#50: Nick DenBoer aka Smearballs [Personal Projects]
From construction to early YouTube remixing, working on Conan, and selling NFTs
Nick DenBoer (also known as Smearballs) a director, animator, editor, music producer, and remix artist.
With a following of 75,000 on Instagram and 25,000 subscribers on YouTube, Nick has worked with clients including Conan, deadmau5, KFC, Old Spice, Wieden + Kennedy, and more.
In this episode we talk about Nick’s creative process, the origin of the name Smearballs, his evolution on YouTube working with Conan, NFTs, and how his personal projects have opened new doors for him all along the way.
Nick DenBoer (also known as Smearballs) a director, animator, editor, music producer, remix artist and self-proclaimed "all around great guy."
With a following of 75,000 on Instagram and 25,000 subscribers on YouTube, Nick has worked with clients including Conan, deadmau5, KFC, Old Spice, Wieden + Kennedy, and more.
Nick has an incredibly unique style of animation, and has recently begun selling his work independently as NFTs on the crypto art platform SuperRare.
click to view episode transcript
Nick DenBoer 0:00
Other times I'm like, wow, like there's people that like a Procter and Gamble like, you know, Old Spice, you know, boardroom like talking seriously about Smearballs making their advertising video right now and that just makes me laugh.
Jay Clouse 0:13
Welcome to Creative Elements, a show where we talk to your favorite creators and learn what it takes to make a living from your art and creativity. I'm your host, Jay Clouse. Let's start the show.
Hello, I hope you're having a great start to your week. Things are actually starting to get sunny here in Ohio and I am officially vaccinated. Mallory and I got our doses of the vaccine on Friday of last week, and it completely took us out of commission on Saturday, but it feels like a small price to pay for being able to get back into the world and see our friends soon. And actually On a related note, the very first time I heard the term Coronavirus, or read the term Coronavirus, was in the caption of an animator named Smearballs on Instagram. Back on January 22 2020. Smearballs posted an animation to his Instagram of a naked man in a hospital chair with bottles of Corona beer in his eyes, his ears, his mouth, in lines coming out of his butt. The caption read wow this Coronavirus is scary shit. I had no idea what this is all about at the time or what Coronavirus was, but honestly I kind of just shrugged it off because it felt really on brand for Smearballs . And today on the show, I'm talking with Smearballs, also known by his real name, Nick DenBoer. I've been following Nick's work since 2011. I have almost no idea how to describe his work without you watching or listening to it. In fact, I'd recommend you take a moment right now. Pause your podcast player, go to Instagram, search for Smearballs and take a look at some of his work. Go ahead. Always. Okay, hopefully you took me up on that. pretty wild stuff. Right? His style of animation is so weird, so unique and so hard to describe. In fact, on his own YouTube channel, he describes himself as a director, animator, editor, music producer, remix artist and all around great guy. I had a chance to ask Nick in the interview. Which of these skills came first?
Nick DenBoer 2:29
Well, great guy first for sure. I forgot I wrote that. That's an old one. Yeah, I mean, I guess I do wear many hats.
Jay Clouse 2:35
I was excited to talk with Nick in this interview does not disappoint. Right off the bat. He surprised me by telling me that he started his business back in the late 90s. And he didn't start his business in video or animation. He started in construction.
Nick DenBoer 2:50
My my company is called Generic Versatility. Because way back when in like 1998 or something I was talking to my uncle and I was starting a business I was into construction doing all these different things. And he said, you know, you need a company name that's like generic and versatile. So I was like how about Generic Versatility kind of went from there. I think since then, it's always been wearing many hats and doing different things. Whether it was construction back in the day, which morphed into my visual career of like remix art into 3d, 2d animation and all that kind of stuff.
Jay Clouse 3:23
I wasn't quite able to follow the line from construction to animation and remix art on YouTube. So I asked Nick how that path looked.
Nick DenBoer 3:31
Like at first I went to art school for a year in like 1998-99 and I dropped out after a year and then I started my company so it would have been 2000 I was doing video at art school on VHS and I already had my dad's old Pentium computer and I was like why are they teaching us is outdated technology and it was kind of way behind the times. And I was just like, I don't know how am I gonna make money doing this art stuff so I kind of bailed and started making money doing construction for literally 10 years, but I kept dabbling in art. I always made my collage I made these big like eight foot collages using like magazine pictures and weird stuff like that and then it's seeped into video started making videos for my friends bands and just funny remixes when YouTube came around and just kept at it as a career kind of blossomed on the side.
Jay Clouse 4:17
And today, Smearballs has built a following of 75,000 on Instagram 25,000 subscribers on YouTube and more. He's worked with clients including Conan, deadmau5, KFC, and Old Spice. And as we'll get to later in this episode, he's now selling his independent artwork on a platform called SuperRare as NF T's earning 1000s of dollars for each piece. We cover a lot of ground in this interview, including Nick's creative process, the origin of the name Smearballs, his evolution on YouTube, working with Conan, NF Ts, and how his personal projects have opened up new doors for him all along the way. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this episode. As you listen. You can find me on Twitter. or Instagram @JayClouse, you can tag me and @smearballs to let us know what you think. And if you haven't joined our listeners group on Facebook yet, we would love to have you. Alright, let's get into this interview. Let's talk with Nick.
Nick DenBoer 5:17
I worked at my dad's butcher shop up until art school and I was 18. So I could you know, hack apart chickens pretty good. But no, I but I went to a very tech heavy high school here in Canada that was like, I could like wire a house doing electrical out of high school, and I took drafting courses, and it was very tech heavy. So I could do a lot of trade stuff right out of high school. So that was a big help.
Jay Clouse 5:39
How did you get exposed to video then why did video become something you wanted to pursue clearly.
Nick DenBoer 5:43
Probably that year in art school, you know, like just messing around. And actually, after I quit art school, a bunch of my friends had taken over the student union of OCAD University here in Toronto, and they kind of got the Student Union budget and started this kind of gallery on the side. So I kept one foot in there and was always doing artwork. And there was a lot of video artists in that crew so got exposed to it there and kept messing around, started in early after effects. And you know, kind of happened.
Jay Clouse 6:08
Why start a company versus getting a construction job?
