Introducing Holdframe

About two years ago I started Motionographer’s Guest Post series. The goal was simply to use this as an opportunity to shift the focus away from spectacle and more towards substance and the inner workings of our industry. Not to solely focus on the visuals but what went into a particular project, lesson learned, or a milestone in someone’s career.

Today is a big day for me. Today I launched a project I’ve been developing called Holdframe. I figured this is the perfect opportunity for me to try my hand at penning my very own Motionographer Guest Post.

One of the only guidelines I give people when it comes to the Guest Posts is to keep the self-adulation and blatant advertisement to a minimum. So as much as I’d love to go on and on about the awesome Freebies and projects in the Market on Holdframe, I’ll leave it at that. ;)

Some backstory

Back in 2013, I found myself in the deep end of the freelance scene in NYC. After just a few months in the city, I received my first booking inquiry from Buck. I mustered what little courage I had and accepted the booking. The truth of the matter was that I was way too green. I knew it, and I was terrified.

To make matters worse, when I arrived I was taken to my desk in a tiny room with Freddy Arenas, Stephen Kelleher, and Fede Reano. It’s also worth noting that Laura Alejo and Yker Moreno were on the project as well. To say that I was, and still am, the least talented person that worked on that project would be an understatement! Thankfully, I couldn’t have asked for a better and more welcoming experience to the “big leagues.” It was as if the big momma bird of New York City took me under her wing that day. The point of this, though, isn’t to talk about that booking but a realization I had during it. It’s this experience that laid the groundwork for Holdframe.

I was sitting next to Stephen Kelleher, and I couldn’t believe how realistic one of his Photoshop comps were. I asked him about it, and thankfully he was kind enough to show me the ropes and let me open his files. One item, in particular, stood out: In the center of the frame was a lime cut in the shape of a circle that had a photographic yet stylized look to it with a perfect photoreal contact shadow. It was in a cut paper/stop-motion fashion but what was impressive was simply how believable and real it looked for being “faked.”

The design was nice enough but what was really impressive was Stephen’s ingenuity and how he achieved that sense of realistic light and shadow. He didn’t paint it in with some fancy brush, he didn’t use 3D or the latest render engine, it also wasn’t a complex combination of Layer Styles… Stephen knew he wanted a realistic shadow and his lime design was circular in shape so… he took a cucumber, cut a slice of it, placed it on a white piece of printer paper, snapped a photo with his phone, cut it out, set it to Multiply, and placed the stylized lime layers above the cucumber photo in his comp… voila! Stylized lime design with photo real shadow. Easy as that.

It didn’t matter that smack dab in the center of a frame for a six-figure budget job there was a crappy cell phone photo of a random cucumber. As far as the client knew, there was no cucumber. Stephen was able to use the best qualities of the photo while hiding the worst. At the end of the day, all that matters are the pixels themselves, not how you achieved them or what is hidden underneath. I know this may seem kind of silly to be here pontificating about some styleframe that never saw the light of day. But this realization blew my mind and it was only possible because of Stephen and the ability I had to dig around in that file and figure out its secrets. I would have never thought of a solution as simple and perfect as that and it fundamentally changed the way that I work. It didn’t need to be as hard as I was making it and I can use whatever means I have available.

When you factor that I was also getting paid to be in that situation, it’s pretty unbelievable. You couldn’t put a value on what I’ve learned over the years by having the opportunity to work with people who are light years ahead of me and to be given the ability to see exactly how they work and solve problems. That’s a luxury I’m very fortunate to have experienced, but not everyone is so lucky. For many, that never happens. More and more of us are working remotely. Things are becoming more siloed, and the experiences like I outlined above are happening less and less. Hell, I’m in Florida now, and that luxury is few and far between for me these days.


We only seem to be getting older and, in turn, the work days longer. Don’t get me wrong, I love what we do, but it is relentless. There comes a point where just about everyone longs for a more passive means of income. There are currently very few options available to those working in our industry where the work itself can create an ongoing and sustained benefit.

We can’t all be Adam Plouff and make wildly successful plugins. So what does that mean for those of us on the service side of this industry?

The question seems to be, what resources do we all have that can scale and work for us and have a life of their own?

Building the bridge

The hope in starting Holdframe is that we can connect these two worlds.

