that, it was just being in Brooklyn for 10 years, and meeting lots of people and word of mouth type stuff. Then you're just like, "Hey, I'm going to do this on my own now." Then people are like, "Okay, we'll give you a shot." Then lots of cold calling, that type of thing. Just knocking on doors, seeing what happens.

Chris:

I hear that story quite often, actually, people in New York. Because it's such a tight knit community, and you can actually accidentally bump into all kinds of people it you go to local watering holes. You're going to meet people. It's just how New York works. I think it's pretty unique and exclusive to New York, because I don't hear about that in LA. You don't just bump into people. We're very much a car culture here. Everybody's so far spread out. You said something which raised my eyebrow. Cold calling, you cold call clients? Tell me about that.

Dan:

Well, I guess the biggest thing was when I was excited about illustration, and I was like... I think it's kind of a classic illustration tale, where you go to Barnes & Noble and you take a picture of the... They list the art director in all the magazines. I went there, and cool magazine I found, I took a picture. Then I went home, made a spreadsheet, and just sent out a ton of emails. Then, it actually worked. I don't know, it started... It was slow, but then it just snowballed. So yeah, I've tried just finding random agency art directors. Just be like, "Hey, what's up? I'd love to work with you." I don't think it really works that often, but I guess it doesn't really hurt either. You know?

Chris:

Yeah. What you say sounds really simple, but a lot of people don't do the simple things, and then they don't have these opportunities available to them. I've never done that. I never even thought to do that, to go look at a magazine, who's buying and who's deciding who to work with. Then you just go and reach out to them.

Dan:

Yeah.

Chris:

Not rocket science here, folks, but the basic stuff works. Right?

Dan:

Yeah.

Chris:

This is how you got leads?

Dan:

Yeah. Well, yeah. Then you get these simple low budget editorial illustrations, but there's a chance to put yourself into the work, and have a lot of fun with it. Then you post it on Instagram or whatever. Then the agency art directors start to notice, and then it's like one thing leads to another, and then-

Chris:

Oh, I see.

Dan:

Then you don't have to go to Barnes & Noble anymore.

Chris:

All right. Daniel's laying out the blueprint for how, if you're just coming up in the world, what you can do. You get a lead any which way you can. He's suggesting, just look at who's making the decisions, who to work with. They're not tremendously high budget, so there's a good chance that you can get an opportunity. Then you document that work, and then you post it on Instagram. Because now it's a real project you're doing for a real client, maybe with a name that you know. Then that gets you the next opportunity. Is this now how you get the leads that you get, is through Instagram?

Dan:

I don't know, probably. Instagram, Twitter, or just word of mouth. I don't know. I'll get random emails from people, and I always try to trace where could they have found me? Or if there's work of mine that's in the mood board, like, "Okay. Oh, this is from this project." Then you kind of trace it a little bit. I think it's just being out there, just doing it for a long time and just... I don't know. It's like a weird thing.

Chris:

Well, it's not always so easy to trace back the origins of where you get a lead from.

Dan:

Yeah. Yeah.

Chris:

It's tough. I mean, you can ask people, "Oh, I think I saw you somewhere." You're like, "Okay, where?" Or somebody told you. Oftentimes, if we want to repeat the success that we have, we have to find out where these things come from, so we can put more effort there. Obviously, if you love that kind of project and that kind of client, then you want to get more of what they got.

Dan:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris:

I think you mentioned that you're represented by ACNE, as a production company. They represent you, or no?

Dan:

No. It's Agent Pekka.

Chris:

Oh, Agent Pekka, sorry.

Dan:

Yeah, they're more of like an artist illustrator rep. Which is interesting, because it's not your typical production company that reps directors. I think I like that a little more. There's no pitching, really. It's more just, "Here's their work. Here's what it's going to cost. Do you want it or not?" You know?

Chris:

Yeah.

Dan:

I've never been repped by a production company though, so I don't have much experience to compare it.

Chris:

It's not great. I'm just going to tell you, it's not great. Well, in general, we always feel this way. Whether it's true or not, we always feel like our reps aren't doing as much as they can to get us gigs. We hear about, "Oh, Johnny and Mary got the opportunity to look at that project. How come we're not in the conversations?" Who knows? There's a thousand reasons why.