Nick DenBoer 6:12
Cuz I guess I just knew some people started like building decks and doing small renovations. And I started out just painting houses, actually, I was painting a lot of houses. And that moved into like, you know, construction stuff, taking on more and more projects going totally, you know, agreeing to do jobs that I totally wasn't qualified for, and looking up on the internet, how to do the kind of winging it and luckily, not failing miserably. But yeah, I had, and I knew a lot of people that I could kind of tap for, you know, resources and other, you know, construction people to learn things from so yeah, just I guess I don't know, I just never had a boss. I always just kind of did my own thing and took on jobs and you know, had way too much confidence in my 20s, I guess.
Jay Clouse 6:54
Talk to me about that 10 years of running the construction company while dabbling in art of probably lots of different functions. So talk to me about like, what that journey looked like.
Nick DenBoer 7:04
It was crazy. I look back at those years. And I'm like, how did I do that? Like I, I was doing full blown home renovations, like I'm talking, ripping the back off of the house and like having jack pose, holding it all up, and like full blown crazy renovations. And then on the weekend, I had this old school bus because I used to be in a band before my construction stuff. And we converted an old school bus into a RV touring vehicle. So I had this thing. And then I started managing another band that I was like, these guys are amazing. So on the weekends, we were taking the school bus and driving all over Canada. And then like, I was making videos for the band at the side. And I'm like, how am I doing all these things like now I'm like, oh, there's not enough time in the day to do my little videos. And I'm sitting here all day. And I look back at my 20s. And I'm like in 30s. And I'm like, how did I even have time for these things. But I was just a full blown every day all day, way too much energy don't know how I pulled it off. But yeah, I kind of kept those two for a while those two careers are going side by side. Like I was doing video jobs while having construction projects on the go. Just because I loved it so much. I was like I'm making time, you know, I'm doing it in the evenings and the weekends and still keep my foot in my construction projects.
Jay Clouse 8:10
What was the software tooling? Like when you were doing video early on?
Nick DenBoer 8:14
That was I was always in Premiere and After Effects since the early days as far as just video editing and Cubase from music.
Jay Clouse 8:20
How are you learning the software just by trial and error? because YouTube was also worried like we learn stuff now. And there's probably way less content then.
Nick DenBoer 8:27
Yeah, actually after effects. I was dabbling in and wasn't really you know, just kind of messing around a bit Premiere. I had a bit of a handle on just because it's easy, but I remember my dad actually decided to he was my dad was always making videos too. That's why I had his old computer and that's why I'm doing this probably I mean much to his like horror, I'm sure sometimes. But he makes cool home videos. And every year he's like, you know, making a, you know, big long movie roundup of the years of the grandkids whatnot, so he's still dabbles in video so he kind of got me into it and got me learning Premiere back in the day. And then I moved on After Effects and my dad for some reason wanting to learn after effects. I don't know if he ever took it anywhere. But he bought a DVD that was like how to learn After Effects step by step thing I forget who made it, but I got that old DVD from him and learn from that I took the whole course and then I was off on my way. So when I first started out, it was all really like just funny YouTube remixes, like, you know, there was auto tune the news that was really huge in the early YouTube days.
Auto-Tune The News 9:23
Michigan State heading the national championship game if your team responded late, your coach got to do it.
Auto-Tune The News 9:31
Continue to be job losses of this year. The question is will they continually go down before they begin to rebound before they begin to rebound? Go down before getting into rebound.
Auto-Tune The News 9:48
And now it's my pleasure to present the 2009 national championship trophy to coach Roy Williams and the North Carolina car.
Nick DenBoer 10:00
But they did pretty minimal visual effects stuff. I mean, those early days of like Tim, and Eric was just breaking too. So you had some weird animation stuff. So I obviously was really into that. So I mean, this stuff was going on in all different circles and whatnot and being passed around on my space. Yeah, it was a whole different world. But I kind of felt like I was making these musical remixes, but then adding some visual effects and taking it to the next level a little bit. So I kind of really wanted to move into that. But it's kind of a unique workflow, because I'll take like video samples, cut them up to get cool audio loops and kind of make a song out of that, jump into my music software, add some instrumentation back into the video software, get another idea and bounce back into like after effects and throw some animation on it. And that might drive a new musical idea. So I'm, like, constantly hopping between all these different software applications until it's done. So there's no like pre planning of what it's going to be. There's no you know, that's why I talk to a lot of people, it's like, my process isn't the traditional storyboard it, do the project, think of everything upfront and then execute it, it's, it's being creative in the software, it's having fun bouncing around between all these software's and coming up with new ideas and letting that be your path. And not just like, cuz I find so many times it's all planned out and storyboarded. And there's no more fun to be had. And you're just like, okay, now I got to do this project, and it sucks. And it's not fun at all. And you might have had an idea that looks good and written on paper, and then you go to do it. And there's like all these problems that you wish you could just throw it away and do something else. And that's what I can do is I throw it away and do something else, do something that works do the best thing possible. And I just find it so much more free and fun. And that's kind of my process still, even with commercial gigs I try and push my clients to let me have that freedom. And the trade off is I let them in on the creative process. So I have the freedom but I will show you everyday what I'm up to and you can give me feedback on it. You can be involved, you know what I mean? So that's been my huge success with commercial clients is is letting them in on my my process.
Jay Clouse 11:47
Oh my gosh, so many rabbit holes to go down. So let me start with this. You said you did a year of art school and you're in a video but you question Can I even make money doing this video stuff? So you start doing construction? What was the feedback you're getting in from whom while you're doing construction that okay, maybe I can make money doing this video stuff.
Nick DenBoer 12:02
Honestly, I don't know if there was any kind of feedback It was literally I can trace it back to my first like big commercial job, which was for Ken Block. He was the guy that did the crazy Jim Connor videos like he's a racecar driver. He was the founder of DC shoes. And he did does like rally cart racing. And he hit me up in whenever 2008 or something and 2009 it was like, Hey, can you remix my Jim Connor videos and just you know, make it crazy, do whatever. And he was gonna pay me under the table a few grand just to be like, you did this on your own for fun. I didn't pay you to do it, just like you know, put it out there. So I was like, I'm going to town. This is a crazy opportunity. So I got my friend Davey. And we teamed up and made this crazy video where there's pterodactyls attacking his car and all this crazy stuff. And so he saw an early version of it. And it's like, wow, I want to make this an official DC spot. Like let's give you some productive film and put some stuff in it. And we made a cold nine minute commercial out of it. And the budget went up a bit and they released it on the DC channel. That was my first kind of commercial gigs. So that was my first exposure to even making money on that stuff at all.