We’ve all experienced the life cycle of a project. It goes online, gets some love, maybe a few opportunities roll in, but after a few months, things go cold and the impact of the project is little more than the occasional spike in traffic or a few likes and follows. Rinse and repeat.

Just about all of us have projects on our hard drives figuratively collecting dust. The work is finished, it’s literally just sitting there. The idea behind Holdframe is to create a community-centered platform where individuals can buy and sell project files for educational purposes.

In doing so, we’ll not only be creating a new educational tool for our community to learn from, where individuals can see exactly how real professionals work in real situations, but we’ll also be creating a new source of passive, scalable income for the creators themselves.

For us

It seems as though everyone these days has a copy of The Four Hour Work Week and there are profiteers around every corner. In starting Holdframe, it’s been really important to me to create something that I myself would want to be a part of.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a business. Money will change hands, and Holdframe will have to be able to sustain itself. But at the end of the day, this platform was made entirely from within our community, for our community, and the majority of every single transaction goes directly into the creator’s hand. You know exactly who you are supporting with each purchase on Holdframe. There are no middle men or large corporations. Just a direct connection to the creators in our community.

For all

I was very fortunate to learn about motion design at a time when information was everywhere and everyone was learning this stuff together. It was like the wild west and no one really knew what they were doing. The online community was just beginning to sprout, our industry was maturing, and it felt inclusive.

Now, more and more, we’re seeing the privatization of information and communities and walls going up. I get it, this isn’t to say that anyone is wrong. After all, Holdframe is a business too and I understand that money does equal opportunities and opportunities mean more new initiatives, and so on. While there will be products for sale on Holdframe, I didn’t want it to just be pay to play. I wanted it to be as accessible as possible. Using the Freebies as an example, by us all sharing seemingly innocuous bits, the collective knowledge can expand and, in turn, we’ll all benefit.

When it comes to the products that are for sale, as you can imagine, pricing something like the work we’re featuring on the Market can be very difficult. If you take Sins by Ariel Costa as an example, this is one of the best animations made in recent years and is a product of Ariel’s unique experience and dedication to his craft over the past 10 years. There is no way to assign a dollar amount that can equal that of Ariel’s expertise.

We have to start somewhere, though. Things will likely change and Holdframe will evolve, but the hope is that we can create a symbiotic relationship between the creators and the community, and one that everyone has access to and can collectively gain from.

Closing the circuit

For me, the idea that through this platform there is the potential for an individual to offer their expertise to help support the community and in turn, the community can help to support that individual, it just seemed like too good of an idea to not explore.

Who knows how it will play out, it’s literally day 01! The hope is that some people can learn a thing or two and hopefully this can empower others to make more work or, you know, pay their rent.

The goal is to release new Freebies on a regular basis so the collection can continue to grow and we’re already underway on some great new projects for the Market. There’s more to come and a lot more ideas in the works so stay tuned! 

Thank you to everyone who has made this idea possible and thank you, to Carlos and Motionographer for the continued support and allowing me this venue.

A special thanks to: Wesley at Sono Sanctus for the amazing music and sound design work he did for not only the launch video but throughout Holdframe’s additional content, Justin Cone and Joey Korenman for their motivation and guidance, and Erica Gorochow and Adam Plouff for their steady stream of encouragement and positivity.

Holdframe’s first contributors!

Andrew Vucko
Audrey Yeo
Sekani Solomon
Ariel Costa
Elliot Lim
Kirsten Lepore

Jr. Canest
Linn Fritz
Chris Guyot
Wednesday Studio
Freddy Arenas
Claudio Salas
Jordan Scott
Bee Grandinetti
Khylin Woodrow
Joyce Ho
Pablo Lozano
Emanuele Colombo

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About the author

Joe Donaldson

Joe Donaldson is a director, designer, and animator who worked on Motionograpgher from 2014-2020. Previously, he was an art director at Buck. Over the past decade, he's lived and worked in Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles and has directed work for clients such as Apple, Google, Instagram, The New York Times, Unicef, Etsy, and The New Yorker. In addition to his creative work, in 2018 he started Holdframe. He's now working as a professor at Ringling College of Art and Design and when not teaching he can be found spending time with his family or out running.