Episode 163 — Justin Leduc — Going Viral, Part I

 

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Episode 163 — Justin Leduc — Going Viral, Part I

Hey, everyone!

This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 163. I’m speaking to Justin Leduc who is the creator of that viral video with the monster looking over the Golden Gate Bridge. It went completely viral and got 15 million likes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8kXhErwrMA. I’m really excited for this one. I wanted to rush it out.

I also wanted to do my first Podcast on video EVER! I’ve intensionally done the worst lighting. Justin’s video went completely viral overnight. The story itself is interesting: It takes that one piece to make your work known, but at the same time, it takes years of working toward it. I thought his story is really interesting and we talk about his latest video as well.

Please share this Episode with others because I think it will inspire others.

Let’s dive in!

 

FIRST THINGS FIRST: 

I. [00:52] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was you didn’t get the job? Here is the thing: Most of us think that we can put our latest work on our reel, add some music — and get the job. A lot of us aren’t aware that the majority of reels sent to a studio are skipped through and sometimes never even watched in the first place.

Everything we’re taught about being an artist is wrong! Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write a book from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. I want to:

Give you the formula to be the obvious candidate for the job;

Tell you how to build a reel and put it up on YouTube — that brings studios to you!

You can get this book for free right now! Whether you’re in design, film, tv or games, go to www.allanmckay.com/myreel!

 

II. [04:28] I have a brand new, 7-hour, high end visual effects training coming out. There will be 5 videos that will recreate VFX from the feature Venom. I’ve had some amazing artists collaborate with me on this one.

If you want it, go to www.allanmckay.com/venom/. Go there and get access to the assets and scans, everything else. There is a lot of cool stuff there.

 

JUSTIN LEDUC — GOING VIRAL, PART I

Justin Leduc is a Toronto-based web developer and 3D digital artist. In July 2018, he’s captured the attention of millions with his 3D animation monster keeping watch over the Golden Gate Bridge. Since then, the video has gone viral, earning over 15 million views.

In the first part of this two-part interview, Justin talks about his journey from starting out to putting in his 10,000 hours; about the importance of creating your brand and taking risks — as well as dealing with the success of a viral video.

 

[05:43] Allan: Cool, man! Thanks for taking the time to chat, Justin! Do you want to quickly introduce yourself?

Justin: Absolute! I’m Justin Leduc, I’m 30 years old. I’ve been doing digital art for maybe 15 years now. There are so many people who ask me, “What do you call it?” I really call it “digital art”. I like the combination of 2D and 3D composites. I love what I do!

Another question I get a lot is, “What did you study in school? What college did you go to?” I did 3 years in multimedia (which included coding, 2D editing, 3D animation in an old software called Carrara, everything that had to do with multimedia.) I got a bug for coding, this huge love! I was going more for the front end level. I loved the concept of interacting with the animation on screen. Back then, the title of web animator wasn’t a thing at all. I was still a developer, but I [was starting to get] the task of animating. I love my job of a programer! Then I went to a university to study interactive media. They teach you how to create some physical installations that people can interact with. There were so many applications! We learned processing and Java. Like most people, I loved college a lot more.

After [I got] my Bachelors, I found a few jobs. After I moved to Toronto a few years ago, I found this amazing company that allows me to work from home, full-time but on my own hours. I’ve been doing that since.

[09:23] Allan: That’s great, man! In the very beginning, did you always want to be an artist? Did you think it was a tangible career you could pursue?

Justin: Yeah! When I moved to Toronto, I was looking for a job in programing and web development; but at the same time, I had a curriculum for motion graphics. As soon as I moved to Toronto, I started working on my reel. It wasn’t showcasing my past work. I started working on this cool animation, grinding everyday, until I had a job offer. At the age of 15, I basically knew I found a software that allowed anyone to key a green screen. That started it all. I went to some fabric store and bought some fabric. Back in the days, in 2006, only professionals had access to this stuff. There was no Amazon!

I remember being on Creative COW, this was before Video Co-Pilot. Andrew Kramer was just getting started. I had no one to talk about this stuff. I started emailing Andrew Kramer back and forth. I had this immense passion to recreate everything I saw on screen, like lightsabers from Star Wars. And then Video Co-Pilot started to grow. I guess that’s when I knew I really wanted to be in that world. As soon as turned 20, I started grinding on coding and web development (and stopped anything related to arts at all), and at 26, I got back to it. But I was also doing photography in the meantime and Photoshop. When I was 15, when I got my first green screen that I knew I wanted to be an artist.