Jay Clouse 13:05
Did you have like employees that were looking at this stuff and wondering what the hell their bosses doing?
Nick DenBoer 13:09
Oh, yeah, totally. I was always like my renovation clients gonna look me up on the internet and be like, this guy's like tiling our bathroom right now. It's because it was always really weird funny stuff, but I never made my work in the early YouTube days being like, I'm gonna be a motion graphics guy like it was I sucked at motion tracking. I was just learning the software and having fun making funny stuff green screening me and my buddies onto you know, infomercials like it wasn't trying to make a career out of it at all. I didn't even think I would ever make money doing it. I didn't try to make money doing it until like 2015 when I made my first reel of stuff that I happen to make money doing.
Jay Clouse 13:46
After a quick break, Nick and I dive deep into his creative process of animation music and creating videos right after this. Welcome back to my conversation with Nick DenBoer, the artist also known as Smearballs. I've been following Nick for a long time because I love following accounts focused on animation. Or maybe it's motion graphics. I don't know is there actually a difference?
Nick DenBoer 14:08
I you know, I just motion graphics word came like a bunch of years ago. And I was like what's the difference? I honestly Yes. I guess stylistically there's a very mograph feel to things where you've got more you know, it's more about objects being added but it's still animation. I don't know I don't really subscribe to that whole thing. But it really took over is like you know, I'm a motion graphics artist is like up here. And animators like down here maybe I don't know. But it's still animation. I mean, you're still taking layers and moving them around. And it's it's all the same to me really.
Jay Clouse 14:39
Right. Okay, let's go with the animation then. I have no idea how this world of animation works. Not only would I be really bad at it if I tried right now, I just have no idea how to even get started. What platforms do you use? What tools so I asked Nick to really dumb this down for me and explain how this world of animation works.
Nick DenBoer 14:57
I use Cinema 4D as my main 3d software so it has a feature in it where it's like just like in Photoshop you've got a library of assets that you have you know whether it's a folder on your computer if you use Adobe libraries whatever Cinema 4D has its own library so anytime i make anything it goes in that library and anytime i make like a texture or a 3d model or sculpt something it goes in that library and i can one click and it's in my scene and i can make something it's made it's so fast to be able to make things it's crazy so i buy i don't know 10 some years 10s of 1000s of dollars of 3d models for different projects so there's a lot of websites that have scans of people like you know those booths so you can go in and have like 100 cameras in a in an array and it takes a picture of you from all angles and it makes a 3d model i have tons of those so tons of people that have been scanned that i bought up a website called 3d scan store or 1024. infowars but yes if you search 3d scans you can find tons of these photo real crazy high resolution 3d scans of like perfectly realistic human so i use those a lot he's a piece of software called character creator that's made by ai clone or that in conjunction with ai clone from reallusion is the software company and they have like this character creator where you can like take a photo of your face and it uses this ai headshot generator to like create ahead of that person and it's really quite good so i make characters with that i buy a lot of 3d models of animals and frankenstein them together with those models of humans by literally cutting them up like you would dismember a human and stick some arms on a dolphin or whatever so yeah it's really kind of weird frankenstein stuff in digital software.
Jay Clouse 16:36
It's so fascinating because when i mean i follow a lot of animators motion graphics people because it's like fascinating and really entertaining for me but your style is just like so distinctly different and i was trying to understand why i really i really believe that and like part of it is like the wonky music that you got going on.
I'm looking at this keyboard behind you do you make all of your own music and your videos.
Nick DenBoer 17:17
Yeah most of the time i mean once in a while i'll team up with a friend and you know to some music with them but yeah 90% of the time i'm doing all the music for that stuff.
Jay Clouse 17:26
Do you think that you invest more in these different models and assets than a lot of animators do.
Nick DenBoer 17:31
Yeah yeah i guess so i mean but it's also it's not just on my spare time it's like for commercial projects like i did a music video for deadmau5 where i probably spent 10 or 15 grand on music on 3d models of people and animals and whatever so then those are in my library and i use them in my personal work so it's like the more commercial jobs i do the bigger the pile gets but i also just especially now with this NFT art and like crypto art stuff i'm making some money doing that so i feel okay with investing a few 100 bucks in 3d models on a on each piece i do so now i'm starting to actually spend more money on my own work just to buy something like it's sometimes it's ridiculous it's like you know $300 for a pig and i'm like you can buy like a whole bunch of real pigs for that money and i'm buying like 3d models.
Jay Clouse 18:15
Yeah is it like independent creators who are creating these models like this the only place you can get it so i'm going to charge whatever i want for is in a marketplace that way.
Nick DenBoer 18:21
Yeah, yeah yeah there's websites like TurboSquid and CGTrader there's so many of different sites that are awesome there's a site called mega scans that does 3d scans of like logs and rocks and nature things that you can put into a scene really easily they're photorealistic and it's just getting better and better and a lot of it is driven from the video game industry because there's so many assets that are used in video games that have streamline this process because it you know people are creating entire worlds of stuff so yeah a lot of this stuff is available for purchase.
Jay Clouse 18:50
That all sounds like pretty expensive to me is it expensive because it's a supply and demand thing and they know they can do that or is it because they have to invest in ridiculous like hardware to actually make these scans.
Nick DenBoer 19:01
Well it's a time thing you know like i i made a 3d model of like a photo real highly detailed 3d model of a porta potti that took me a day and a half you know so if you're charging your day rate that's gonna be over 1000 bucks you know like for this porta potti so are you going to sell it 20 times and charge 100 bucks on TurboSquid and charge 50 bucks are you going to try and make that money back to get your day rate you know so some of these models i'm buying somebody sculpted and did zbrush work and texturing work that probably took three four days to make this model and those people have to sell it at a reasonable price like 20 times to make their day rate you know what i mean so i kind of look at it like that like that things were 300 bucks it would take me five days to do it because i'm not as good as that person and i that's a lot of money for me at my day rate to make this model so i'm down with buying it.
Jay Clouse 19:52
Okay one more detail question if you were going to build this from scratch and make your own model what does that look like what do you start from.
