Episode 164 — Justin Leduc — Going Viral, Part II


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Episode 164 — Justin Leduc — Going Viral, Part II

Hey, everyone!

This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 164. I’m speaking to Justin Leduc. This is Part II on his going viral video and on his next piece. I’m really excited for this one! This one is going to be a lot of fun. We’re discussing his new piece (to be released this week) and we dive into it in realtime.

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

Let’s dive in!



I. [00:44] 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. [02:26] 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 film Venom. I’ve had some amazing artists collaborating with me on this one.

If you want it, go to www.allanmckay.com/venom/. Go there and get access to the lighter, assets, a professionally created model and scans, everything else. There is a lot of cool stuff there. It’s only available for a few days.



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 second part of this two-part interview, Justin talks about his future projects — post his first viral video — and the new platform on Patreon; as well as the importance of continuous learning and discipline.

[03:30] Justin: Especially on Instagram, people follow the style. I want my mainstream audience to follow me for my style.

[04:14] Allan: What do you think made your piece viral? What was the formula?

Justin: It was a trope: 2014 Godzilla attacking the Bridge. It’s a landmark that’s recognized. It’s recognizable and you put something extraordinary with something ordinary. It fools people because there is an element of photorealism. Those are all the nice ingredients. But the idea is a trope. The monster took a while to come up with but took 10 minutes to create. A trope is a trope because it works.

On Instagram, it has to be a short narrative. There is also the cinematic aspect that made it viral that people don’t see on Instagram. I wanted to sculpture an environment. I didn’t think it was going to go viral. I only have my girlfriend to give her opinion. She liked this one a little more, but she likes all of my work. There is no way I could come up with my own rating.

[07:19] Allan: With the next piece being the eyeball, how did that feel? I imagine there was some pressure.

Justin: I was working on it for a long time. I was inspired by an artist on Instagram who did a really minimalistic sketch. I got a stock footage of fog and traffic and created the eyeballs in 3D. I get inspired. Everyone gets ideas from all around, from everywhere. I saw this guy’s work a year ago. Then I got called out for it. (I don’t want to get into this discussion: There is a difference between being inspired and ripping someone’s work off.) What I considered to be inspiration was from this artist.

[09:32] Allan: I bookmark a lot of images on Instagram. I remember back in the day, the thumbnail would be different from once I’ve clicked on it. I would save the image. You’re pulling inspiration from everywhere. Then there is the other way: I’ve seen people do this to your stuff already. There is a trend and people are replicating — and that’s different. But as artists, we pull ideas from everywhere. 

Justin: What I say to people when they ask if they can recreate my piece. Most people don’t ask. My point was: I don’t want to do any name calling. A year ago, I wanted to be featured on Photoshop’s account. What they did recently was feature an artist who literally stole from my piece. He recreated the monster and it’s a still. It starts with the Golden Gate Bridge and nowhere in the comments does he tag me. I messaged him but he couldn’t edit the caption. Adobe Photoshop did a composite with the same guy, but with the eyeballs. Again, he didn’t tag me but tagged the artist who inspired me. So shameless! I need to say something at some point! It’s just ridiculous. I feel like Adobe Photoshop should have more integrity.

[13:55] Allan: Going that extra step of tagging people who inspire you, it says so much. It also says so much about people who try to one-up you. Before it may have been accidental, but now it’s really about messing stuff up and being a dick. 

Justin: I’ll call it what it is: It was a rip-off! There are many people who recreated this camera inside the helicopter — and they’ve made it their own. I’ve liked it and shared it. That’s inspiration. That’s your own creativity! Do your thing!

[16:16] Allan: Can you talk about your latest piece?

Justin: My latest piece was inspired by Dragon Ball. It was always a huge inspiration. It’s coming back, right? It’s back in pop-culture. We have a rule in my apartment to never talk about it. My latest piece is a tribute to Dragon Ball. There is this concept of being in your bubble, being isolated but have this giant crowd cheering at you. The only reference we have from movies is in Speed Racer: He just finished the Grand Prix, he’s in his car; and he has a huge crowd around him. But he’s by himself. A lot of sport movies have a crowd cheering but there is always a team. Only when I finished my recent piece did I think: This is my Speed Racer moment. I’ve been connecting the dots.

When you go down the reasoning, you discover things about yourself. That’s my next piece. That’s my first piece with CG and Live Action. I started to work on this thing and oh, my God — the challenges! The original idea was always the best, and I’m only changing things to make it better. The only thing I’m scared about is the audio because it’s reliant on the audio. It’s going to kill me when people will look at it without audio. I’m proud of it! Hollywood is a great representation of this: We all want to do what was cool when we were teenagers. But now, I’m doing what my 15-year old wanted to do.

