SXSW 2010 Interactive “How To Be Creative And Get Paid” Presentation

July 1, 2010 - By 

I wanted to share with you the presentation I gave from SXSW 2010 Interactive in March. It’s officially titled “How to be Creative and Get Paid” but if you have seen this speech before, you may want to still check this one out. I think it’s one of the better versions of this presentation I have given and It’s full of new stuff. I would love to hear your thoughts on it. Hope you enjoy it.

Audio Only Version

Posted In:  Ideas Inspiration Speaking
  • Good Job Nick! Big fan of yours. Any plans to do any speaking engagements in the NYC area in the future?

  • I like the business point of view at the beginning. Especially the point that you have to see yourself as a attractive product/service, the clients or employees wanna buy.

  • nick, you’re an inspiration to every designer student.
    I really apreciate every advice. thanks a lot

  • Really good and inspiring ideas. I teach motion graphics at a college in Canada. I agree with your way of thinking and I try to pass these ideas on to my peers and students. Im always really pumped after watching your tutes and listening to your talks. Thanks so much Nick!

  • Great stuff as usual Nick.

  • Great advice man. The first part about creativity is really amazing and true.

  • Really cool, interesting and wise, thanks a lot for posting these presentations

  • Hey Nick, I wanted to ask, in regards to getting hired where it really pays off to know the hard stuff. (design, etc) and I totally agree. Its much easier to teach the technical side to people, how programs work and stuff. Especially in these times where being technically versed is less desirable than a good designer. What i wanted to ask was how did you get your foot into DK’s door? You mention that at DK they looked for more design oriented candidates. But you also mention that you learned in the opposite direction. where you the programs first and picked up design as you went along, IE by learning a lot from DK. So i was curious how was it like for you to start up? networking? I do assume you had some good design sense prior to DK. so not trying to be offensive. Thanks!
    I also ask because i think im in a similar situation and have been learning a lot more design at the studio im at now.

    • Good question, Jeffrey. I knew some people that worked there and I think my name got around. I think that it was my animation skills that got me hired. I definitely wasn’t a great designer at the time. But, knowing how to animate really well, got me the job. Animation is one of those “Hard Things” you can learn to set you apart too.

  • Great insight. I love your approach, your verbiage and your delivery.

  • I was in facebook at the office and found your announcement, i saw the entire conference, thanks a lot for share this knowledge Nick !!

  • Great stuff Nick. Stop thinking how and start thinking why. Great concept.

  • Thanks Nick – v. inspirational talk

  • Hey nick bravo i own a marketing agency and i came to your site to learn more about cinema 4d and I love what your doing. Its also helped us out a lot in our projects here at the studio. Your an inspiration human being to us. If you are here in los angeles we would love to come out and give you the personal thank you. God bless.

  • Great stuff!

    Thanks for this, really good stuff to let my head munch through.

  • Dude, you should be proud of yourself, coz with putting these tutorials online, you are a mentor to all the people that watch your tutorials!

  • Thanks Nick, great presentation!

  • Nick That was Great. Thanx for everything you share with us.

  • Hi Dude,

    good presentation! You also included some of Godin´s approaches, if I am not wrong 😉 I really like that!!! I am workin on an Essay dealing with stuff like that at the moment!
    Keep up thinking and doin that nice shit dude!
    See you on wednesday!!!!


  • Great presentation Nick! Very inspiring. In fact, you have inspired me in wanting to participate in a new 5second project, which I haven´t done in A LOT of time. When will the the new topic be released?

  • Thanks, Nick. Time spent on Greyscalegorilla is always time well spent.

  • Very Nice.. Thanks for sharing this.


  • Great information! “ask why not how” its inspiring stuff!

  • It’s all about the why right?

    Why doesn’t the circle spline have slice like a cylinder does, doesn’t make sense and it should be so simple to program.

    Ah well spline mask.

  • tip of the hat to you good sir for dealing with the “executive producer” guys first question… Verbal Diarrhea

  • Nick, this was nothing short of brilliant. I hesitated before watching this as I’ve watched the rest of your talks, but you’re right. It’s fresh and relevant. I was inspired to set a deadline for my own personal project that’s been sat 90% finished in my ‘Test’ folder for 6 months now. Also, I’m an AE-C4D guy and had been toying with doing a proper photography course, and everything you said has confirmed this for me. Thanks so much for sharing this with us all. You are the best.