Nick DenBoer 19:58
Yeah it depends some 3d scan. So now there's all these apps on your phone even that if you have an object, you can take a ton of pictures, sometimes I'll take, like most phones have a button, it'll take like 50 pictures in a couple seconds, you know, rapid fire. So I just do that and like move my phone around an object and then put it into this photogrammetry software. And it'll spit out a 3d model that still requires a lot of cleanup. So then you have to like fix all the errors, and then re texture it with photos so that you've wrapped the 3d geometry in the photos that you took. And then you've got a cool photo real asset you can use and I stick that in my library and I've always got that thing. And then other times you sculpt from scratch. So there's programs like ZBrush and even cinema 4d and Blender have really great sculpting tools now where you actually draw the polygons or I use this way Come tablet with a pen and you know, you can build things up really tactile like sculpting like it's like blogging and there's VR applications in Oculus there's a thing called Oculus medium where you have a gun that like squirts out glue and you like you know, build things really like with your hands like he would sculpt it's really amazing.
Jay Clouse 21:01
Have you always been kind of adept visually at like drawing? Or is that something had to learn?
Nick DenBoer 21:05
Yeah, when I was a kid, I had like a banker's box of just white paper. And I went through the whole thing, just drawing picture after picture obsessively. Like, I have, like, I don't know, hundreds of sketchbooks of crappy drawings to send and then I lost touch with it for years. I just like once I got into computers, there was like a decade where I just didn't even draw, and I've only recently got back into it with with the tablet and you know, trying on the computer some I'm scraping off the rust a little bit and getting into it.
Jay Clouse 21:33
Okay, this may be the moment that you've been waiting for, for this whole episode. It's the obvious elephant in the room. I asked Nick, where the heck does the name Smearballs come from?
Nick DenBoer 21:44
Yeah, that's a funny question. So I was I guess, in the early YouTube days, probably in the 2006 time or something like that. And I was with my buddy Aaron Zimmerman, who was a was my roommate at the time. And it was like, actually, that was probably like pre YouTube. We're joking around. I think my parents are Dutch. And there's a word for muscles like biceps, which is a spear your spear spear. bollin is like your spear balls is like your bicep muscles. And I said I was explaining this to him for some reason, because I thought was a funny word spear bolin. And he heard me wrong and looked at me and said smear balls. Like, and he misheard it, we laughed that we just, I don't know, we started this blog called Smearballs years later, where we're just posting dumb crap. And we both wear these like purple shiny Lakers jackets and made these dumb videos on YouTube. And it became a blog. It wasn't just me. It wasn't like, Hey, I'm smear balls. It was like, eventually, four or five of us that were all friends that were posting on this blog. And it was this thing called Smearballs as joke with all these characters. We had a YouTube vlogger guy named Jamie j vlog 89 he was doing YouTube videos, were just doing all this crazy stuff. And it kind of fizzled out. Everybody died off or didn't care to post anymore. And I was just still going at it because I was making those video remixes. And it was getting they were getting popular on YouTube. So I just kind of kept going. And it and I'm still you know, kind of stuck with that name. Because I'm like, why not? It's more memorable than Nick DenBoer. kind of worked out. But then other times I'm like, wow, like there's people that like a Procter and Gamble like, you know, Old Spice, you know, boardroom like talking seriously about Smearballs making their advertising video right now. And that just makes me laugh. So.
Jay Clouse 23:22
That's amazing. That's amazing. So in the early days of YouTube, when you're making these remixes, and whether it's the whole team or or just you was there a moment where just creating the videos was generating income to a point where you consider that as like the job.
Nick DenBoer 23:38
No, I think most of those videos were made before you could even really monetize. And then when monetization came in, I didn't feel right about it. Because I was using stuff I grabbed off infomercials, I didn't really fully own a lot of the content cuz it was all remix. So other than a couple videos, I didn't really monetize off YouTube and it was literally all for fun. Like I said, I never set out to make a career in animation or motion graphics until way later when I got that Ken Blach video and I'm like, Okay, once people actually started paying me to do it, I was like, Alright, let's let's roll.
Jay Clouse 24:08
I think about this a lot actually. Cuz I look at like Vic burger stuff also,
Nick DenBoer 24:11
Yeah he's great.
Jay Clouse 24:11
The videos that he pulls in, and sometimes you pull in, I wonder like, Is this fair use? Like, how does that work for for the type of remix thing that happens in that world?
Nick DenBoer 24:21
Yeah, again, I think it totally is fair use. I mean, it's all social commentary, whether it's comedy or just making someone look ridiculous or whatever. I mean, this as long as public figures if you're doing it about like me or you like it's slander or something. It's like, you know, a public figure and it's making some kind of social commentary. It's totally fair game and you're not monetizing on it. Like that's the thing is like you can't monetize on that stuff, using the content that you're ripping off of these things. But I was a big creator on Conan for years too. And every single time I did it for Conan, we I would take some news piece and green screen my body on to somebody or whatever and upload it and every single time the lawyer Like, we strongly again, you know, suggest you don't use this, but it does have a lot of precedent and fair use. So go ahead and do whatever you want. And every time they would go ahead and do whatever they want, because every late night show does it and it's it is fair use. And Conan always had the preamble giving it context of you know, why it was political commentary, whatever.
Jay Clouse 25:19
So an example like that, I'm fascinated now about the process again, you are capturing your own body against a green screen and you move somebody's head onto your body. And that's how you get the person to do whatever.
Nick DenBoer 25:30
Yeah, sometimes. I did that a lot, especially in the Conan days. It was like, you know, Justin Bieber had just been arrested for DUI or something. And I remember it was one of the craziest fastest turnaround videos I've ever done. I saw that on the news in the morning and I had a capture card, I could just go directly capture on my computer. And I happen to have a bedsheet that was the same color as his jail smock. So I'm like, boom, it's 10am. I recorded that off the TV, I went downstairs with my scissors, I cut up the jail, smock, put it on, made it, you know, duct taped it. So it looked right and shot myself, like burning some American dollars that I printed off of my printer and then giving the judge the finger and then boom, and then I had it into the head writers hands by like, one o'clock in the afternoon, like literally, you know, two, three hours later, and it made it into rehearsal and had not made it into rehearsal that night, it wouldn't have made it on the air. So it's like, and then then the next day, if anyone else had done a joke about Justin Bieber's DUI, it would be irrelevant. So he, it's kind of you have to beat someone to the punch. So I really learned how to do crazy fast turnaround stuff and be able to green screen right beside me. Whereas all the guys on set at Conan would be like, Okay, you got to go to the writers room, pitch your idea, get it approved, go shoot it, get another guy to do the VFX get another guy to edit it and get another girl or person to do the audio, and then you know, and then it would just take forever, where I could just go beside my computer on my green screen, do it, bring it back in and have it to them and
Jay Clouse 26:56
in a couple hours. When we come back, Nick and I talk more about his experience at Conan and how he got his videos on the air. And later we dig into how he's earning money today through NF T's in crypto art. So stick around, and we'll be right back. Welcome back. Just before the break, Nick was beginning to talk about his time working with Team cocoa and getting his videos onto the air. Working with Conan O'Brien seems like a dream client. So I asked Nick how that job looked.