[12:58] Allan: I’m always fascinated by coding. I think artists are often allergic to business and coding. But every single artist who gets over that hump, it connects and it changes their lives. What’s your opinion on artists’ ability to code: Do you think it gives an extension to their creativity?

Justin: I honestly feel that every artist should learn to code for the simple reason: You’re a storyteller! For a lot of people, it may be boring but you can really spice it up with animation and fun ways to interact with the interface. Of course, if you’re working for the government, there will be little creativity. But I’ve found this really creative job that I’m grateful for that really allowed me to have this freedom while still being structured. You can compromise both. I think every artist should learn to code. One of the best artists I’ve known personally went into coding and ended up creating a studio. He’s doing some animation. What people love about coding: It’s a mix of technical and creative at the same time. Coding — I’m talking for the web, not Java — there is a lot of creativity involved.

[16:03] Allan: I hope that can inspire artists to try it. A lot of people think they aren’t good at math. I didn’t even finish school. But if I can do it — anyone can!

Justin: What I want people to take away from this is that it really combines the technical and creative aspect and creates such a beautiful storytelling way that makes things always challenging and fun.

[16:49] Allan: You mentioned shifting gears more into technical stuff and then getting back into the creative. When you switched gears, what was that like? Is that when you started sharing your stuff on Instagram? 

Justin: I always boasted on the side, on Facebook or Reddit. When everyone discovered Instagram, I was doing street photography. Back then, I was going back to simple stuff. From 15 to 20, I was doing complicated stuff. I was doing 3D, Aftereffects. As soon as I discovered Instagram, I went back to doing photography, really simple stuff because that’s what the platform promoted. As it matured, the transition was awkward. (For anyone listening, please don’t stock me on Reddit.) I was recently asked why Instagram. I was ready to respond to every question. [For example], video compression frustrates me to no end! But I get it. There is a certain amount of space, even if you are Facebook. And the fact that there is this tiny, little screen. “Why Instagram?” “Because that’s where all the people are!” That’s why I’m on Instagram! I love ArtStation, but I haven’t posted my work there yet. But I’ve adapted to the medium [of Instagram].

[20:34] Allan: I’ve noticed even with photography, you tend to do this monochromatic work, with blood reds. For you, was it something you’ve always gravitated towards? 

Justin: Yeah, absolutely! The whole idea was to work with complimentary colors. I knew   red would pop, so the blues are in the background. I went with this direction a couple of years ago when I had to learn that [Instagram] had a really small screen so things needed to pop. That’s it! It’s that simple!

[21:37] Allan: But that became your signature in a way.

Justin: Right, like movie posters. They tend to go for blue and orange colors. I’m not inventing anything. Back in 2009, I started noticing this trend of orange-blue posters. I made a copulation of them. And I made it into this… I don’t know if you remember those stupid FU memes? I posted it on Reddit and it blew up. A few blogs picked it up and posted my comic. I’m sure I’m not the first to discover it, but everyone has caught on. I already knew about this tactic. I applied it to my Instagram, but in darker colors.

[23:20] Allan: Then you started to transition into doing CG post as well. What was that like when you started to do that?

Justin: Thanks for asking, that’s a great question! I started with Element 3D.

[23:41] Allan: You should be getting residuals [from them] at this point! 

Justin: Right? I thought it was an amazing intro to 3D. Back in the day, the first 3D plugin for Aftereffects. Ten years later, Element 3D came out. And just the intuitiveness of it! I used to post them on Instagram, full Element 3D renders. I have Video Pilot to thank for that transition. I think for anyone being self-taught is extremely intimidating and scary!

[25:42] Allan: I ventured out of Aftereffects in the early 2000’s. I love the idea that people can get introduced into 3D. It’s a great way to transition!

Justin: Absolutely! I think these days it’s really doable with online tutorials. Back in the day, it was dry out there. I was stressing myself at 15 years old, trying to learn the software. You learn wrong ways and it costs you time and the time you lose, you can’t get it back.

[27:09] Allan: How much time were you putting into your pieces on Instagram?