  • Thanks for the audio version!
    Gonna get out my phone and listen to this by the pool.

  • Hey Nick,
    Here is a video which I saw in vimeo.
    Can we create this effect in cinema 4d too

  • I appreciate all I’ve learned here, Nick, which is a considerable amount. You’ve got me combing through my folder of half-baked projects and finishing them one by one and applying techniques I’ve learned here, such as GI, fresnel (which I didn’t even know what that meant until I came here) and your amazing HDRI Light Kit Pro. These techniques and tools are making my projects come to life.


  • I really loved this presentation. Thanks so much for sharing it with us! I thought that every idea was well presented and it really helped me focus on what is important.

    It hit me on a personal level too. I learned photoshop and other programs while in highschool in the mid to late 90’s, and because of that early technical training I had a head start on some other people trying to get jobs. However later on I realized that my design skills where really below par at best. Now I am playing catch-up and trying my best to work on my visual vocabulary so I can start enjoying the work that I do more. You are right it is incredibly hard. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge!

  • you mastering this kind of things it’s like having a wider point of view of yourself, and widely of ourselves. Being constructive with basics is so important for our community, cuz we lack those basics.
    This speach makes me more confident for future developments.
    By the way i’m wondering what kind of question i may ask you in the itw next to come as huh! answers are almost already given all over your efficient website.

    great !!!

  • First of all, greetings from Portugal. I’m in a situation of being hired. I just got graduated on Muiltimedia Design and i’m feeling a little bit of everything that Nick said, like being exclusive and valuable, because in my country, the reality is tremendously turned upside down, because companies, instead of looking for people that have a good sense of design, or a good sense of work etc, they are looking for people that just have a course from school and now they do a little bit of everything, but more important is that they are low paid, and when we talk about money, who wants to pay more for a job that can have it for half or lower? So, the reality is that the real talent have the tendence to be wasted BIG TIME because a bunch of kids that have a small course and therefore are paid lower than graduated people. Graduated people like me are now trying to look to other countries, because of the reality we have in our country. Then people say “oh in my country, talent is wasted”. Well, that’s all folks. Sorry if my English is not correct sometimes. Again, greetings from Portugal.

  • Thanks for the presentation, Nick – you made a crisp picture of what I only had only some blurry impression before.
    I’m kind of addicted to learning new stuff, trying it out, sharing, solving problems (tasks). But getting paid for doing what I like is still tricky.
    What would you say about a focus?
    Is it better to have one single edge in, say, motion graphics (with the tough-to-learn general skills in colors, composition and perception of a design) OR be at some average level of skills within a really wide range of areas: 3d, 2d, CAD, photography and manipulations, vector graphics, programming, web dev, audio, playing guitars and fx gear design?

    • I would say that you have to just follow what interests you. Some people have the mind to be singularly focused. But, you may want to dabble in everything and see what gets you going.

  • Leonid Karachko July 6, 2010 at 5:04 am

    You mentioned that to move forward one needs to go out and meet people in order to build network of contacts. I am a big fan of business literature myself and I would strongly recommend to read the following books on the topic of networking
    Thanks for the session,it hit the spot.

  • I really liked your conference. I totally agree with your view of the field, the importance of mastering the “hard stuff” and problem solving, going out and being cool. I take this chance to thank you for the 5 seconds project, your conferences, and the whole site, it’s really helping me and a lot others to start in this field.

  • Great presentation! Very inspiring – thank you!

  • Greetings from Brazil!
    You talked about very important things. We use to think that know how to use a tool is important….it is important but not more than the concept which is the basis of a great project. And for the concept you have to have the knowledge of the theory (color, typography, gestalt, semiotics…).
    Congratulations about posting this topic! Great video!

  • Great stuff Nick.

    So inspiring and so true.

    I loved that the ONLY question you don’t want to ask is “How did you do that?” … so many other more legitimate questions to ask. Like “Why?”


    Looking forward to more awesomeness from you.

