Interview : Matthew Fryer

Introduction



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.

That’s some­thing I miss — why don’t ‘grown up’ TV shows have theme songs? Noth­ing gets me pumped like lis­ten­ing to the Extreme Dinosaurs or Teenage Mutant Nin­ja Tur­tles intro themes.

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.

Ear­ly New­grounds ani­ma­tors like Ego­rap­tor and Lazy­Muf­fin were the stuff of leg­end on the play­ground, at least amongst my small friend­ship group.

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

Enough said.

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!

Nick­o­lay Tilch­eff
Sep­tem­ber 2022



Follow Matt’s work


You can fol­low Matt on YouTube, Face­book and, of course, it is always worth check­ing out his web­site: www.matthewfryer.online

 
Comments

Thanks for a great inter­view Nick!

A real plea­sure, Matt!

Absolute­ly love learn­ing from Matt! I’ve been a sub­scriber and advo­cate of his for a hot minute; even fol­low his Dis­cord chan­nel where he offers project feed­back. It’s easy to fol­low some­one online and pick up their knowl­edge and walk­way with it. That’s inter­net cul­ture. But, Matt is an edu­ca­tor. They’re the ones to sup­port because they’re com­mit­ted to their craft. Awe­some blog post today. You guys found a good human to interview!

I agree with all that you say, Mel!

Josh Spencer Green

Won­der­ful inter­view! An absolute plea­sure to read about Mat­t’s expe­ri­ence as an ear­ly con­tent cre­ator and his vision of hon­est edu­ca­tion­al con­tent and inspir­ing stance on the pas­sage of knowl­edge not being gat­ed-off by wealth resources. Cheers!

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