Justin: For some time, I would spend 3 weeks on every piece. But my God, the difference between animation and a still! It’s blowing me away right now. Oftentimes, the way you want to animate a still feels like a cop-out and lazy. You want more things to be happening. Give me something more to chew on! Isn’t what we all want? You want to justify it! So I was spending 3 weeks on every post. When I got to the Golden Gate Bridge video, I spent about a month on this (but a month of testing things out, I should mention). I started with putting this monster on top of a building, but it wasn’t looking natural or creepy. I thought, “What would be more creepy?” Large bodies of water tend to be creepy. So: [I’d take the] Golden Gate Bridge and have the monster looking at people passing by. A lot of people think I’m targeting San Francisco. Absolutely not!

[29:56] Allan: My neighbor works for Autodesk and we were talking about James Bond. We were talking about the film The Rock. When 007 dies, the number just gets passed on. So we talked about the old 007 being in The Rock because he escaped from Alcatraz. 

Justin: People just make up facts!

[30:59] Allan: What was the inspiration, by the way?

Justin: It’s just a trope of a cloaked monster. People want to label things so badly. Name it whatever you want! I’m going to call it “a monster”. If you get into the Grim Reaper, you get into the idea of a suicidal bridge. If I had known that my video was going to be seen as that, I wouldn’t have posted it. I did cross my mind, but I thought, “Who’s going to care?!” I thought it would get 1,000 views. But it’s a different story! It blew up! It’s a vocal minority.

[32:54] Allan: I’ve talked to Ryan Connolly at Film Riot about this a lot (www.allanmckay.com/133). I always find it fascinating when trolls say weird stuff. I have to think of it as a ratio. But crazy people are everywhere. No matter what, you’re going to get this kind of stuff.

Justin: I used to be miserable and it reflected in my comments online. What helps is:

Grow a shell;

and

Figure out where those comments are coming from.

People just want to be noticed. But to be noticed, they will be saying the worst. You have to be understanding at some point. That’s what I don’t like. If you give me constructive criticism — [that’s fine]. But then there is this vile stuff in the same group. It bothers me to no end. One is trying to help, the other — is trying to get noticed. Respond to the guy who’s giving you constructive criticism. And I’ve been that guy before, that’s how I know!

[35:19] Allan: I try to respond politely. If people lash out and I respond, they say, “I didn’t expect you to reply and I love your work!” Then why did you say all that stuff?! I have to see what’s going on in this guy’s life.

Justin: It’s hard not to take it personally. I’m a human too. You have to distance yourself. With my Golden Bridge video, I stopped reading after 100 comments. I just try to handle the criticism and respond to the people I admire. I’m done until the next post.

[37:01] Allan: It’s fascinating! I understand why it blew up. I stopped on your video. You nailed it! It’s a tiny video but it’s amazing. Hours later — it’s everywhere! It’s well deserved. It’s been really cool to see that happen in real time. What was it for you, going through it?

Justin: First thing: The night before I posted my video, I test posted it. The video compression being what it is, there was fog on top of the monster and it kept looking smudgy. Then I recorded my monitor with my iPhone to send it to my friends. But then I forgot about it. The next morning, I copied everything — but I posted the video of my video recording (from my iPhone). It was up for 3-4 minutes. Just check your video! But the whole week was crazy. I couldn’t sleep after every time I looked at my phone. Everyday, I was disabling one notification after another. I was reading all the private messages. The amount of offers I was getting as well! I’m creating a video for someone right now (and it’s huge name).

[41:34] Allan: We were talking about this recently: When you start working with celebrities, it’s funny that you expect more but want to pay less.

Justin: The people I’m creating this video for — are super nice. But yeah! There was a crap load of offers. I’m telling you right now: As of October 15th, I’ve made $0 out of my video. I decided to keep my paid job and ideally I can find better financial support from Patreon. I was in my bubble the whole week. It was really cool to see my girlfriend’s second hand experience. Then came the moment after the whole week, I was going downstairs to take the trash out. This idea came across my head: “Am I going to get recognized?” These thoughts were for my own entertainment. It was insane! Sometimes the people you can’t get a hold of, they respond as soon as you get a bit of recognition. I know that followers is just a number. But it represents something. On Instagram, it represents influencers.

[44:57] Allan: I remember having a discussion with friends of mine about vanity numbers. You can get caught up in this. I’ve only started using Instagram three months ago, after my fiance started getting into it. She was doing it from a business perspective. I made me want to get on and see what it’s about. Let’s see if I can get on it and get more followers — and piss her off. (Mission accomplished!)

Justin: I remember the days when I was competing with my girlfriend. Oh, boy!