  • Get out, Nick! Get out!!!

  • Thanks for that. Specially “If you are the Best in the room, get out!”, its radical but its true.

  • Great presentation Nick, thank you for sharing.

  • I need to get out of my basement.

  • He called you and “idol”…mucho props. Don’t stop spreading the designer love. Go wireless next time 🙂 great stuff! Can’t believe you didn’t mention U-stream?

  • Nice talk Nick. One comment though…I think you’ve ignored a way that a resume can prove to be very valuable–it’s a fast and easy way to tell if someone is skilled at handling type. Someone with a decent reel but a terrible looking resume leaves a serious black eye in the way I view someone’s work–the reverse is also true.

    In this way, I view resumes as just another piece in your portfolio.

  • Mr. Gorilla (Nick),

    First and foremost i personally like to express my appreciation for someone willing to constantly dispense knowledge. You did a pretty bang up job on this one. i wonder…will you ever get to a point where you delve into the whole mental aspect of maintaining one’s creativity. You see, i live in a house where i’m part of the ‘first generation’ within our texas-nigerian community (our folks came here for education, etc.–if u aren’t in college doing science, they don’t respect your field of work. period.). And in all honesty it gets hard as hell to focus on work because in our tradition people can come over at any time, and they get to playing this loud ass fucking music and screaming and shit, which can be a wonderful thing at times, but not when i’m in another room trying to focus on an edit. i was at the point a couple years ago when i was near ready to move out of the folks place, but as the economy started to fall, the clients started to fade and budgets got slimmer than a model on crack, so the cement hardened around my feet, and i’m stuck here for now. as for the question (sry 4the rambling) do you have any tips on maintaining creativity when one’s placed in an uncreative environment with no way out (4the moment). for now i started meditating and i have a huge folder of inspirational shit, but how do u, for instance, usually get the creative juices flowing? that would be the question. and could you please, whenever you get the chance, talk about environment and how it affects one’s mental/creative side. because it seems like a job that takes me a day to do, if i pack ALL my shit up and go to a friends house to work (which i don’t recommend, unless that friend is into film/graphics too, or a single childless quiet reader) takes me nearly 3days to do at the family house. ha! i could go on but fuck it. that’s all. good stuff! and keep up the great work u damn dirty ape!!


    • Sounds like a very uncreative atmosphere. But try to find ways to control what you can. Do your best in setting up times and situations to be creative. Find what gets you going and try your hardest to make it happen. Maybe you have to wake up at 5am to put some hours in when the party is sleeping. For me, it’s about having plenty of coffee on hand, working out consistently, and setting strict deadlines. Find what gets you going and work hard to make it happen around you. If you want to slip into creativity, you need to surround yourself with slippery things. Good luck!

    • right on! and thanx for the response. i already changed up my hours , and shit is flowing like…well…shit. hahaha. and i’m about to get some cheap ass studio space in a few weeks, thanx to the recession 😉 . hey, keep up the great work man!! u r def. an inspiration. they should be giving u the hollywood $$$. but until then, please continue to bless us with the hard earned knowledge.


  • cheekylilbasterd July 14, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    Watching this presentation , was almost like the greyscalegorilla has been in my head.
    What is sad though is that I’ve known a lot of these solutions you’ve mentioned but never did them or did them half way.
    I think if the whole presentation was summed up into various sentences , one that would come up is “challenge yourself”. I for one need to work on my deadlines.

    One thing that resonated with me especially was your comment about storytelling, I’ve watched every behind the scenes there is on a dvd from Brad Birds the incredibles to David Goyers Blade, and through out a lot of emphasis is put on story and storytelling.
    I’ve been buying dvd’s from the dialogue series just to see if I can up my writing skills which is not too bad and also John truby’s stuff, hopefully I succeed and also I understand having a good eye is not something that can be taught because personally I have a good eye for color but after having went through the course for color theory with Digital Tutors i think it helped a great deal and having the color palettes on my wall help me make color decision quicker. But really thanks for this information it was great, very very Awesome

    I have a question but before that , I have a suggestion (just a suggestion for vic) , dude or lady , trust me, you need to move out.