[21:54] Allan: After this piece, you’ll be doing another piece. And you aren’t interested in putting yourself into a box. You’re willing to experiment!

Justin: I define my pieces in two categories: crowdpleasers and self-serving. It’s what it is. I’ll go back to crowdpleasers.

[22:44] Allan: There are points when you go numb looking at your stuff. There are times when I am Sup-ing and looking at an artist’s work and I’m not seeing any growth. The rule of thumb is: If I hate my work, people will love it. But if I love it, everyone say, “I’ve seen you do better.” 

Justin: You’ve got to trust yourself first of all! That’s the most important thing! But it’s never easy. You aren’t always the best judge of your own work.

[24:12] Allan: Do you want to walk us through a shot? What’s your typical process when you start? I know there are people who get overwhelmed just getting started. You approach your piece from the point of photography. I’m thinking of your daydream piece. How do you get started? Do you sketch something out?

Justin: Yeah, sure. My process might be boring for a lot of people. I should really be sketching things out but I don’t. I perceive myself as someone who has a good idea in my mind.

  • I look online for 3D models: I like this crater. Can I afford it? How am I going to decorate?
  • Then I start look at imagery in Dragon Ball. Most of the models, I’ve found online. Anyone who wants to get into 3D, the resources online are affordable! I’ve spent more money on 3D than photography. But 3D is never ending. So I start finding the models and then I start putting pieces together.
  • What really matters is the atmosphere from early on. I want to settle on a mood right away! Foggy or sunset? Once I settle on a mood, it dictates the environment.
  • The mood dictates the process of positioning the process. Not much changes after that. As soon as an angle is set, I’m going to zoom it. I really should be sketching things out.

The project I’m working on right now, it took me 5 hours to get the proof of concept. I’m still a beginner. That’s why I don’t do drafts. I’m missing out on time.

[30:04] Allan: My idea is when you have zero experience — you consider yourself the shit. As you get more experience, you realize you have to learn constantly. Even the juniors who aren’t talking about how great they are. It’s about shutting up and absorbing. You have to earn that place of growth.

Justin: Sometimes, you’ll feel like you hit a ceiling. I felt that way with Aftereffects. If I get better, it will only be by 10%. I’m going to spend another 10 years to get better by 10%. What I love about 3D is that the ceiling is so insanely unreachable. I love the feeling that I’m never going to hit it. I’m always going to be hungry for it.

[32:29] Allan: I was recently talking to someone about getting to ILM. I asked what his goals were and what he was working on. He said, “I want to master Maya to get into ILM.” I [told him] to reevaluate their metrics. It’s about knowing how to do the job. Knowing everything about it isn’t going to make you better.

Justin: The idea is what makes you better. We know this. We think of a mildly good idea and apply some technical skills. I might be impressing other people with my stuff, but I know other 3D artists who judge my stuff. It’s more about that I came up with a viral idea is what makes me stand out.

[34:31] Allan: Anyone who looks at it and thinks they could do better — that’s insecurity. I look at your piece and think, “That’s fucking cool!”

Justin: You’re looking at storytelling. That’s what’s amazing. There are artists who try to imitate other people but it feels like a recipe. There is so much more you could do! Visually it can be trope-like. You can do so much more!

[35:39] Allan: What’s in store for the future for you?

Justin: That’s something I’ve been trying to answer. The first thing is starting a Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/justinleduc). I’m trying not to set up people’s expectations. It could support me financially. Could I make a living out of it? Who knows? I’m staying open-minded. As soon as I started noticing these artists on Patreon and supporting them, [I realized] the stigma wasn’t the same. Patreon has made asking for money more acceptable. It makes a lot of sense. I’m in the right era. That’s something I’m going to try and I’m going to commit to it seriously. I see a lot of people try out but it’s hard to commit to it if you don’t have time. I get it. If you don’t make a living out of Patreon, it’s hard to be on the platform. It has to be a full-time job. I do have a day job that gives me free time.

What I’m planning with Instagram: I’ve got all these ideas that are waiting to get done. This next one is going to better. It’s a crowdpleaser. It has this fun vibe. If you want me to spoil it, join me on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/justinleduc. That’s the near future. I’m also getting a lot of opportunities, people asking me to do a shoutout. I’m in a good position right now. My engagement hasn’t gone down. I have no idea what the next few months brings!

