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Creative Spaces: Erik Jensen, 3D Artist & Animator

July 1, 2014

Creative Spaces Natalie Mueller Comments Off on Creative Spaces: Erik Jensen, 3D Artist & Animator

3D artist, Erik Jensen. Photo Credit: Sergio Salgado, Furnace Creative

This month, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Erik Jensen, 3D artist and animator and longtime freelancer. Five years ago, when Jensen decided to take the jump and move to our fair city of Chicago, he unwittingly took the jump into full time freelance as well. “The job market wasn’t that great. I came up here and wanted another full time job, but no one was hiring, I wound up freelancing as default.” Five years later, he hasn’t gone back to the full time job hunt and, frankly, his freelance life is enviable for any freelancers who prefer to work offsite.

A semi-new homeowner and a veteran freelancer, Jensen welcomed me into his blue and white, A-framed office to share his experiences working from home and also his extensive summer popsicle collection.

The Work

How do you explain what you do to people who immediately assume you make cartoons?

I start by explaining that I don’t really do a lot of character work and animation, which is most people’s go-to thought when they hear ‘animator.’ Character work is a whole different beast. Honestly, I try to describe what you see in movies these days and then I say I do a very small portion of that, on a much smaller world, and in the commercial world. So, like you see in the movies, but not at all. I think a lot of people don’t realize that what they see on the web and TV and even in print ads is not traditional photography anymore. More than likely, it’s been done in 3D and the technology has gotten so good that it looks real.

The Work Day

Have you always worked entirely from home?

Mostly. Most of my work is direct to agency or direct to client, they don’t require me to come onsite, which allows me to bounce around and work where I want, whether that’s at home or at a coffeeshop or maybe a coworking space. It’s sort of seasonal. I’m at home 90% of the time, but in the colder months, I try to venture out more. Cabin fever is a very real thing; I can go a little loony if I’m in the house too much.

Your wife, Angie, works from home most of

the time too now. How has that been working out?

It’s funny. We don’t actually see each other much during the day. We might see each other at lunch and we usually take a walk or something before we start in the morning. During the day though, we don’t really rub shoulders. Her office is wherever she wants it to be. She’s just on her laptop, so she’s very mobile.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge for you working from home?

I’d say the real challenge is that when you work from home you have to be the tech guy too. Shit happens, you have to repair things. I’m not a computer expert, but I have to keep them running. That’s the hardest part. In an office there’s someone there to fix everything. You can just say ‘Hey, can you come by my desk? This thing stopped, help?’ and at home you’re just like, ‘I don’t’ know what to dooooo”

Have you encountered any new challenges working in a home you own versus in your old apartments?

It’s a lot of the same, actually. Except now, instead of just not having a tech guy, I also don’t have a landlord. There’s always something in the house to fix or maintain. When you’re renting, if something breaks or a pipe bursts, you just call your landlord and he’s responsible for taking care of it. Here, we’re responsible for everything.

Do you have any tricks for forcing yourself to end the workday?

Honestly, just getting out of the room. Once I’m out, I can disconnect pretty easily. With 3D work it’s too easy to just keep tweaking and re rendering, especially at the end of a project, so sometimes I just have to force myself to leave. That sounds like common sense, but if I can just leave the room it is easier to not come back.

Sometimes I shut the computers down because then I’d have to wait 2 more minutes to start working again. It’s small, but it’s another ‘obstacle.’

office (3)

The Workspace

In those rare instances where you do venture away from your home office, where do you work from?

Usually Bomkamp in the west loop or Next Door in Lakeview. I might hole up in one of the neighborhood coffee shops and when it’s nice out I’ll probably just go work on my patio.

Bomkamp is a coworking space, if you’re going to go to a coworking space, what do you look for?

A nicely designed space is always nice to be in. It’s got to be comfortable, obviously, just like any other office. Something that’s not claustrophobic–coffeeshops are the worst offenders when it comes to that but even some larger places crowd you in at a desk. Relative quiet is pretty important too; not a lot of street noise or crazy music blaring. Bomkamp has several pinball machines but when I’ve been there they always had a no pinball during the workday policy.

The most sinister of desks.

What is most important to you in any creative environment?

Oh gosh. That it’s a place that I can get work done? Haha. Consistency, I think. I can’t be too distracted. That is the pro/con of a coworking space or coffeeshop: it’s nice to get out, but I usually get way less work done. I am consistently more productive at home and I think it’s because nothing is new to me here. I have my computers and I can work. There aren’t any real distractions.