    I’m African as well and I’ve encountered the same issues, I was 18 (which was already late)when I got my first PC with QuickBasic on it, so I started to learn programming, Years later I will get into photoshop due to the fact that I was good with color even in DOS so I felt I could design. The folks around when I moved to london to study Computer Science did their best to encourage me to stop, they couldn’t see what I was trying to do, they will go to sleep at 9 or 10 , wake up at 6 or 8 only to find me still sitting at the computer figuring maya out. I must say though I wasn’t working at the time so maybe electric bills and such. Things were different when I lived with my friend for a while and everybody in his family is into these visual stuff, he print’s and fixes computers, his younger bro’s are photographers and editors and we all share info and due to dat I managed to go further to make a living out of what I do instead of giving up and I’m still working to be at the level I need to be because this is what i do well and the only thing I can do in my life. if I dont do this and do it right I’m f..ked .

    This is what you need to understand, you are unique,even amogst your family you are unique and I mean no disrepect at all, but you need to understand that what you have is a lil fragile and it needs space and encouragement to grow, I grew up in a house of a brilliant doctor who would later became minister of health and transport for 8 good years back in my original country, he didn’t see potential in me when I was younger because I wasn’t gonna be a doctor, but later his face went blank when he saw me program the shit out of a pc.I’ve read profiles of so many people in this industry from Stu Mashwiths to you name names, they all had some form of grounding from childhood, it’s not always true but it helps to be in the right environment.

    I’ve never been in America, but I’ve seen so many documentaries some from even where people migrate to certain regions where their type of work is in demand and respected and well paid and they become successful with hard work and consistency. I guess things are little different now with so many complaining that works are being outsourced to India. lol

    I may be wrong, because I dont fully understand your situation or what works for one doesn’t work for the other but I do know that the environment affects you, if you wanna test this out do this, move into an area which is very nice and colorful or into a group of people who do what you do even better and see if you dont change , Napoleon Hill talks about these things in think and grow rich. If I were you,I will probably get an extra job and do my other stuff at nights and off days build myself a killer reel save money move out and start afresh. It’s America Dude.

    Anyway Nick
    My Question

    i read this article at and I didn’t like it, with so many VFX Artist being out of jobs and stuff, do you think as an aspiring vfx artist I should remain on course of find something else, was my Uncle who knows nothing about this industry right when he told me that this industry is too saturated and I’m better off as a cleaner like everyone else.

    Though I’m one that wants to setup my own VFX and post house whatever, I really would like to work for quite a while in the industry , what do you think

  • Hi Nick, forwarded your presentation by a designer friend. I love it!
    Fantastic how your content can be applied across so many different industries and audiences.

    I love the idea of adding value to ourselves by learning the hard stuff and if you find yourself the smartest person in the room, get out!!!!

    Thanks 4 sharing your insights and enthusiasm!


  • Those “hard things” I’ve been looking for a long time. You made them all clear now. Thanks Nick!! 🙂

  • Hey Nick!

    First of all i have to say that I agree in every Point you mentioned in your Presentation!

    I’m from Germany and go to a designer school. Your presentation helped me alot because I am one of that guys who owns everything at school. And I love it to hear that I’m not the only person with that kind of “problem”. I want to go further but school is school. I have to finish this…sadly

    Next Year I’m done with the class and today I’m doing exactly that what you are talking about! Going out and shake some hands!

    I will absolutely recommend this Video to my Teacher! I love your work and every post of yours helped me alot in C4D.


    P.S.: Please excause my bad english. I tried my best 😉

  • Hi,

    just realized that i’ve spent sooooo much time trying to learn the programs (specially AE) and now i know why i always get in trouble when it comes to get creative or to get references. so i was wondering if you could give some advices for people that want to learn (from the beginning) all about design that is necessary to become a friggin animal when it comes to motion graphics and motion design, without going to a college. i’m talking about, workshops, websites and specially BOOKS or other things that allows us to learn and work at the same time.

    Just saw a comment and apparently you kinda went through the same problem at the beginning so, what do you recommend for us doing the same mistakes without time for another college?

    p.s: sorry about my english but that’s not the first language here in brazil!

    thank yo for your time!

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