Dan:

Yeah.

Chris:

When you talked about, when you tell them, "Here's the price," and they say yes or no. Who determines the price? You, or do they work with you on this?

Dan:

Yeah, if someone emails them, they'll sort it out. Get on a call, get details, then they'll bring it. Then they'll come to me and be like... It's actually pretty cool. They'll forward the entire email chain, so you're aware of everything that's going on. It's very transparent. Then they'll be like, "Here's what I'm thinking. Does it sound good to you?" Usually it's like, "Yeah, that sounds great." Then it's up to the client, whether or not they want to do it. Yeah.

Chris:

Yeah. That's really cool. I'm glad that you're able to do what you do, to have the kind of relationships that you have. Not have to pitch and go after the work, and jump through so many hoops. That's really cool. Okay. Now, we're going to get to the part where I think we both want to talk about. I'll try my best to bring it all together, for everyone who's paying attention. You mentioned that, I guess in the late '90s, early 2000s, you're messing around with computers.
You're writing bots or code to boot people off servers, and things like that just for fun. Obviously, you're a guy who's comfortable with technology. The thing that's popping right now that everybody's talking about, they're all getting involved in this because there's tremendous opportunities for artists, is none other than NFTs. I myself, I'm starting to go down that rabbit hole, and I see that you have a collection. Tell me about your interest in NFTs, and what is it that you see that you want to do with them?

Dan:

Yeah. Around, I guess towards the end of 2020, I feel like that's when everyone started paying... It's been around for a while, but everyone started paying attention to it then. In that moment, it's so funny. In that moment, I thought I was late. I was trying to get on all the platforms, and the waiting list was so backed up you couldn't get on. Yeah, it was just, I don't know what it was. There's something about it that made the internet fun again, I guess. I guess maybe that's part of the whole Web3 thing. So I listed a couple things on the platforms on like, I think it was called makers.page, and then Foundation were two that I was on. I sold a couple things, and it feels incredible to sell your work. But then it was like, there was gas fees involved, so you're paying to list it. And there's no guarantee that someone's going to buy it.

Chris:

Yeah.

Dan:

So I got a little discouraged. Then I was in a... This is probably more of a pandemic thing, but I was just like, "I can't deal with all the noise on Twitter." I unfollowed everyone on Twitter, just to break the habit. Then I left, for the whole summer I didn't look at... I looked at Instagram, but I tried to avoid social media in general. Then I came back in October or November, and started seeing all these... Then I realized what was happening with the more DIY collection stuff. You create your own smart contract, and you build this thing, and you don't have to pay the gas. If someone wants to buy it, they pay the gas. It was like, all the things I didn't like about it. There's no percentage that a, I think Foundation takes 15% or something. So that doesn't exist anymore.
It's like, "Oh, I can give this percentage to a developer instead, and do it myself." It's also, the idea of generative art in general is really interesting, and finding ways to do that with my limited coding knowledge. It was all those things combined. I was like, "Oh, let me take a stab at this." My friend Mike [Boge 00:41:59] helped me put it all together with the smart contract and the site and everything. Yeah, and it's interesting. I'm totally hooked now. We're working on phase two, the project's called Infinite Grid. I'm kind of interested to see where it goes. Yeah.

Chris:

For Infinite Grid, the things that I've seen are parts of animations that loop perfectly, I think. Right?

Dan:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris:

Then compose in different configurations, using some kind of engine where you adjust parameters to how often you see this, how rare this trait is. Right?

Dan:

Right, yeah.

Chris:

It builds that composition, based on the variables that you provide.

Dan:

Yeah, exactly. It was a way to bring my interest of back in the day graphic design. Everything's grid based, and trying to push that into an art expressive place. Then also taking traditional hand-drawn animation loops, that I really love to create. How can we use random codes to build however many unique renders based on that? Yeah.

Chris:

How has the reception been to the NFTs you've listed?

Dan:

Good. I mean, we sold 700 and something, a little over 700 of them. Yeah, I don't know. Everyone that came across the project seems really stoked about it. It's a tough thing, when you're just... I guess, because I took a break from the summer and I didn't keep building, you're almost starting from scratch. So it was a little tricky getting the word out on some of that. But now we have a little community of a thousand people on Discord, and that's slowly building. We're working on where to go from there, and giving some rewards to people who bought the grids. Yeah, I don't know. There have been pretty good feedback, based on all that.