Nick DenBoer 27:26
I was outsourced. I was on retainer. So that would just at first I just started making videos for them. And like once in a while, like my boss over at team coco would just show a cool video I did to Conan and Conan is like, let's put it on the air. And it was just, I was like, Wow, I've got this crazy backdoor onto the show. So I'd be watching TV all week just trying to wait for something to happen that I could pounce on and I would just send as many videos as I could all week. So then eventually, they're like, I think some of the writers are getting upset because they're like, they were getting blocked out of huge chunks of the of the monologue, because I kept getting videos on every like, every other day. And it was like, Okay, now you have to go through the head writer, pitch him your ideas. So I was like, whatever, I don't care, I'm just gonna throw the head writer a million videos, I just kept cranking them out as much as I could. And I ended up in just a few years getting 120 to 150 bits on the air.
Jay Clouse 28:15
Wow, that's insane. And so it was on you that you had the prerogative to say, here's something I want to make, I'm gonna make it I'm gonna send it to you for approval. That's a huge investment of your time for something that may not go through.
Nick DenBoer 28:25
Yeah, but I didn't really care because at that point, it was like, before the case there was a kind of a turnover. At some point. It was like, if they didn't take it, I would just upload it on my own channel, or I would just like save it for myself. But then I got put on retainer, so they would kill it and shelve it. So I have like probably another 50 to 60 videos that never made it on the air and Conan that I can't do anything with. I have a ton I could do a feature film of stuff that I made for those guys that either some other writer had an idea of the same Superbowl ad and they chose is or like it was just maybe sometimes too extreme for the show. Or like there's all kinds of different reasons it didn't make it on the air, but I have a ton like a hard drive full of stuff that never made it.
Jay Clouse 29:03
That sounds depressing to me. Is that depressing? Or is that something you've just kind of gotten used to?
Nick DenBoer 29:07
Well, I've gotten used to it I've done tons more stuff that never made it to the air just because like the clients always like yeah, this is awesome. Let's do it. Let's do and then there's like some other level of you know, client that turns it down later or something and I like the producers down and their clients not or like there's tons of reasons why and then sometimes people push me to do the craziest they asked me to do the craziest thing Vice asked me one year in 2015 to the craziest roundup of the year of news just make it nuts. And so I went to town I had like Jared the subway guy and like, you know, all these Donald Trump like with one of these ISIS guys, he was out of control. It was like and honestly I was like this is hardcore, but Vice asked for the most hardcore thing possible and I delivered that and they were like so it's a really great video, but unfortunately, I even asked then they said they didn't want it. They went didn't want to air it. So that when I said, Well, what, what if I bought it off? You guys, you paid me X amount I offered them 25% of the money back so that I could use it. And they still said no. And I'm like, I won't ever tell anyone that you made that you paid for it. I won't put your name on it, I won't do it, you know? And then I think I upped it to like 30 or 40%. They still said no, and I'm like, Whatever. I'm just gonna keep your money then.
Jay Clouse 30:24
Okay, so talk to me about going what was the in between, from the the Ken Block experience to doing stuff with Conan and Wieden+Kennedy, and like these big names that people will recognize.
Nick DenBoer 30:36
It's funny because the email that you sent me to ask to this podcast mentioned this video called Sex Tape where I took the ladies from the view and it was literally after my last construction project, I packed up all my stuff from Toronto, and I was like I'm getting out of here for the winter, I put it all in a car drove to Los Angeles, live there for the winter. And I just made this video of the view ladies, I just cut it up made a little song about I did some crude motion tracking of dumb objects on these ladies.
Jay Clouse 31:03
Nick just touched on this video remix he made in 2011, called Sex Tape, where he remixed a conversation with Barbara Walters and Whoopi Goldberg on the view. This is the type of personal project that has had a big impact on Nick's career. And it's linked in the show notes. It's hard to put yourself back in the headspace of 2011. I know. But when I saw this video, it was unlike anything I'd ever seen on YouTube. And even though you can't see it, I want to play a little bit of the audio. So you get a sense for what it's like
Nick DenBoer 31:59
And it kind of went viral for those days in YouTube. You know, it got a quarter million views and there was like, you know, it got on to Attack of the Show. I don't know if you remember that program.
Jay Clouse 32:08
Oh, yeah haven't heard that even a long time.
Nick DenBoer 32:10
Yeah, it was weird. I hadn't heard of it until it got on the show. And I'm like, What is this crazy. So it kind of blew up and all these big blogs posted it like going going back in the day was big and all these other places. So that kind of single video landed me web series for Mondo media during the first round of YouTube kind of money that they doled out to make YouTube content better. They kind of gave it to a bunch of production companies a million bucks here and there, whatever, I didn't get a million bucks, but Mondo scored a bunch of money and gave me some money to do a weekly roundup of the news called news hit. And it was like during the Mitt Romney Obama election, so I, like took the week of news took like four or five days messed around editing stuff, and then do some VFX and make like a musical edit of the news that.
So I did that for 12 episodes, 12 weeks, and then yeah, the executive producer at team coco saw it and was like, Hey, this is really awesome. You want to pitch us some stuff so that directly from that view video to that Mondo media web series to Conan like direct lineage, I can totally connect the dots as I can for my whole career of like this video leading to that that job leading to that it's very linear. I mean, your whole workflow is like one job to the next one email, like, Oh, you want to do this project? Okay. Yeah. And they usually know where they all came from. You know why, like, someone's hitting you up on Instagram because they saw this video that you made. So, you know, when people ask me, like, how did you make it or whatever? How do you get to where you are? It's like I have very little advice like as it's like, name, name, your brand, something weird and gross, like Smearballs, drop out of school, do construction for 10 years, and then yeah, suddenly, people start paying you to make videos like it doesn't work like that. But the one thing that I have had success with is to always take time off to do a video that makes me laugh for fun and break some new ground and learn some new software and I can always trace back almost all my commercial jobs to something I did for fun. After Conan, I did a video for fun called the chickening where I took Stanley Kubrick's the shining and turned it into this chicken infused ridiculous short film that made it into all these film festivals. Some guys in Portland saw it at Wieden+Kennedy called me up and hired me to make KFC videos because of the chicken thing. You know, I think it started with Old Spice but it's just like it all leads back to projects I did for fun. And now it's Instagram. People see my Instagram stuff that I'm doing for fun in between jobs and they hire me to do more jobs. It always goes back to that.
