NoSleepCreative: a year in retrospect
The following article covers the origin and journey of setting up my After Effects tutorial YouTube channel called NoSleepCreative that I have been running since Dec 29, 2019. The mission of NoSleepCreative is to be a creative resource to give people the skills they need to create a killer portfolio, land their dream Motion Design jobs, and clients that they want!
The journey was not an easy one, and my writings encapsulate my love of teaching, the pursuit of “perfection”, my moments of success and how I got to them, and tips for those who are interested in running their own channels.
My journey in digital media began back in 2010 when I was 16, and I was doing a polytechnic diploma in Visual Effects and Motion Graphics. I have always loved teaching but never saw it as something “useful”; I just loved to help people. The teenager I was back then was a real productivity junkie and I would voraciously consume articles on how to get ahead in life by visiting Lifehack and Lifehacker. I think that was when I discovered Andrew Price’s podcast (AKA Blender Guru). I had gotten the idea of making tutorials from listening to the Blender Guru podcast episode on “How to become a better artist.” I believe he mentioned how the fastest way to grow was to make a tutorial every single week. Even though I never used the 3D software Blender until 2020, Andrew’s words stuck with me. I would frequently think about how I need to start a YouTube channel and make tutorial videos to get better but also mostly because I love to teach. However, I was just a noob at After Effects, or working with visuals effects or motion graphics. I did not have much to teach. I recall the first time I recorded a tutorial and it was an absolutely terrible experience. I did not like the sound of my voice, my teaching was all over the place, and my branding was terrible. I just felt stupid and embarrassed for trying and decided to call it quits. Yet Andrew’s words lingered for the next few years.
Fast forward to 2015, I had just completed my 2 years of military service and was looking for employment because all my local university applications were rejected. I thought the best thing to do then was to upgrade my skills and keep applying for jobs. Since I had all the time in the world, I decided to launch my YouTube channel, but for real this time. I even bought a $200 Blue Yeti microphone thinking that a better piece of equipment would help me stay committed. I think I recorded a tutorial on how to do the first 5 seconds of the Attack on Titans and Charlotte anime openings on my channels (since deleted) called “kickassfx” or “mosinga” (a word combination of motion and Singapore; I know it’s lame). It was still terrible!! And once again, I closed the door on my online video tutorials. Later on, I took the Adobe Certified Expert exams, and at the same time started a WordPress blog (since deleted) and published tips for passing the exams to document my experience and help others, too. I thought that if I could not make a video tutorial, the least I could do was write about it. On the bright side, the blog partly aided me in securing full scholarship funding during my enrollment interview for my undergraduate studies at SCAD.
NoSleepCreative name inception
While waiting for my first term to start at SCAD, I spent a lot of time with my friends in Singapore. I pretty much lived alone in an apartment and often had my friends stay over, watch movies, and have breakfast. On our way to one said breakfast, while spitballing the names of my future YouTube channel we had this idea of “No Sleep Army” since some of my friends were still serving the army. Then out of nowhere, I just said “NoSleepCreative” and it just stuck. I knew this was the perfect name for my channel. On August 4, 2016, 12:45 AM, I set up a Squarespace website and NoSleepCreative (NSC) was born. But even so, I did not do much with it except post an article every month or so. Instead, I spent a lot of time doing research on successful tutorial websites and designing my site to the way I like. I was still concerned with how things looked. I wanted my branding and website to be perfect before sharing my content with the world. I had not realized back then that was a waste of time. In addition, I wanted my first video tutorial to be “perfect” in production quality. Even when I started studying abroad, I brought my Yeti microphone with me thinking that I might just resume what I started but I never did. The microphone was just baggage collecting dust.
