I spoke with Matthew Fryer – an inspiring and versatile animator, designer and educator, living in the UK. A man of many talents and our friend, he is the person behind the fantastic and extremely popular TipTut channel on YouTube.
Matt was very kind to answer my questions. Below is our enjoyable conversation.
Interview with Matthew Fryer
What were your favorite cartoons when you were growing up, and which is the first one that you remember seeing? Did you prefer TV series or animated features?
I remember growing up watching Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, in the late nineties, early two-thousands. They would show great animated shows like Fairly Odd Parents and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and that definitely had a huge impact on me. I’d also catch the occasional re-runs of Ren & Stimpy, and that style struck a chord straight away. I loved the more cynical tone and gross humor with the smash cuts to hyper-detailed ‘gross-ups’ as they called them. Bob Camp, co-creator of Ren and Stimpy, explains GROSS-UPS
There was nothing quite like it on television, and looking back I really like how off-model they would go. Behind the Scenes of Ren & Stimpy is a bit of a fever dream of rushed deadlines, low budgets and bleary-eyed animators doing whatever they could to get the episode out on time. Obviously not a great work practice, but it did make for an interesting product.
I also had one VHS with three episodes of Extreme Dinosaurs, a pretty average animated show that had the most amazing theme song. Nevertheless, I wore that VHS down to the point that it wouldn’t play anymore.
Then in the early/mid 2000s, when I was entering my teens, I discovered www.newgrounds.com, one of the earliest and most important websites for animation, and I fell in love with all kinds of web-toons.
How did you get into Flash? Was it fun from the very beginning?
Macromedia Flash and Newgrounds were definitely the catalyst for a lot of kids learning and exhibiting their first animations, and it was the same for me. I vaguely remember some website with a strange mascot (a typically ugly animated fellow, with one large eye, one small) and a very helpful teacher using this mascot to teach animation. For the life of me, I’ve no idea if it’s still about or what it was called. Maybe a reader recognizes what I’m talking about and will let us know.
Come to think of it, you could probably say that it’s thanks to this barely-remembered, kind teacher, that TipTut eventually became real. I never went to school for animation, I learned everything myself using online videos and good old fashioned trial and error.
They were basically us, but a little older. Kids messing around in Macromedia Flash, making stupid parody cartoons about video games, or toilet humor. Really classy stuff. But the important thing was any kid with a beat up computer and pirated copy of Macromedia Flash could now make animations. They weren’t good, but that didn’t matter – the early days of content creation on the Internet was like a Wild West of random kids with their fingers on the upload button. You could make anything you wanted, upload it to Newgrounds, and people would watch it.
There were no adverts or advertisers to please, at least not for the creators themselves, no strict gore or sexual content policies (there probably should’ve been), so anybody and everybody that wanted to animate could upload.
Eventually it filtered out and the less quality stuff got left behind, and you were left with the start of something that people recognize today: web-toons.
As you grew up and learned more about animation, did your tastes change? Do you have favorite directors and styles?
As I grew, I moved into filmmaking. Throughout secondary school, college and university, that was my main focus — but I always gravitated back to animated film. I even made a partially animated documentary for my dissertation. It’s terrible: Fable: The Lost Art of the Spoken Word
I fell in love with Ghibli, and fell hard during my college/university years and beyond. Howl’s Moving Castle, The Cat Returns, Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke enthralled me, as they did countless others. That’s when I started to think that maybe I could create something great too, if I actually knuckled down and learned to animate.
What was the path that led you to becoming an animation professional?
For me, I don’t consider myself a professional by any means. I’ve kind of fumbled my way into animation, through pursued interest.
Technically, I’m a professional animator. As in, I’ve done paid animations for clients, such as the Game Grumps: Spooky Scared Collab, Town of Cats: Rotoscoping Animation, Broken Campfire: Broken Campfire Animation and Mike & Mike’s Desserts: Desserts Web Ad.
However, I definitely suffer from imposter syndrome. I think because most of my career before university was focused on film, rather than design or animation, I’ve always had to force myself back into the life-path I wanted to take.
Once I realized that film was great, but design and animation for me was better, I spent my post-university years grinding away at a semi-related office job, doing design and motion graphic work for a signage company.
It was good at first. Then it was fine. Then it was awful. I should’ve left sooner, but what I did get was a solid understanding of design and animation theory, as I kept plugging away at those things in my spare time.
Throughout this time, I’d use YouTube every day as a learning resource, for references, theories and techniques, but I was constantly frustrated with the quality of tutorials found on there (no disrespect, it’s a hard and thankless job). So, I decided to record my own tutorials, mostly for self-reference at that point.
It was slow going, but I enjoyed building something for myself that no-one could take away from me. I kept making animation and design tutorials in my spare time, and for six years that’s all I did, slowly growing TipTut in the evenings and weekends. It got to the point where TipTut couldn’t grow anymore without me dedicating more time to it, so I hummed and hawwed about going part-time to give more time to TipTut. Then It happened.
The pandemic hit, the company I was working for got bought out by a larger company. We were told we’d be working remotely, under new management, and that most design would be outsourced to another company anyway…
So, I decided: screw this, I quit.