Do you consider yourself a very organized person?

Digitally or in general? In general, yeah, I like to think I’m pretty organized. This room usually stays like this, I didn’t just dress it up for you. Paperwork, bills, that mess goes in the filing cabinet as soon as possible. I have a process: I get mail, I shred it, if I can’t shred it or if it’s tax stuff it stays out on my standing desk until it’s taken care of, then it’s into the filing cabinet. I think my digital organization mimics my real life organization.

Are you a fan of tchotchkes or do you prefer clean surfaces?

I like knick knacks, but I don’t have a lot of space on my desk. I actually usually have a couple of little guys on here–so I admit, I lied, I dressed up a LITTLE for you. I have a few little desk friends, my alpaca is usually one of them, but now they reside on the bookshelves. Who knows, maybe I’ll keep them there. I do usually like to have everything clean. This desk is a little on the smaller side.

Let’s talk about your desk. Where’d you get it? What do you need in a real, physical workspace?

It’s West Elm…I mean…I carved it out of a block of wood…can’t you tell?

Uncle Theo's drafting table

Uncle Theo’s drafting table

I was looking for something simple that I could fit the bare bones on. The desks I used to have never had drawers, so that was on my list. It’s been nice having things in drawers and just pulling them out as needed. In the past I just had to spread everything out on my desk. So it’s simple, utilitarian and it looks nice. Actually, these edges and sharp corners look really nice, but I’ve also jacked myself on them so many times. Once I looked down and saw a piece of skin hanging from the corner. It’s a very sinister desk.

My standing desk is a hand-me down from a family member, Theo Anema. He used to work at Leo Burnett and this was his old drafting table back in those ‘Mad Men’ days. It’s great.

When you were looking at houses, was there anything you specifically wanted for your office?

Not really. I was mostly looking at where outlets were and whether it got good light. I never understood why people need a huge bedroom, you just go there to sleep. I feel the same way about my office. I don’t need anything big or fancy, just a comfortable, pleasant room to put my computers.

What would your completely ideal workspace look like? No holds barred.

Oooh. It’d probably not be in Chicago, you know? It’d probably be something a little more scenic, like a mountain view outside my window. I think there’s some longing for nature. That’d be nice. In terms of rooms, however, this suits me fine. I’ve got some natural light in here. If I were to design a space from scratch it’d probably have a lot more windows and a lot more natural light. I’m not looking for a glass box, but something a little more varied would be nice. I’d love some steps to the outside so I could easily step out for some fresh air.

How do you keep yourself sane?

I think that when I was younger, I had a more diverse group of hobbies that didn’t revolve around a computer. And, while I love what I do, I miss that. I’m trying to distance myself from the computer more. I spend so much time on it so I’m trying to get into more hobbies that aren’t computer-related. Having said that, I would like to do more personal 3D projects. I haven’t done a lot lately and, while that would keep me on the computer, at least it’d be something that I want to do.

I’m actually trying to get back into music a little. I used to have a guitar I could strum and play a little, and The Old Town School of Music is nearby so I’m going to start taking a ukulele class later this summer.

As a work-from-home warrior, what advice would you give to people new to the home office game?

office (7)Some obvious things: make it comfortable, decorate it the way you want to decorate it, keep things in your workspace that you want to see all day and that you want to take a break with. I just started on the ukulele and I keep it in my office; it’s nice to tinker with that between tasks.

Take breaks. I know it sounds counter productive, but, I find that when I do some of my best thinking and problem solving when I step away. If I’m in a rut I go take a walk or do something else, usually outside. Get out once in a while. Haha, it sounds like my advice is: “Working from home? LEAVE!” But it is good every now and then.

Find his work

When Erik isn’t tricking consumers with photo realistic 3D models, he’s taking actual photos. A lover of cameras, photography gadgets and travel, you can find some of Erik’s photography on his tumblr. His more everyday photography can be seen on Instagram where he is @9North.

Mrs. Angie Jensen is the brains behind Fire & Nice Candlegrams, of which I am a big fan. You can peruse her eco-friendly, soy, greeting-card-esque candles at her etsy shop here.

You can find more information about Erik’s animation and view his reel at or on his Vimeo page. Follow Eric on Twitter at @ThatGuyErik.


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