What really solidified how unessential a website was for NSC was when I reached out to Eyedesyn (EJ Hassenfratz) on March 2, 2018, and he mentioned: “I actually hired someone to create a custom website. I think you can do very well with just having tutorials on YouTube without needing to have a central website and investing in a web designer. Hope that helps!” It was not the answer I was expecting but that was when I thought maybe just uploading videos onto YouTube was enough. Yet I still did not do it!!! Essentially, every year I would try to work on building NSC but nothing ever came out of it. My obsession with “perfection” in branding, logo, website, tutorial production quality, or type of content to publish inhibited me greatly from making one step forward. For the umpteenth time, I gave up on NSC. I just focused on school for the most part and became a peer tutor who helped people with their assignments and software instructions. I really enjoyed it, and it took my mind off the need for doing tutorials since I was teaching people in-person!
After graduating from my BFA and going through a personal crisis (you can see how my life chapters always prologue with some sort of struggle), I found myself having lots of time and a special focus on anything I set my mind to. Hence, I tried my hand at designing the NSC logo again, and gave myself about an hour to do it before I went out to have coffee with friends. I was not expecting much but one thing led to another, and I was able to make a decent logo out of nowhere in Adobe Illustrator within that short time span. Still, it did not feel “perfect” but I couldn’t be bothered anymore and just chose to use whatever I made. It took about 4 years but at least I had a logo now.
Life went on. In July 2019, when I was working at WarnerMedia Studios, I had so much time; the work I received was incredibly simple at the beginning, and there were at least a day or two in the week that I literally came to the office to work on my personal projects since there was no office work assigned to me. This was great because it gave me the opportunity to watch After Effects scripting tutorials and learn something new. In December 2019, a casual conversation with my colleague about his acquaintance whose simple AE tutorials got recognition from Adobe made me remember NSC and my goal of running a YouTube channel. Having developed some impulsiveness over the previous few months, I went back to my desk immediately and opened up Illustrator and After Effects to prepare to make a tutorial. The difference this time is that I was going to “drop the bar so low that I would not fail” by making a super easy tutorial. I told myself:
“Even if my first tutorial sucks, it doesn’t matter. No one is going to be watching it anyway, and I will only get better if I keep making more videos.
Done is better than perfect.”
It took a couple of years but I have reached a maturity where I feel comfortable failing. So with that mentality, I made a tutorial on how to draw a color wheel using a compass. It was based on a tutorial article I have written previously for my Color Theory class so I reuse the material to make the process easier. On Saturday, December 28, 2019, I went back to the office to record my first tutorial. Even though I had dropped the bar so low, it still took me about 6 to 8 hours to record, edit, and publish the tutorial. The process was excruciating; everything was just not “good” but I made peace with that and moved forward. Even though my first tutorial was not the best, that one step forward allowed everything to begin.
From then on and somewhat magically, I was able to make a single tutorial every weekend. I slowly got better with the process and developed my own procedures to make production more efficient. I kept it light and easy too; there are some tutorials I only thought of on the recording day. However, I slowly learned that getting people to watch my tutorials was another challenge to overcome. I tried to niche down as the “expression motion design tutorial guy” but channels like Animplex or Workbench had already beaten me to the punch. Furthermore, I sensed that even my basic expressions tutorials were too advanced for most people who have no knowledge of coding. That led me to create a series of kinetic typography tutorials but the reception was subpar. Getting 100 views for a single video would take weeks. Getting my first 100 subscribers was absolutely difficult and slow (it took me 3 months). I could never fathom how Ben Marriott could gain over 100k within a year when he started out on March 6, 2019. As of 16 Dec 2020, he has 354k (what’s his magic?)! It seems that there are many unknown factors that make up a successful content creator or YouTube channel.
Luckily for me, I had a supportive friend who kept believing in me and the content I was making even though I was not popular. That faith and belief often ground me that there is no need for lots of subscribers. I was not expecting much when I first started anyway. Yet, it was so hard to get any people to watch my tutorials; I thought I had a lot of useful content for people but I learned that people are looking for certain things. That got me looking into keyword optimization, being more strategic with my content, and marketing my content by posting on Reddit and Facebook groups to get more outreach. At that point, the whole process of making tutorials was tiring but I never got tired of it. I just kept going to see what would happen next.