Jay Clouse 34:51
The the SEXTAPE video was the first one that I saw. I remember my sister Emily sent it to me and she's been on the show, so that's why I'm calling her out by name. She also does the artwork for the show and she's really excited to do this episode. She sent it to me. And I remember I think I literally said, this makes me feel like I'm crazy. And I like
Nick DenBoer 35:08
Jay Clouse 35:08
What type of like energy are you putting into these videos are like what do you what do you hope for these things? Are you trying to make me feel crazy?
Nick DenBoer 35:15
I don't know. I guess maybe I'm just crazy. But I literally just play around and I got stuff on a loop and maybe it's making me crazy at the time, but I don't know I just feel like it's boring. Like I'm you're watching it. Like I sit here on the computer. And like everyone's like, well, what kind of drugs you on man and it's like, I'm stone sober. I sit here on a computer with a cup of coffee, and I make this stuff. And it's not very exciting.
Jay Clouse 35:38
I thought about opening this interview, and I wasn't I wasn't sure this would set us on the right path. But I thought about this interview with just saying, so what the fuck?
Nick DenBoer 35:47
I went to Japan for a talk or afraid to judge a VR competition last year or the year before? Yeah, 2019, I guess. And these guys were like, wow, you're very normal. And I'm like, What did you expect? I was gonna start kicking over tables, like, throwing stuff at the wall like, so funny. Like they It was almost like they're nicely disappointed that I wasn't a maniac when I showed up.
Jay Clouse 36:13
So as you and your friends are doing this blog, and then it slowly becomes you and now you're starting to do work commercially. What was like your aspirational goal for the business? Did you want to build an agency? Did you want to just like make stuff and sell it? What were you thinking about?
Nick DenBoer 36:26
Never want an agency never wanted employees, the amount of times people told me over the years, like I was getting bigger and bigger jobs even during the cone and stuff, I'd be getting jobs on the side and doing double timing and stuff. And so many of my like, you know, business friends owned successful businesses and stuff, or like, you need to start hiring employees and like, you know, and but I've met so many people over the years that used to be do the creative stuff used to have fun in the software. And now they run a company and they're just like doing books and like trying to get clients to make sure that their employees are still making, you know, have stuff to do and that their company is still making money. And it's just like, it sucks. It looks like it sucks. I'm not into it, I don't know. And I had employees during construction. And I always just hated it. I tried to do as many jobs as I could with like me and one other body or like just like max out my potential, you know, and I still feel the same way I like doing it. I like learning like right now. I'm learning Houdini and I'm doing this new software. And it's like super fun. And I'm into it. And I love coming up with the ideas and the process of messing with the software and taking on new challenges. Like we're all of a sudden I have to do some live production mixes 3d and all this stuff. I just love the problem solving aspect of it. And I like being hands on. And I think if I just had a bunch of employees, I'm also like, it also comes down to money, like how much money do I need to make to keep three employees full time paid all the time, because I get projects and I hire freelancers, all of a sudden, it'll be a big Old Spice project. And I'll be like, I need to hire a couple specialists to do something that I don't need them to do all year round. So it's totally the pirate ship model where like, all of a sudden, this big job comes in, I try and get like I did a KFC project that we had two weeks to do 30 minutes of content. So I hired everyone I knew and we just went crazy 20 hours a day for like two weeks non stop and then burnt out after but everyone got paid decently. And it was like super fun. But then I didn't have work for anybody for like a month after that. So I mean, it's so hard to take that plunge and like all of a sudden have all these employees, and I just never wanted to go that route. And I also, you know, I was on the speaking circuit for a couple years. And just like the freedom of being able to just shut everything down and go travel or do anything is just awesome. And I just I value the freedom more than maybe the extra money I could make by having a couple employees. You know,
Jay Clouse 38:31
I love that I think I would be on a similar, like, I think I'd be in the same space if I was you based on what I know about myself. So how do you think about budgeting time for your own personal projects versus commercial work? You said that all your commercial work has come from your personal projects that made you laugh? And did well how do you think about saving that time for yourself versus always being on the hamster wheel of client work?
Nick DenBoer 38:52
It's hard and it gets harder and harder. Like this last couple of years, I've been chasing three months of my schedule being ramped, like totally booked. So I mean, like I'm also like, I don't have kids. I just I literally can do this all the time if I want to. And it gets a little crazy. And sometimes I do insane amount hours at the computer, but it's not I know it's not healthy. So I do force myself to take time to stop and I say no to projects, even if they sound like they're cool projects. Sometimes just like no, I'm sorry, I can't do that. And now I've just completely stopped I cancelled three jobs last week, because I just want to focus on this dis crypto art NFT stuff full time because there's some potential there to make more money than doing commercial work. And I just I need a break from it. Honestly, like, I get burned out like for years and years I really thought of myself as like, wow, I'm really good at taking notes from clients because I separated myself I didn't care. I don't care if the client wants it to be purple when I think it should be pink. It doesn't matter. They're paying for it. It's not my art and I've separated myself for years from that mentality. I really when I started out I was really get angry if my client client tells me to change something I know it's a bad idea. It's gonna look worse and they're just doing it to have creative control and it's like, well, they're paying for it. Give them creative control. I totally flipped from when I was young to now. And then in recent years, I felt I was getting angry again, I was just like, Ah, I'm dealing with people that just are making me do things for no reason, or we're doing version 27. And going back to version four, and I'm getting super frustrated again, and I'm like, these are signs I need a break from this. So this is all came came at a good time where I think I was burning out a little bit and I'm like, I shouldn't be getting angry about this stuff. I need to take a break and take a breather, and sometimes I push myself too hard, and I take too many jobs. And that's that's where the stress comes from.
