EPIC Blog | What's Your Process | Q+A with Jon Striegel

What’s Your Process: Q+A with Jon Striegel

author: Margaret Snyder

Written by: Margaret Snyder

Senior Copywriter

05.30.2024

  • Culture

A Career That’s Always In Motion

Animation has drastically changed over the last 20 years, and it now holds a leading role in advertising. Seeing that 91% of businesses use video as a marketing tool, this rise in popularity makes sense. The focus on video has led to a demand for faster, more affordable, and easier ways to produce videos, and that’s where animation can lend a hand. Animated video is a plush, captivating medium that is resource-savvy. It also enhances creative storytelling by giving inanimate objects the gift of movement and providing a simple method for making key messaging really pop.

The job outlook for animators is projected to grow 8% from 2022 to 2032, which is faster than the average for all occupations. To learn more about his career path, his process, and what it’s like to work in the growing animation field, we sat down with Jon Striegel, lead motion designer at EPIC.

Q: I’m guessing animation wasn’t very big when you were in school. How did you wind up working in animation?

A: Animation was never something I planned on doing. Of course, I loved watching cartoons as a kid, and I always enjoyed doing creative things, but I didn’t see it as a career. In 2002, I went to UW Whitewater and my first two years were spent focused on general studies. When it was time to declare my major, I looked into a lot of different creative fields (set design, video editing, audio editing, graphic design, etc). My advisor suggested I look into a new major that the University was offering that combined video, audio, graphic design, 2D and 3D art. I was in the first class to graduate from Whitewater with a degree in Multimedia Digital Arts.

Q: So you have this new degree, what did you do next?

A: From there I wound up working at the Milwaukee CBS station making graphics for the morning news. Then, I joined EPIC Creative, working as part of the live broadcast team for eMedia inside the GE HealthCare Institute in Waukesha. When I was working in live broadcast, I was mostly operating equipment and creating graphics and lower thirds for GE HealthCare’s live programs, and that eventually led to also creating graphics and animations for some stand-alone videos. Then, as that live broadcast business started to slow down, the need for digital graphic design started to pick up. So, I moved to EPIC’s West Bend offices and continued creating 2D animation using After Effects software and learning 3D animation using Cinema 4D. And as you know, the demand for that has exploded.

Q: What qualities do you possess that make you good at what you do?

A: In the field of animation, I think it’s critical to be able to stay calm and think on your feet, and fortunately, I’m able to do both. Because animation is so popular right now, I’m dealing with a lot of clients, a lot of budgets and some really short timelines. That means it’s imperative to roll with the punches. I also think it pays to be a good collaborator. Animation is so closely tied to graphic design and video that to keep things moving in an organized way, we have to be communicating constantly.

Q: Please fill in the blank. The future of animation is __________________?

A: The future of animation is two things: It’s AI and Real-Time Rendering (RTR). As far as AI goes, it’s going to be about generating images and video and also using AI for other tasks like audio separation. For example, in the past, we used to separate out still images into multiple layers so that we could create a parallax effect in a video project. It used to be a lengthy and cumbersome task but now with AI, we can use AI tools to separate images into layers, fill in blank spots, and even create depth maps in a fraction of the time.

And as far as RTR is concerned, that’s a game changer. Ironically, the technology for RTR comes from the gaming industry. Anyway, in the past, when we created 3D images or animations, we did a lot of behind-the-scenes work without knowing what the actual animation would look like. The view we have in our viewport is fairly rudimentary, so if we wanted to see what our final image would look like, we’d have to render out a test image to see it.

Over the last few years, we started using Graphics Processing Rendering, or GPU-based rendering, which allowed us to see our final images more closely in the viewport. It made things much faster (especially things like adjusting lighting) but it still wasn’t final high-res quality or real-time. Now with RTR, it shows us what we’re doing in a finalized state essentially instantaneously. To put that in perspective, some high-resolution stills may have taken a good 20-30 minutes to render using older CPU-based rendering. With GPU-based rendering we got some of those lengthier renders down to just a few minutes. With RTR, that time can be reduced to essentially just seconds for previews in our viewport.

RTR is super cool because you can even use it instead of a green screen in video production. If you have a studio with a large enough video wall, you can put the video or images you want on a screen behind the actors, match the background to real-world camera movements, and give the actors something to physically see and interact with in real-time. At EPIC we’re tooling around with Unreal Engine to learn and accomplish some of this stuff.

Q: Can you tell me about a project you’re really proud of?

A: Sure, I’ve got a few. First, there’s a reel I had to put together for our customer WESTERN® Snowplows. The purpose of the video is to show dealers how to use digital media to engage customers. I like the end product because it seamlessly shows media within media which isn’t easy to do. And then there’s the movement of the piece. I love the way it carries the viewer through the content.

I’m also really proud of the partnership we’ve grown with John Deere. We started working with them because they quickly needed to create a virtual experience for a trade show that was moved from in-person to online during COVID quarantine. We created 3D models of their equipment and put them in an interactive display where you could rotate them and press touchpoints to learn about features. The presentation turned out really well. It’s such an effective way of communicating information, that the client asked us to create several of these virtual pavilions and, even though shows are back in-person, they continue to use our virtual pavilions online and at in-person shows.

Q: And finally, because your field is growing and shows great potential, what advice would you give people looking to work in the animation industry?

A: That’s easy. You have to be open to constantly learning new things. There really is no rest for those in the motion business! Animation is changing quickly and will continue to do so. There is a lot of burnout in the industry because it is really hard to keep up. But if you like change, and you don’t mind putting time into following what’s new, these are really exciting times.

Work Hard and Be Nice to People

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