And indeed something did happen: another full-tuition scholarship to do graduate studies at SCAD. During my enrollment interview, I brought up my YouTube channel to build a stronger case as a candidate who loves to teach. If there is anything I learned in my life, teaching is a superpower that helps you get ahead in life. I highly recommend people to share their knowledge with people if they want to gain expertise or recognition. Naturally, I agreed to accept the scholarship and gave in my notice for resignation at WarnerMedia Studios.
Niching down my content with Master Studies
At that point, my life was superb, and everything seemed to be going well, yet I still had not figured out how to build NSC further up. It was only until August when I chanced upon the animation Meizu — Aicy by Flatwhite Motion and everything changed. I really love the video and often theorized about how some shots were done. Also, partly influenced by Chris Do’s video on How To Learn & Create New Visual Styles and my fascination with figuring out how things work, I decided to recreate a single technique from that animation I watched. Over the weekend, I experimented for a bit and figured it out, but thought about what it would be like if I just replicated the whole thing as close as I could. And so I did. I believe that tutorial took about two weeks to make since I had additional graphics to explain the animation concepts. I had put more time and effort into this tutorial but I did not let that make me become invested in the fact that it would change the course of NSC. Prior to publishing that tutorial, I posted a snippet of it on my Instagram stories, and I got lots of positive responses from my friends and other people telling me that they were excited for the tutorial. Sure enough, when I posted the tutorial, it performed very well in terms of viewership and impressions. The next thing I knew, I had a wave of success hitting me:
- My YouTube channel viewership and subscribers soared; I gained my first 1000 subscribers shortly after publication.
- People were asking me on LinkedIn if I was open to freelance jobs.
- I received collaboration requests on the Asian Creative Network Facebook group that I shared my tutorial on.
- On Instagram, people were thanking me for the tutorial on direct messages. It was a rather bizarre experience; I was not used to getting recognition or attention. It seems I was doing something right, and that compelled me to keep going with these master studies tutorials.
As of December 31, 2020, I have made about 13 master study tutorials, which have brought me over 3000 YouTube subscribers and Instagram followers. I have really enjoyed making them because each Master Study feels like a riddle or math puzzle to solve. In retrospect, I think it was rather crazy I was doing one every single week in late 2020. I must have had more focus and energy back then. These days, with school and other commitments, I have slowed down the production of my tutorials to every two weeks to keep my mental health in check and balance my life.
After the above saga, NSC continues to gain recognition slow and steadily. Even I feel more confident and thoughtful about the content I put out. As you can see, this roundabout journey to get to where I am took about 10 years, and each year I get a clue of what works and doesn’t. With time, my path became more transparent and I knew what to do. Here is a recap of the important lessons I learned:
- Acquiring a better piece of equipment does not guarantee commitment.
- Being picky with your branding or website at the beginning is a waste of time; focus on delivering good content. Look at CGMatter. He doesn’t have polished branding, but he has a brand personality and his videos are more of a performance than tutorials sometimes. I watched his videos even though I do not even use the Blender software.
- Stop waiting for permission, just do it. Don’t even give yourself a chance to second guess.
- Start small, and if you can’t do it, make it even smaller.
- Have strong intentions and be relentlessly patient, keep going at it and success will come by itself.
You can apply whatever I mentioned above for any goals you want to work on, it does not have to be for setting up a YouTube channel. That said, I would like to pose a few questions so you can apply what I have shared to your journey to reach your success:
- What are your goals?
- If you have many of them, what goals can you eliminate for the time being?
- What is the most important and urgent one that you want to work on?
- What’s stopping you from doing it?
- What are you afraid of?
Define & Develop
- What is one small thing you can do?
- What is your plan to get to your goal?
- How can you stay committed to your plan?
- By when would you like to start working on your goal?
- Can you accept the fact that you might never reach your goal?
- Zag, Marty Neumeier
- Brand Gap, Marty Neumeier
On running a business
- Company of One, Paul Jarvis
- The Futur YouTube channel
- Storybranding, Donald Miller
- The first Irresistible, Adam Alter
Questions and Answers
Below are some questions I asked myself that can bring you insights into the inner machinations of my mind.
Why do I teach people and share what I know?
