Kevin, you’re a video creator and stop-motion animator with over 4 million followers across Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok. Your TikTok videos alone have amassed over 32.4 million likes. For anyone who hasn’t stumbled upon your work, how do you explain what you do?
Good question. So I split my time between VFX on the internet, and stop-motion animation. I’ve worked on a number of animated films, but now I just make videos for companies online, and my own videos. Last week, for example, I released a re-creation of the Netflix intro, made out of yarn. That had a pretty big, and good reception. 4.5 million views on TikTok.
But yes, it’s just me, in my basement, making stuff.
You started your career working on feature films. What led you to pivot to shorter form content?
I really just stumbled into it. I was living in Portland, working at Laika on stop-motion animated features, and it was around 2014/2015 when online video really started taking off. I just couldn’t help myself make stuff, and post it online.
What were some of your earliest videos like?
My earliest videos online were visual effects tricks. One of the first ones I did back when Vine was a thing, was a lazy teenage wizard making his bed. I just took sheets and threw them angrily at the bed, but it looked like the bed was magically making itself.
That was the first big one that took off on that platform.
Looking back on your transition to shorter-form content, what about editing for YouTube and mobile intrigued you?
For me, it was that contrast of working on a movie for two years, versus spending an afternoon making something that you could then post yourself. That’s where my interest lies. That contrast of spending two years and then the world finally sees it, versus a few hours and millions of people getting to see it right away.
I’ve always been fascinated by that part of the Internet, sensing where trends are going and where people's interests are, and how to hack your way into making a video more popular. That kind of stuff.
Is there anything you did early on that you would recommend to other editors looking to grow their brand?
I specifically did two things.
First, I had an advantage that I was at a feature studio working on really cool movies. When I started my Instagram account from scratch, I presented myself as an expert. I would share as much behind-the-scenes information as possible. That approach, of being an educator that people want to follow, was rare. Nowadays, that’s all TikTok is. People being experts and sharing tips.
Did that grow your following?
Yeah, because I had worked on a movie called Kubo and the Two Strings, and I had time-lapse footage of me animating on-set of these million-dollar projects.
What was the second thing you did?
I started doing my own work online. I'm way more interested in the editing process and objects. I didn't want to make expressive, emotional stuff. I started doing a lot of work that was polished, almost like spec work that brands could look at, and imagine their product in. I purposely made sure that brands could see it and envision that it could work for them as an ad. For example, I animated a Coke can coming to life.
When you’re animating, what software do you tend to rely on?
I use Dragon Frame, which is a stop-motion software and then post-production in After Effects.
What sort of frustrations have you run into with this process?
When I’m posting clips of making things, timelapses of animating, all the behind-the-scenes stuff, I just want to rapid fire through those edits and not do keyframing, masking, and tracking. Runway is a great way to bring those clips in quickly. Key something out, throw it in, and keep moving.
How are you using Runway?
I used it in the YouTube edit of my Netflix intro.
I just wanted to show the thing behind me. I quickly rotoscoped myself out of a normal background. It took me five minutes.
I was testing it on some sports footage and within a few minutes, I was like, oh, I can just put the teams flying around behind them. So many of us could take normal footage and just spice it up within 5 minutes and post it. I'm on the bullhorn to everyone about Runway, saying how useful it would be to anyone creating stuff online.
That’s great to hear. Since you started, how do you think the digital video landscape has evolved?
Things started fairly polished. Ten or fifteen years ago, if you posted a video on YouTube, it had that film festival mentality. Now, posting animation is very informal, especially with TikTok. You just film yourself talking, you film your process, your page isn’t really your polished portfolio anymore. It’s more of a peek into your own little world kind of thing.
How has this change influenced your own process?
With the Netflix intro that I did, I very much designed it as a video where I'm not just posting the final product; I'm telling a quick story about an idea I had, and how quickly I did it. The last few seconds are of the actual finished product. But the finished product isn't really the story. The story is the process of making it.
What was the original idea behind this video?