Definitely the right choice – but a terrifying one to make, literally risking house and home in the midst of a global pandemic. But, frankly, there was no other choice. At least, not if I wanted to enjoy what I did every day.
You have developed a very unique personal style. Did this happen gradually and naturally over a long period of time? Do your current designs differ drastically in their look and feel from the characters you created in your late teens?
100%. Mostly through incompetence! As I’ve stated before, I never went to school for animation or even art, and I grew up on web-toons that were, to put it kindly, not art-focused. When I was an early teen, I thought this was the pinnacle of comedy and animation: Metal Gear Awesome.
So, young and foolish, I figured: if Egoraptor can’t draw, then why do I need to?
Then when I fell into film, I stopped drawing entirely. So in my early twenties when I started taking animation seriously again, I needed to basically start my drawing skills from scratch.
I think you can see this, for better or worse, in my designs. They’re usually very simple, if carefully drawn, with a focus around geometric shapes and flat bodies. Looking back, I tried to emulate what I thought web-toons would look like if they were drawn for TV, or for anyone with a budget, basically.
TipTut is the best animation-centric educational channel on YouTube. Your tutorials are very thorough, yet easy to follow. You’re an extremely capable presenter and the balance you’ve found is perfect. The audience’s appreciation is huge and fully deserved.
How did TipTut come to be what it is now, and what are the day-to-day challenges that you face?
How do you deal with the danger of burnout?
That’s very kind of you! I think it would be a bit egotistical to agree, but I am proud of what I’ve built. Early TipTut was very much focused around a broad area of topics, from design to animation, to motion graphics. Over time I think it’s slowly focused on animation, as I found a nice balance between what the audience wants, and what I want to create.
Life as a content creator for YouTube is rough, this isn’t news. You have to constantly battle and bow to the whims of the mysterious algorithm by catering your video content, editing style and presentation to constantly shifting goal posts. To top it off, I’m terrible at marketing, and I’m also a stubborn idiot.
If I watch a YouTube video, and I’m being pestered to like and subscribe, whilst the creator hams it up with some wacky antics or crazy video title (You Won’t BELIEVE this ONE WEIRD TRICK to make you a BETTER ANIMATOR!!!) then I immediately switch off.
Unfortunately, if you don’t do the above stuff, YouTube will stop recommending your videos and watch happily as your channel withers and dies.
I will die on this hill though, quite happily.
I think audiences react to honest content above all else, especially in the education field. What I want from a tutorial is efficiency. Genuinely useful content, that is well presented and paced, and explored to a meaningful degree. So, that’s the type of content I try to make, and I think audiences resonate with that.
From time to time, mostly when I’m worried about paying the bills, I’ve dabbled in appeasing the algorithm, but those are some of my least favorite videos, and ultimately – the least useful.
My videos might not tick the right YouTube boxes to hit big views, but the viewers I have are engaged, intelligent, and thankful (for the most part), and I think that overall that leads me to help more people, which is what it’s all about.
Regarding burnout: it’s real, and if I ever figure out a way to deal with it, I’ll let you know! Day to day, I try to step away from the computer (walking the dog helps), and there are definitely times when I’ve thought: this is it, I’ve made my last video, but then something will pique my interest, and the cycle begins anew.
Recently you have been expanding the horizons by exploring Blender. What is your take on the software, and Grease Pencil in particular?
I honestly think open-source software is the future of design. Blender is such an incredibly powerful, robust and diverse tool. I’ve been using it with Grease Pencil for around a year, and completed my first professional project using exclusively Blender last month: Mike & Mike’s Desserts Web Ad.
The ability to merge 3D and 2D workflows in a single software is incredible and a TOTAL game changer.
It also means that one day, I won’t have to pay Adobe every month to slowly release software that gets worse and worse with each update: Adobe Animate vs Flash MX-EP04.
You have made a couple of wonderful tutorials about Smart Magnet Rigging. Do you remember when you first came across EDAP Tools? What were your initial impressions?
I believe the first time I came across EDAPT was when I was preparing a ‘rigging’ tutorial for Adobe Animate: How to Rig a Simple Character | Adobe Animate Tutorial.
I don’t need to tell you how AWFUL Animate’s ‘rigging’ tools are. They’re simply not functional.
You’ll be interested to know it was your comment on this video that first led me to EDAP tools.
I think the work you’re doing is incredible and absolutely puts Adobe to shame. The fact that TWO PEOPLE can outperform a monopolizing company that makes over $15 billion in yearly revenue is incredible.
You can probably tell from my love of Blender and open-source alternatives that I have some pretty strong opinions about Adobe and the Software as a Service model, but let’s just say this: tools like EDAPT are the lifeblood of Adobe Animate, and you should be incredibly proud of what you’ve created. You’re helping so many animators make incredible work, and that’s the whole point after all.
Are there areas in which you find Animate lacking or falling behind the competition? Do you think that these deficiencies could be addressed via plugins?
Honestly, the reason I use Animate is because it’s the workflow that I know. The one area I think that it’s better than the competition is in the simplicity of the nested workflow. Nesting animation within symbols and syncing to the global timeline is done very well in Animate.