Jay Clouse 40:28
Nick just mentioned that he's currently focused on crypto art. Right now there's a lot of buzz around things called NF T's which stands for non fungible tokens. Basically, it's a decentralized programmatic way of confirming the authenticity of a single digital file. And a lot of artists are finding that they have the opportunity to sell original work as an NF T. Here's Nick to explain it a little bit more.
Nick DenBoer 40:54
Yeah, so it's it's kind of like attaching a serial number to a piece of digital artwork on the internet on the blockchain, much like if you own a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, you own that it's in a secure address, and it's public. at this address, everyone can see it on the blockchain. So there's a way that they've attached art to that where you can because it's really not tangible to make a piece of moving digital artwork unless it's on a TV screen and sell them that TV screen with a copy of it on and anyone can have that copy possibly so it's made kind of a tangible way to create a scarcity a singularity, a one piece of this digital art and attach it to the blockchain so one person can own it. And it's, you know, it's undisputed, it's on the blockchain, millions of computers, you can't mess with it. I remember in like early art school days, early 2000 it was like people were trying to sell like a VHS copy of their video art and everyone was scoffing like video or what is video art, you can ever sell that. And it's literally taken 20 years for this art form to be like accepted in any kind of art world. And it's just interesting. It's on this like crypto, crypto space where you sell for cryptocurrency so people is become this like leader in this field, because he's, he's an amazing artist. He's done, you know, 5000 days in a row of of daily render a daily piece of artwork. So it's just a massive amount of work. And the guy deserves it, for sure. He's amazing, but it's like, become this thing. And he's led the way to like crypto art being like a valuable asset for people. So now all these rich people are like putting crypto art in their collections, and people are speculating on it and trying to find artists that haven't been discovered yet buying their artwork for a few 1000 bucks, which is amazing for us artists who are just getting into it. But then they're flipping it after a few months for like 10s of 1000s of dollars. I had one of all my pieces right now I've been selling for like, I look at I looked at it and I'm like, okay, that thing took me three days. My day rate is whatever. 700 bucks, let's say and then I want $2,000 for that piece. And I got my day rate same as much as I was making do commercial work. And then people were buying them and now they're relisting them at like $30,000 $40,000 and they haven't sold it those prices yet but I'm like wow, if they start and I see it happening for other people where people are speculating, buying all these artists work for a reasonable rate and then like cranking them up. So artists are having this trajectory and selling work for a lot of money.
Jay Clouse 43:11
And do you get a commission on future sales of the artwork too?
Nick DenBoer 43:14
You do on super rare the site I'm on it's believed 10% on resale?
Jay Clouse 43:19
How did crypto art come onto your radar?
Nick DenBoer 43:22
Honestly, I have some friends that were in the crypto art like over a year ago, and they were telling me about it and I honestly wrote it off and I was like this is dumb. I don't see it taken off. This is like a niche thing. And yeah, maybe I gonna whatever I did not i thought was dumb. I'm like, I'm into crypto. I always like I've been like mining and buying crypto since like 2016. But I just was like a crypto art. I was so busy with commercial projects. And these people are bugging me to like put stuff on their platform. And I didn't understand what were they like, do I own it anymore? Whatever. I just wrote it off and dismissed it completely. And then people had his like, crazy, humongous weekend drop of making $3.5 million. And I know him from the speaking circuit. And he's been in my place like we're friends. And I remember texting him. I'm going oh my god, this is amazing. I think before he made like 60,000 or something. And I was like, That's crazy. And I remember texting him like, but you're the only guy that can make that kind of money. Right? And you know, and it turns out Yeah, he's the only guy that sees like accounts for a third of all of crypto art sales or something like that. But tons of people now are making lots of money. It's crazy. It's just like a humungous gold rush for motion graphics people It's wild.
Jay Clouse 44:33
This has fascinated me for a lot of reasons because like historically, the art community is is very like, wanna call it like old timey and like inaccessible. There's like this whole ecosystem of like curators and whatever they say is valuable is valuable and like in this new crypto art world, all that gets kind of thrown away or at least like can be redone.
Nick DenBoer 44:53
It really does and is and traditionally the art market world too you're talking about 1000s of year old art market problems. Really in a lot of ways, so it's gotten to the point now where it's just par for the course to give 50% to some kind of agent, middleman gallery, whatever it is, you know, and now it's like they take 10% or something like that, or 15 I think on these sites which is like, you know, reasonable if they're facilitating all this, but it's also the curation is still there. These sites super rare nifty gateway are heavily curated, and they are very picky about who gets on. Some other sites are not wearable and open. See, anybody can go on them and, and tokenize anything you want. People are tokenizing crazy things. One guy has a Pfizer tattoo on his head, and he ate a live bat as a piece of performance art. It's insane. Like it's, I really don't Google it, you own the video, he made a video of it, and he uploaded it and he tokenized it and you can buy it for like five grand or something like that. Like insane.
Jay Clouse 45:50
And people are buying this with Etherium
Nick DenBoer 45:53
Yes, yeah. So Etherium is unlike Bitcoin, it's I guess, programmable, you can, you know, write all these functions into it and piggyback off of the blockchain with all these different tokens and things. So it's, it's like the main I am talking pretty ignorantly. Here. I don't really know the lingo. But from my understanding Etherium is used because of its versatility in that way. So all these token tokens are stored on the Ethereum blockchain. So your piece of artwork is there forever. If you tokenize it, it's always there. And it's always verified and it's, you know, attached to the Ethereum blockchain.
Jay Clouse 46:26
What do you think is the breakdown of people buying art because they want to own it and show it off versus speculative? We think we can resale this for higher.