[46:13] Allan: I was hanging out with my friend. His wife had 17K followers. But when you’re looking from a business perspective, you can put a message in front of people and it’s really impactful. It depends on how you’re measuring it. You can put out your artwork or your message, or you can help people.

Justin: You’re sitting on a gold mine. With great power comes great responsibility. I have to be mature about this. I’m so glad I got internet famous at this age. Before I would have tried to get validation and let it affect my life too much. Now I’m comfortable and stable and it’s just something that’s something on my phone. When it steps into my own reality, I will be able to control it. I’ve been grinding on my skills for so long, it makes sense.

[48:43] Allan: I’ve mentioned you in a webinar before. I think in a lot of ways it’s a double edged sword. It does mean that you have the spotlight on you. It takes that one post. The flip side is that you’re chase this post, but you have to put the work in. It took all that work and showing up to make that post [happen].

Justin: Absolutely! A hundred percent! A lot of people want to see my mistakes. Why can’t I fail privately and show my best work? Wherever it is, but a concept of my portfolio should be something I’m proud of. I don’t need to show my failure. The reason I did this video: I wanted to — maybe not consciously — manufacture something going viral. I was seeing these viral videos on Instagram. People would get 5-10K more followers and their videos would be everywhere. But their creators had nothing to show on their feed. I always post with this mentality: If this post is my big break, then everyone is going to see my previous work. It’s all going to amount to something I’m proud of! But for years, I’ve created with this mentality. If you work with this mentality and then you get the big break — of course, you’re going to get a lot of followers. I’m basically taking Instagram as a serious business.

[52:56] Allan: I did a talk on branding in Paris (this year, I think). I mentioned there would be 3 types of people: 

  • Artists who think, “Branding, YES! I have to do this!”
  • People who think, “Whatever! I’ll let the work speak for itself.”
  • People who will be scared shitless to show their work.

The last two are in the same bucket. There is a fear of having your work judged. The people who treat themselves and their product as a business, then they’d want to brand themselves.

Justin: Why do you think people are scared?

[54:20] Allan: Fear of failure is a huge reason! Also, there is fear of success because there is pressure that comes with it. There is a lot more weight on your shoulders. It’s a lot easier to fantasize about it. But you’re doing your art but you’re still going to take it seriously and do it strategically. 

Justin: The weight on my shoulder for the next post — it’s been getting to me! People are asking me. I was saying not really because I hadn’t digested it yet. I need to have people settle on my account. But I’ve always had this bar for quality and I’m just going to stick to that bar and I’m going to keep getting higher. I put the bar high with the monster. On the technical level, the video wasn’t that complicated. It raised the bar on world building, storytelling and concepts.

[57:13] Allan: You’ve mentioned having the time to digest. How do you feel about it all now? What lessons have you learned?

Justin: It’s kind of weird to digest because I feel that I’m more… I’ve learned to take the attention. But really, I’m just doing what I do. There is this gut feeling inside of you: You know you’re going to get your big break, you just don’t know how big it’s going to be. You just keep going. But a lot of people have that feeling and they never get their big break. There is a luck element. When it does happen, your brain goes, “There it is. Next post!” The only thing that has changed is the weight on my shoulders. It’s a learning process. I love how I’ve inspired other people to go after their big break. If you’ve been working hard and you post something and get the big break — you deserve it. There are so many people on Instagram. Keep grinding!

It taught me to work on things that scare me. The amount of people that get famous but they’re in a bubble. And they keep doing the same thing. And they never change anything because they’re going to fail. My next post is a huge risk. It doesn’t match the tone of my other posts. But it’s the act of being scared — it’s the only thing that keep me evolving. I’ve said this in the past: It’s the act of being scared that challenges us. I really like that feeling. That was the most important lesson: Keep working on things that scare you and you’re going to learn. Or, you’ll work on something for two months that you’ll end up scrapping. But you’re going to start over and work on something great!

[1:01:50] Allan: I always say, “Get out of your comfort zone!” That’s where the real growth happens. It’s easy for us to keep doing what’s already working. 

 

I hope you enjoyed this Episode. I want to thank Justin for doing this.

  • I hope this inspired you to make that one piece. But it’s also about being persistent and keep doing your work every day.
  • Please subscribe to my channel and share this Episode with others.
  • Go to www.allanmckay.com/venom/ for the high-end training.

The second part to Justin’s interview will be published later this week. Until then —

Rock on!

 

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