Chris:

Do you think in the very near future, this could be your full-time occupation or obsession?

Dan:

Maybe. I mean, anyone's possible really. I don't want to go all in, just in case it does dry up and people stop buying. Then you're stuck, Obviously, I still have client relationships that I want to maintain and all that. I guess it is like, you can be a little more picky with the clients that you take on, which is cool. That is definitely helpful.

Chris:

I talk to creative people about this all the time, that you need some cushion, and the cushion away from the peaks and the valleys of client work, because it can be very irregular. It's that expression feast or famine. There's either too much to eat, or I'm starving. So some form of passive income in the form of an NFT or something else can help to soften the lows, so you can skate for a while. If there's a client that you don't feel for whatever reason, you can just say, "It's not right for me. You deserve someone who's going to give it 100%. I don't think I can at this point in time."

Dan:

Yeah, totally.

Chris:

What's really interesting about NFTs right now is the variety of what can be considered a piece of art is all over the place, from weird screenshots into really cool generative pieces of art. I notice with yours, it's really kind of fresh because it's non-figurative. There's no form. It's grids and shapes and lines and abstract things moving around. Right?

Dan:

Yeah. It's actually, going back to not really thinking too hard on things. It was just like, this is the idea that came to me, and I just went with it. I mean, it's cool to hear that it's different, I guess. Whether that's a good thing or not, because maybe I'd be rich if it wasn't different.

Chris:

If your grid was on a monkey or something.

Dan:

Yeah, exactly.

Chris:

I'll just say it like that. Yeah. I mean, it's disproportionate in terms of which NFT makes the big dollars, and then there's everybody else, right?

Dan:

Yeah.

Chris:

It's the same thing in life and economics. There's that small percentage that it just seems like they could do no wrong. Then everybody else is like, "Well, I wonder what my next drop is going to be like."

Dan:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's pretty funny.

Chris:

I've enjoyed this conversation. I want to make sure I ask you this question before we get out of here. I want you to think about, perhaps in your life, if there was a singular transformative moment, an inflection point where there was a before and then the after is so different. We talked about the passing of your father. That's probably an inflection point. Is there another one in your life where you're like, there was something significant there? I think there's opportunities to learn.

Dan:

Probably switching majors in college. Yeah. I guess every few years, there's something that happens that pushes you in a new direction. I think in college it was changing majors. Then outside of college, it was living in Williamsburg and Brooklyn, and being surrounded by super talented people, and you start pushing. All my roommates were really rad, like music producers, or other graphic designers and stuff like that. We would all just work really hard and push each other, so moments like that. I guess a lot of it is really who you're around in your community. That's probably a big part of it, right?

Chris:

Yeah.

Dan:

When I got a little older, and I don't want roommates anymore, then you get studio mates. Then the people that you work with in like this grungy warehouse in Greenpoint in Brooklyn, now those are the people that inspire you and influence you, and you want to keep up with them. That's like evolution: classmates, roommates, studio mates.

Chris:

Take me back to that point. You're going to school. Is this at SUNY, or S-U-N-Y?

Dan:

Yes, SUNY Purchase.

Chris:

SUNY Purchase.

Dan:

Yeah.

Chris:

You're going there to major in music?

Dan:

Right.

Chris:

Was there a idea that you had like, "I'm going to do this with this education."

Dan:

Yeah, actually so this is funny. The same thing as being inspired by someone, and them influencing you. My percussion teacher in high school went to music school, then became a percussion teacher. Now I'm learning from him, and he was super cool. I was like, "I want to be this guy when I get older." I was going to go for a performance degree, and then get an education degree, and then teach. Then also try to make it as a performer, but the education was like the easy backup plan, I guess. I'm very, very glad I didn't do that. Yeah, that was the safe way to be a musician, I guess.

Chris:

Would you be a drummer in a rock band, or in some kind of big band? I mean, what was the idea there?

Dan:

Well, I was studying really avant garde percussion ensemble work, really, really pretentious stuff. It was just super, pots and pans clanging.

Chris:

Oh, I see.