Nick DenBoer 46:35
I don't know what the split is. But most of my collectors and I've only sold 10 pieces are like genuine collectors, like people who really just wanted some of my artwork and then but then some of them have right away relisted them at higher prices, but some of them have listed them at such ridiculous high prices. They're never gonna sell like this one guy, Josh in Miami bought one of my pieces. And he's like, I want this. And unless someone's paying me like $100,000, I'm keeping it. So he just listed it way high, just because like he knows it won't sell for that much. Unless something crazy happens. I become some famous crypto hoarders. But yeah, he just he wants a piece. And he loved it. And he believes in it. And he wants to keep it maybe he'll lower the price one day later if he really wants to sell it. But right now he's put that barricade up. So I'm seeing both you know, but I'm also seeing what I think are a lot of shenanigans in the field. Like, I'm seeing a lot of these weird collections that are like somebody made 20 cats or whatever the heck it is. And they're not very technically awesome. They don't look very cool. They're just like something that they say there's only 100 of these. And it's like, well, they're crappy cats, who cares, or whatever it is, you know, and it's like, but then they're going for like $50,000. And you're like, what's going on, and part of me thinks there's a bunch of rich guys on a private discord, trading it to each other will will sell I'll sell to you, you sell to me, you sell to that guy, you also five ways, and then all of a sudden, it's 50 grand, and you need one person just to jump in the game and pay 50 grand for one of these. And we all split the money and laugh and walk away. So I think there's those kind of fishy schemes going on. I don't know that for a fact. But I just like the way some of these things are selling it really smells fishy. Like, why is this thing that looks like I could do it in two minutes selling for 50 grand, anyone can make this thing like I try and make stuff that's highly detailed, got a ton going on. And like something that will like keep its value over time, you know, like something that's like, took some artistic thought and I and there's a cool idea there something but but also, you got to realize sometimes people want to buy a minimalist piece of art, like a painting that's just white paint on your wall. And that's gonna sell and like people buy Beanie Babies and magic cards and ugly vehicles, and it's not your style, and you got to understand that other people are gonna buy these things, and it's totally cool.
Jay Clouse 48:37
It's just the technical hurdle to even. First of all, you know, this exists, which is pretty, like very niche right now, then you have to know like, how to get Etherium to buy on these platforms. Like there's such a huge hurdle that it seems like the people who are doing it right now, like where they were they crypto rich, and they're kind of like, I got to do something with this, you know.
Nick DenBoer 48:55
The buyers for sure. I think there's definitely a lot of people who like bought Etherium and it was 12 cents, and they have 1000s of them. And now they're worth 2000 bucks. And to them still, it's like I got that for 12 cents, I'll buy that artwork for $20,000. But really, that only cost me like eight bucks or something really like, you know, a few years ago. So I mean, yeah, there's tons of that. I think there's also tons of old money that just bought crypto to get in it. And it's a hobby and it's you know, something that I'm seeing a lot of like C suite guys from big companies with huge collections. You know, one of the biggest collectors on SuperRare is the CPO of where Wealth Simple, you know and he's got like, he spent six figures easy, like quarter million, half a million on crypto art like you look at his collection, it's just like 5000 bucks. 2000 bucks. You know, it's crazy. He's bought so much, but he's also not reselling it. So I really think he believes in it and is buying a collection for the long haul, you know, like, I think he's really investing in it. He's not flipping stuff, you know.
Jay Clouse 49:50
So interesting. How do you think about for the work that you sell? How do you think about what you keep in Etherium versus cash out?
Nick DenBoer 49:56
Right now I've like I said, I've sold 10 pieces right now. So i've made a decent amount of money and i have just kept it all in Etherium and bitcoin i split it up a little bit i haven't cashed any out yet i'm just kind of leaving it there because i still think that there's more upside to be had with Etherium because there's a ton more use cases for nf t's not just artwork not just this crypto art you see the nba is tokenizing these video clips of basketball players and selling those you could tokenize concert tickets in the future i think the music industry might be tokenized i read a really cool article yesterday about music imagine if you can make an album and everyone could buy it like live it like they're buying crypto art right now like you're a band you make an album and likes everyone can buy a piece of that and so all of a sudden you could raise six figures on making an album by your fans and they all own it and then you split the streaming with all your fans because you all own it together so everyone could just generate a revenue off that and you can sell your piece of the album as well so that could be a huge way that artists make way more money in the music world and it could kill the streaming platforms or force them to start paying more money for streams if a platform like that came out you know i could totally see that imagine if you could make an album and then make 50 grand off that album off the bat and then who cares about royalties because you made some money you make another album you know it's a way better system so i see if but there's also the thing that i think is volatile about cryptocurrency in general is that another coin could come up and be better more useful more up to date more you know awesome in cryptography and just destroy these in like a year and then also i think quantum computing could all of a sudden totally get so powerful that like Nvidia creates a chip or who knows what company is working on quantum computing but they make a computer so powerful it can literally hack a bitcoin and steal everyone's money like that's a possibility i read an article that they think that might be eight years out or something you know like i don't know it's like crazy it might all be worthless tomorrow but it might also be worth triple in two years you know like it's it's i'm definitely moving forward now that i've stashed a little bit of cryptocurrency i think my next couple sales i might cash out just to get some cash out of it to be prudent.
Jay Clouse 52:04
With NFT's and everything you're doing here i know you're on like a current commercial work pause do you see a future where you ever like nope just my stuff all the time no more commercial work.
Nick DenBoer 52:14
I hope so i mean that would be so much more fun but sometimes if there's a really cool commercial project where it's like great money and an awesome challenge i'll totally take it even if i'm having fun making my own work but right now i'm super not into it but also i think things are gonna go full circle where like they were gonna have Pepsi and KFC you know NFT's guaranteed they're already happening like you're seeing all these brands and big music icons and everybody is knocking on nifty gateways door to make nf t's right now everybody guarantee you like everyone wants a collectible every brand that's got products every celebrity that's got a figurine everybody wants a 3d model or an image or any video that they can sell to their fans so it's going to just continue to skyrocket as far as not maybe not prices but it's going to get watered down with tons of stuff and you know what they're gonna be hiring people like me to make stuff for these celebrities and brands and whatever else so we're gonna see like everyone bailing on commercial work for nf t's only to start making commercial work for NFT's is my prediction
Jay Clouse 53:26
This was a super fun interview for me to record with Nick and then edit with all the audio i got to pull in so thanks for listening all the way through and i hope that you enjoyed it too. I still can't believe that nick started his career in construction in the 90s and found his way into the world of animation if nothing else this teaches us the power of playing the long game and continuously pushing yourself to be creating on the cutting edge of new methods and technology i really relate to nick's desire to stay in the work and pushing himself as opposed to building a business bigger than himself with employees because i've experienced that to some degree and when you hire employees no you don't have a boss but you're still accountable to the team and for a lot of creators that may not be what you want thanks to nick for being on the show thank you to Emily Clouse for making the incredible artwork for this episode thanks to Nathan Todhunter for mixing the show and Brian Skeel for creating our music if you liked this episode you can tweet @JayClouse and let me know and if you really want to say thank you please leave a review on Apple podcasts thanks for listening and i'll talk to you next week.