But it did that very well back when it was Macromedia, so that’s not news. The brush engine is quite lacking, the performance of modern builds of Animate is very bad, and as mentioned the rigging tools are laughable, if not for the convenient nested workflow, as mentioned and EDAPT to cover my rigging needs, I think I’d be moving permanently away from Animate on a day to day basis.
Out of the many projects that you have worked on, are there any that you are particularly fond of?
I love working on Game Grumps animated projects. Game Grumps are a YouTube ‘let’s play’ channel – basically a podcast, where they play video games whilst they chat – and they often reach out to animators to animate clips from their show. Game Grumps Animated: Spooky Scared Collab, Game Grumps Animated: The Fastest Tongue.
They’re so flexible with what you can create and it really allows you to lean into the zany aspect of animation (proper Ren & Stimpy smear frames and cheap animation tricks).
In terms of pure fun – those are my favorite jobs to take.
I do have a soft spot for the more relaxed animation jobs too. There’s something nice about some relaxing tweening: Broken Campfire Animation.
Your knowledge and interests stretch beyond just animation and motion graphics. I was truly amazed when I found out that you have authored a book on UX/UI and graphic design. Can you say a few words about it?
I wrote this book as my Master’s Degree dissertation, as an attempt to merge the core concepts of graphics design: compositional theory, shape theory, typography etc., with Augmented Reality.
The idea being that you would point your phone at the book and interact with little exercises to help cement the idea taught on the page. The book has never gotten off the ground (it’s on the back burner though), and one day I’d like to release the book with the AR elements removed as a way to build a budget for me to hire the team needed to create the full experience.
In the meantime, it’s a pipe-dream, but who knows… one day perhaps!
I know of at least one online course, fully designed and developed by you. Have you ever been tempted to go into formal lecturing or running face-to-face master classes?
I taught for a few semesters at a University, covering a design module and an animation module. I loved the experience, even though it was during Covid, so it wasn’t ideal.
Talking to students who were so passionate about design and animation was invigorating, but the workload was intense, and hourly-paid lecturers might as well be working for scraps. Unfortunately, it wasn’t sustainable. I also have started to develop some strong feelings against paid education, but that’s probably obvious by what I do for a living! So, I let that fall by the wayside.
I also created a course for Bloop Animation which I’m incredibly proud of (Animation Course Introduction Video), but again, I’ve come to learn that I don’t want to charge people who want to learn things.
Too much of the world focuses on, to paraphrase the great Terry Pratchett: extracting the maximum amount of milk, with the minimum amount of moo.
He’s talking about taxation in context, but it’s six of one.
This idea has definitely negatively affected my growth in terms of revenue (if you give people something for free, they tend to see it as lower quality than if you charge them for it), but I think the most important thing for me is that I don’t want the barrier for entry into animation be how big your wallet is.
Most of my audience comes from either the US or India, and I think that says a lot about the importance of access to education.
Apart from Simon’s Cat, which everyone loves, due to my own ignorance, I find it difficult to name any contemporary shows or features that come out of the UK. Back in the 80s, when I was a child, the British cartoon production used to have a distinct style, which really set it apart from the American shows. What is the situation now? Does it still have its own face? Do you have favorite studios, shows and directors?
I’d be hard pressed to think of anything distinctly British after Aardman. But when it comes to animation studios that I love (regardless of location, size or prestige), here are a few I’ve been in love with over the years:
- David Firth, a British indie-animator famous for unsettling short films such as Cream
- Sony’s Animation Studio that developed Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which did wonders for bringing a unique voice and style to 3D Animation
- Netflix’s Love, Death & Robots, a collection of short films in various animation styles — loosely connected in theme, but wildly diverse in practice
- Anything by Laika Studios, but especially Kubo and the Two Strings
- Tatsunoko Productions, who famously made Neon Genesis Evangelion a ponderous deconstruction of the Kaiju/Mecha genre in Japan
- Cowboy Bebop
Besides the long-term professional interest in animation and design, do you have any hobbies or side projects?
I play a few musical instruments, guitar and piano for years, and I’ve just started playing the saxophone. It’s very difficult.
I’m also an avid reader, mostly of fantasy, but a bit of everything. Everyone should go and read Terry Pratchett in case I haven’t mentioned that already. It’s vaguely related, but there’s been some pretty terrible, rotoscope-style, cheap Pratchett animations over the years: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Soul Music Part 1.
I’ve got a soft spot for them.
If we’re talking appreciating animation in all forms, then we have to talk about video games, which I enjoy playing. Cuphead and Hollow Knight are two examples of incredible video games, all animated entirely by hand. Works of art, both.
What are you looking forward to in the next 6 to 12 months?
I’m eagerly awaiting the release of Spider-Man: Into the Multiverse. I can’t wait to see what it does with the animation styles this time. I hope it continues to explore the merging of 2D & 3D techniques. I’m also looking forward to some time off. I’m very tired.
Thank you very much, Matt! It was such a pleasure to speak with you.
Of course, any time. Keep up the good work!