Dan:

I don't know. But that was Purchase. Purchase was really a art forward school. I think that actually may be why I switched into graphic design, because it was too artsy-fartsy for me or something. Yeah, just to answer your question. I probably would've been playing in bands, gigging as a percussionist, and then teaching. It's kind of like what I do now, where I'm like, just all these different little pots that make up the big picture, you know?

Chris:

Yeah. You know, when you said that, I don't know why, but I just had this flash. Have you seen Whiplash?

Dan:

Yeah.

Chris:

Okay. From your perspective, I mean what is your take on the portrayal of an obsessed drummer, who's being brutalized by an instructor? Just to what ends this person's trying to pursue this life as a musician?

Dan:

Yeah. It's been a while since I've seen it. I guess I didn't really have the focus that is portrayed in that, but there were people in my program that had that focus. They were in the studio all day long, just practicing the same four notes over and over again on like a marimba, just ku do do, ku do do, ku do do, just trying to get it perfect. Yeah, I was like, "Yeah, I don't have it like that. I can't do that." But we did have a professor, who I guess he calmed down when I got there because he was a little older, but there were stories that he would throw drumsticks at people if they screwed up. So I don't think it's too far from the truth.

Chris:

Yeah. I think the interesting things about these stories that we see is, we sit there and we scratch our face or our head and chin say, "Could that be real?" But that's based on somebody's experience somewhere, because that's what makes the characterization so believable. I've had instructors, like the old school instructors that would make you question your own self-worth all the time.

Dan:

Yeah.

Chris:

It's old school. We don't have those kinds of instructors anymore, because it'd be borderline abuse. You know?

Dan:

Yeah.

Chris:

Or assault or something.

Dan:

Yeah.

Chris:

But it's kind of fun to just watch vicariously like, "My gosh. Sometimes that's what it takes to be at the very highest level." Yeah. Okay. You're going to study to, you're doing avant garde percussion. You're going to gig, and then you're going to teach as a backup plan. What tells you, "Now it's time to change," and how do you make that decision? Is it an easy one, or is it through consternation, and consulting friends and family. Like, "Hey, is this the right thing for me."

Dan:

I'm trying to go into my head as a 18-year-old. It was... You know what? I would go to class, and learning these pieces of music. Okay. The biggest thing at the time... I would go practice all day, study, go to rehearsal, whatever. Then I would go home, and I would open up Photoshop, and just start clicking around just for fun. I realized, that part of the day was what I looked forward to. Part of me thinks that, if I had gone to music for production, I would've stuck with it. Because it was more of like you're a recording artist, you create something that you can like, "Here, look at this thing I made."
Versus performance, where you spend six months studying a single piece of music, and then you go, you play it once, and then you never look at it again. That's what I got out of graphic design, was I could create something and just be done with it. Then put it on the wall, and you start the next thing. That was a big part of it, I think. The funny thing is that with performance you can study something for the whole semester, and then you perform it. Then you miss one note, and the whole thing's ruined. Versus if I'm in Photoshop, I just hit undo. It's less pressure.

Chris:

Yeah. Yeah. Fascinating. I love that answer, by the way. So you have a life plan. You think this is what's going to happen, and you find out there's something you enjoy doing a little bit more in your free time. Then true to your arc, you learn to listen to that. You're like, "You know what? If I enjoy graphic design and jumping on Photoshop, maybe this should be my thing." Do you have to make a big decision to say, "Okay, I'm going to switch majors." It means I've got to get paperwork signed. I've got to apply to the different department. Is that a big deal, or is that a pretty easy, seamless transition there?

Dan:

Well, I think it was easy, just because it was the same college. I think if I had to transfer, that would've been a pain in the ass. In my head, I was like, "Oh, I need to go to SVA or RISD or something." But then the more I looked into the Conservatory of Arts at SUNY Purchase, it was like, "Oh, actually this professor teaches at SVA. And this person knows this person who works there." So you're like, "Oh, this is probably good enough." Not to, I don't mean that as a jab at Purchase. I just mean, you get out what you put in. Right?

Chris:

Yeah.