The short answer is that I love teaching. As for why I love teaching, I think it is a mixture of many reasons. I love helping people to reach their goals or overcome hurdles. If people are happy then I am happy. Another reason closest to my “being” is that I believe that teaching is a quality of kindness and love. We do not need a reason to perform acts of kindness, and I want to share my love with everyone. Something that resonates deeply with me and live by is this excerpt from Charlie Chaplin — Final Speech from The Great Dictator:
We all want to help one another, human beings are like that
We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery
We don’t want to hate and despise one another
And this world has room for everyone,
and the good Earth is rich and can provide for everyone
The way of life can be free and beautiful…
Should people teach and share what they know?
I believe the secret to success and life is to give more than you can take. In art school, I think maybe we as youth romanticize how making great works or design renders will garner us recognition, which is true to a certain extent. We tend to associate genius with the lone individual who can do everything, such as Michelangelo, Da Vinci, or Albrecht Dürer, but that is not how the world works these days, where success is now governed by a series of factors other than “talent.” Most of the contents I observed on social media are of high production quality but they do not really communicate anything beyond their beauty and aesthetic. They simply do not bring any value to me as a reader. Hence, the question is: How do you make the best of your time to develop expertise and recognition at the same time? And to that, I say:
“If you want to master something, teach it.
If you want to be known for something, you give people value.”
— adapted from Richard Feynman quote on teaching
How has my experience been as a YouTuber?
I love it. It has been a humbling experience with all the positive responses. Every now and then, people would tag me on an animation that was made using my tutorial on Instagram, or directly message me about how they appreciate my content. I’m really grateful for those acknowledgments because there are times it does feel like I’m throwing content into the dark, and I grow uncertain of whether it was a good idea or not. Other small experiences include people telling me I’m pronouncing something wrong or funny, people asking for mentorship, and really excited live chat comments from viewers during my livestreams.
Still, there was one hater on this obscure AE Facebook group who did not like the fact I was calling my tutorials “master studies.” He strongly believes that a master study = a master teaching people the works of other masters. Many begged to differ on that thread regarding the definition but he was adamant and rude about it; it was better not to react to his foolishness. From that day on, I decided to post only on two or three trusted Motion Design Facebook pages.
Tips for starting out with a YouTube channel or on any big goal.
Most of us have huge ambitions but we rarely work on them because we expect everything to be perfect from the start and to receive immediate success. I believe most people are not used to putting in consistent effort, being patient about results, or diving straight in and experiencing failure firsthand.
- First of all, the toughest thing you probably need to overcome first is recording a tutorial and experiencing how it feels, because you have to get used to hearing your voice, memorizing instructions, and saying the right things with good flow. That said, start by failing, and work your way up. As Jake the Dog once said: “Dude, suckin’ at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something.”
- Let go of perfection with how things look. Focus on the value your content gives to your audience. It does not matter how good your logo intro animation looks if you taught them nothing in your tutorial; you simply wasted their time.
- Just do it.
Why do I give free AEPs or content?
Many times my peers would urge me to work on my Patreon or Skillshare, but I kept telling them it’s not time yet. I’m just a rookie in the motion design tutorial world; I have a steadily growing channel with about 4000 subscribers, which is decent for my year one. I tell myself that perhaps once I have reached 10k subs then maybe I will consider going deeper into monetization. But for now, earning a few dollars off Gumroad ain’t going to help me much; I would rather people use the stuff I have made and donate out of their own goodwill!
How has NoSleepCreative helped me?
As mentioned above, it helped me get a full scholarship for graduate schools! Other good things that came out of it include:
- People think I am a great animator (since when did that happen?)
- Freelance job offers from LinkedIn connections
- Being invited to be a panelist on “Empowering Asian Creatives” with Creative Folks
- Getting noticed by studios that I did master studies on: Ordinary Folk, Chromosphere, Igor+Valentine. I sometimes feel like I am catching Pokémon, haha.
Thank you for reading this article. If you are interested to see what I am working on or get connected, you can use the links below
- Website: http://duitbetter.com/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thedesmonddu/
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/nosleepcreative
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/desmonddu