I pretty much designed this piece to be a popular video. There was a lot of thought and science behind making it popular. The seed idea was taking the Netflix intro and making a low budget, arts-and-crafts version of it.
I chose this idea, because I've been working on this series where I’ll just take an object and say, can I animate it?
So I've done one where like, Oh, can I animate jack-o'-lanterns?
Can I animate cake?
I’ve toyed with showing people the nitty-gritty of my software. But the more I dive into, watching me in my little software, the more I push out a lot of people because I’m only keeping the people who are interested in a very specific thing.
This one was basically the exact same format, but stripping away the technical stuff and just trying to hit as big of a general audience as possible. So that's why I brought in the pop culture aspect of the Netflix intro.
What, to you, is most interesting about these process-based videos?
It’s a completely technical experiment. I'm not really into expressing myself as an artist. I'm very technical. Can I animate 100 pumpkins? Can I do it? That said, I did film the Netflix intro months ago, and last week, their stock plummeted. The public narrative is that they're down on their luck. So a low budget intro really fits that narrative! So I rushed to get it done the following day.
The Netflix-intro was a personal project, but you mentioned you also do a lot of brand work. How do you divide your time between personal projects, and client-work?
It’s 90% brand work. When I made the leap to do online work, about four years ago, the template for that was like, oh, you have to be a YouTuber and be a personality and then, you know, sell t-shirts, start building a team of editors, and all that kind of stuff.
That approach didn't fit me at all. So I really pushed into the vibe of… I’m one guy in his basement who spends ridiculous amounts of time doing cool stuff.
I did a video of me skateboarding on the floor where I took like 400 pictures. I spent five days laying on the floor, taking one picture at a time to make it look like I was skateboarding.
I pivoted completely away from that YouTube model of building a team. I want every project to look like it's just one guy who has a crazy amount of time to do this thing. It’s great, because that's my brand. But at the same time, I only have one man's time in a day to make stuff.
What do you think brands want, when they come to you?
I think they're interested in the brand I’ve built. At this point, I have a large enough audience to do the influencer stuff. But on the other side, I have the skills where I'm just a production house. I've been merging those two worlds. I spent nine years in the feature production world. So I'm bringing that kind of Hollywood level of production value and animation to projects.
Especially in a space that, you know, there's teenagers on TikTok with millions of followers, and they get hired to do brand work and they don't know the legal implications of wearing another brand on a shirt, or how to storyboard ideas, or they don't know how to script things; they don't have that experience.
Can you tell us some of the brands that you've worked with?
I have an ongoing partnership with Lego. I've done work with Apple, Amazon a couple of times. And I did some videos with Mercedes last year.
What sort of direction are they giving you?
A lot of the time they’re just like, do whatever. Just do what you do, which is the best.
I’m very inspired by objects and toys. I think it might come from my stop-motion background, but anytime I have a product, and I can look at it and physically hold it, I get inspired. I typically turn down any app opportunities.
Yeah, apps just don't make sense to me in video form. You can’t touch an app.
We interviewed another editor named Evan Halleck about his work on Everything Everywhere All at Once. He described that film’s VFX as very 80s, influenced by films like Ghostbusters that feel a bit more DIY.
Yeah, that's 100% what my kind of VFX is. When you see most videos today, there's a big explosion or lasers, and your brain just instantly says, yeah, that's fake, that's a Hollywood effect.
My style of VFX is real objects. I try to do this realism where when you see it, you're like, hold on, how does that happen? You just want to keep watching it. I'm daring you to find where it's edited.
So it feels a bit more like a magic trick than watching something hyper-produced.
That's exactly how I describe it. It’s a digital sleight of hand, where, you know, it's happening right in front of your face and I'm challenging you to find out the method.
How does this stand out to viewers scrolling through their phones?
I think it's challenging people to figure out how it's done. Because it's not involving lasers and explosions and stuff. I presented my videos in a “guy in his living room” style. I’m very much using that filmmaking language that people are used to seeing on Twitter. So you lull them into thinking it's just a video of a guy, and then, you know, if something crazy happens and they can't figure out how it's done, you get you hit with a way bigger surprise.