Dan:

I don't think, you don't need to spend... I mean it was a state school, so it was super cheap. So I paid my student loans off really quickly, and I'm very grateful for that. If anyone asks me, I always say, "Go to the cheapest school you can find that has the best instructors. It's not about the name brand." Even though if someone says, "Oh, I went to SVA." You're like, "Oh, cool." You know that brand, but I don't know, does it really matter? As long as you have a good portfolio, no, I don't think so.
Yeah, to answer your question though. Yeah. Just switching over was, I'm sure there was paper work. I don't really remember it being that big of a deal. But a lot of my credits transferred from music to art, which was pretty cool, which actually... Also, I'm kind of rambling now. But it kind of sucked, because I didn't have to do some of the entry level art classes, which I wish I had done, like life drawing and stuff like that. They were just like, "Oh, yeah. You don't need to do that. You're good." I'm like, "All right, cool." Then I ended up taking them later on my own. Yeah. That's the other tip, is don't skip the foundation classes.

Chris:

Yeah. I think sometimes the biggest learning happens in the foundation classes. Which on the surface seem like the most boring classes, and you want to get to do the fun stuff. But the fun stuff has more meaning and impact when you learn actually the core skills that you need. The ability to see and understand the form and render it, those kinds of things. I'm getting little geeky here, but yeah. Did you have to tell anybody, like your mom, or you were just like, "No, I'm just changing."

Dan:

I'm sure I told my mom. I'm sure in her head, she was like, "Oh, man. All those drum lessons I paid for are down the drain."

Chris:

Yeah. Like a parents' nightmare. It's like, "Oh, all right. You're not do anything with all that, huh? I had to deal with the noise, the banging, the gear, the lessons. Oh, graphic design is a very silent hobby. Why couldn't you have figured this out earlier? You're killing me." But, yeah.

Dan:

That's so funny.

Chris:

I have two boys. They both had piano lessons, and only one of them is continuing on in that pursuit. I'm okay with that. I think the ask was, "Give it a couple of years, after which you know some basics. You decide if you want to pursue this or not." One of them, I don't think he's articulated to this to us, but he loves playing the piano.

Dan:

Nice.

Chris:

I think it's going to be part of his life for the rest of his life, as far as I can tell.

Dan:

That's awesome. That's great.

Chris:

Yeah. Okay. Okay. This was awesome. I really appreciate you jumping on. I just want to be mindful of time. I really appreciate you jumping on the podcast, sharing a little bit about your story. Daniel, it's been a real pleasure. I want to wish you the best of luck in your future creative endeavors, including your NFT project, Infinite Grid. Where can people find out a little bit more about you? Where do they go?

Dan:

Somethingsavage.com.

Chris:

So simple, somethingsavage.com.

Dan:

Yeah, and check me out on Instagram and Twitter.

Chris:

Throw more signs when you do it.

Dan:

Yeah. Give me a follow.

Chris:

What is your handle on Instagram?

Dan:

Somethingsavage. It's somethingsavage across the board. Yeah.

Chris:

Okay. Oh, you got lucky on that.

Dan:

[crosstalk 00:58:53]

Chris:

That you can claim one thing across everything.

Dan:

Yeah.

Chris:

So it's somethingsavage on Instagram, on Twitter. You're back on Twitter now, right?

Dan:

I am, yes.

Chris:

Good. Yeah, because I know you took a break there.

Dan:

Yeah.

Chris:

Okay. Thank you so much.

Dan:

Yeah. Thanks a lot for having me. This was awesome... This is Daniel Savage, and you are listening to The Futur.

Greg Gunn:

Thanks for joining us this time. If you haven't already, subscribe to our show on your favorite podcasting app, and get a new insightful episode from us every week. The Futur Podcast is hosted by Chris Do, and produced by me, Greg Gunn. Thank you to Anthony Barrow for editing and mixing this episode, and thank you to Adam Sanborn for our intro music. If you enjoyed this episode, then do us a favor by rating and reviewing our show on Apple Podcasts. It'll help us grow the show, and make future episodes that much better.
Have a question for Chris or me, head over to thefutur.com/heychris, and ask away. We read every submission, and we just might answer yours in a later episode. If you'd like to support the show and invest in yourself while you're at it, visit thefutur.com. You'll find video courses, digital products, and a bunch of helpful resources about design and creative business. Thanks again for listening, and we'll see you next time.

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