[40:39] Allan: Me coming from film, if you want to direct — the process involves so much luck and creating relationships. In this day and age, you don’t need to invest this much time in other people. Instead, every day, people make short films that they crowdfund. So many of my friends have become directors because of that. Patreon is like that. There are so many opportunities right now! There are all these different ways. Now is the time to put stuff online in front of people. It’s a really fascinating time. My experience of working crazy hours in production, I started a Live Action Course. Enough people are interested and it becomes my lifestyle. You can have that freedom if you want it. You can be living that thing you love the most!

Justin: It used to be impossible to get an audience unless you were viral.

[43:55] Allan: I was talking to Victor Navone (www.allanmckay.com/104/) He did the Alien Song. It got him a job at Pixar. It was a test video for his reel. This is before YouTube. People were contacting him, “We want you to make us a viral video.” Nowadays, you could ride that train.

Justin: Just be careful! A lot of people these days talk about manufacturing viral. It’s true to a certain degree. It’s both. Very organic things become viral.

[45:26] Allan: What advice would you have for people about branding? Not to be viral but more in terms of branding themselves, like the colors you picked originally [for your photography pieces, for Instagram]?

Justin: In terms of being a content creator, steal other people’s ideas but to the point of making them better, to pass as your own. My work is a reflection of the mood I’m in. My life reflects in my work, but it’s not that straight forward. Building a signature: Those two red raincoat characters I created in 2 minutes. Hiding the facial features [on the monster] is not unusual. I feel like I’ve built it progressively. People tell me I’m creative or original. For the longest time, I’ve been blown away by things other people create. That’s what’s amazing about these platforms. I’m slowly building my own identity. That’s what I would tell other artists. Don’t do rip-off. Just get inspired and make it your own.

[49:40] Allan: There is this great book called Steal Like an Artist [by Austin Kleon]. That’s exactly that! You get inspired by everything around you. 

Justin: That’s just the thing: I don’t know why gray-zone the concept of being inspired is.

[50:50] Allan: My last question is about staying disciplined. You have  full-time job and you have a life. How do you manage that?

Justin: I have a unique schedule. I go to bed at around 5:00 a.m. and get up at 1:00 p.m. I’ve been doing it pretty much for 5 years. I wasn’t like that before. Only recently, I realized I’ve always been like this. To reach a certain level of success, you have to put all your chances in your favor. That has to be something that allows you that amount of time to hone your skills. You need that time constantly and consistently. Sometimes, I talk to other artists and they’ve factored in that variable to become better. You don’t get to have a full-time job and kids and you just get there. You could be born abled like that. People get better through work. That applies to any job or industry.

[54:41] Allan: You’re right. I do personally think anyone can accomplish anything. Anyone can acquire skills!

Justin: Oh, right, I forgot. [Your question was about] discipline! I think it’s the passion that kicks me in my butt. I’ll work all day on my job and my projects. The last two weeks, I start putting crunch time on myself. When you’re really excited, the crunch time is easy. But I’ve never been a disciplined person. It’s the passion that drives me. It sounds cheesy. I’ve never felt pressure to feed the beast. It’s worked out for me. I wish more creatives would adapt that attitude. Maybe some of those creatives feed the beast because they need to make a living.

[57:25] Allan: Where do people find you?

Justin: You can find me on Instagram (@justinleduc). That’s about it, really. I have some followers on YouTube. I’ve never posted on that platform. I’m just on Instagram really. If my Patreon works out, I will definitely be out there: https://www.patreon.com/justinleduc. Hopefully, people find that exciting. It’s not a social network. I’m trying to feel out what the culture on Patreon is.

[59:18] Allan: Is there anything you want to add?

Justin: I would say that it’s interesting how art taught me things I didn’t know about myself. What it brings back is knowledge of myself. I’ve been thinking about the concept of control. Why didn’t I get into 3D? Because I have all the angles. How do I have control over my portfolio? Sometimes you think about way you behave. That’s what art teaches you. I like having control a lot and art has taught me. It’s an interesting thing to think about.

[1:01:42] Allan: Thank you for taking the time to chat! It’s been really cool.

Justin: Thank you for having me!


I want to thank Justin for doing this interview. I hope you found it inspiring. I had a lot of fun deconstructing his work. Please check out Justin’s work and social media.

  • Feel free to sign up for the free training at www.allanmckay.com/venom/. This is 7 hours of high-end training, covering a lot of cool stuff. The animation was done by an animator from ILM. It’s really cool.
  • I’ll be back next week with Cameron Smith who is the Lead Compositor at Weta, but he has also work at many different studios. Cameron is a dear friend of mine! We get into cool stuff.

Get the free training at www.allanmckay.com/venom/. Until then —

Rock on!


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