Beer Labels in Motion’s Trevor Carmick on Process, Philosophy & Practicality

Jack D'Or, Night Shift's owl, Porter Square Porter's 'Gift of the Wind' reference, and more brewery art comes to life at the Somerville animator's desktop.

Beer Labels in Motion's Porter Square Porter animation

Beer Labels in Motion’s Porter Square Porter animation. / By Trevor Carmick

Like many 30-something craft beer fans, Trevor Carmick discovered a world beyond Natural Light while in college. In 2007, the Ohio University senior got introduced to Edmund Fitzgerald, a porter brewed at Great Lakes Brewing Co., and even began dabbling in homebrewing.

After college, armed with a bachelor’s degree in video production, the Maryland native bounced around to various internships and jobs in New Jersey, Plattsburgh, N.Y., and eventually, Boston, where he’s currently a media technician specialist at Harvard University. But in his downtime, it’s all about the beer. He launched his Tumblr blog, Beer Labels in Motion, in 2013, and just three months later, it landed on TIME magazine’s list of the top 25 bloggers of the year.

We met Carmick in his Somerville neighborhood—for a pint, of course—to talk process, philosophy, and practical applications for what could be described as the BeerAdvocate reviews of the Wizarding World.

So, you’re just a beer fan, and an animator? How did this start?

I kinda just did it to mess with various techniques and plugins. Then a coworker saw it, and he does GIF animations. He was like ‘That’s cool, you should start a Tumblr page.’

What programs do you use?

I use After Effects, Photoshop, and Illustrator. I had always wanted to make a cinemagraph before, but it was too much work for something I just wanted to tool around with. One day, I was looking at a beer bottle and I thought, I can just animate that. I don’t have to create any assets; I can just work with what’s there. That, and the plugin [Cylinder] where I could superimpose it onto a bottle, is what started it.

I try to stick to at least one frame being a perfect replica of the [label]. I try not to introduce new elements. The first label I did was Pretty Things Jack D’Or. After that, I did Heady Topper, because I wanted to find out how difficult it would be to make a seamless loop of the guy’s head exploding.

My buddy kept seeing them and telling me I should share them. I thought people would be like, ‘Eh, that’s cool, I guess.’ But it got picked up by a couple places. I had met Dann and Martha [Paquette, Pretty Things cofounders], and they really liked it. They thought it was the perfect capturing of Jack D’Or and the way he was moving. Which is funny, when I look back, it’s like, such a crude animation. Just him rocking his arms back and forth. [laughter]

Has anyone ever reached out because of their trademark?

No one’s ever gotten mad about it. I don’t know why they would; it’s free advertising. A lot of them are like mini reviews of the beer. The ladies who own Craft Beer Cellar told me once that every once in awhile, someone will come in and say, ‘The guy who does Beer Labels in Motion just posted this beer, do you carry it? I really want to try it.’ When I heard that, I decided I really don’t want to post any subpar beer. That’s always my rule: If I’m going to animate a beer, I want to be able to taste it.

What are some of your favorites?

If I was visiting friends, I’d bring a couple bottles of Pretty Things. Since they closed up shop, my girlfriend and I agree Night Shift is our new favorite.

And that label animation was great.

There’s a couple labels out there I’ve always wanted to play with, and that was definitely up there. Another one is Slumbrew Porter Square Porter. I just got the elements from the owners and everything. I have it cut out, but I haven’t fully committed to try to figure out how to have the pieces slowly flip around in 3D and everything. I can pick stuff apart, I can do minor 3D animation, but I can’t create something with texture and all of that.

Yet. [Carmick ultimately decided to animate the Porter Square Porter label to debut along with this article.]

I never really know [how hard an animation will be] until I get to working on it. I do all my animations flat, and then wrap it to the bottle, so there’s been plenty of times when I have the animation and it looks great, and I go to superimpose it onto the bottle and all of a sudden, you don’t see a lot on the edges.

How long do they usually take you?

You work on it a little bit here, a little bit there. I’d guess between 10-15 hours. Some of them probably have taken 20-25 hours? Maybe more.

What are some of the challenging ones? The Heady Topper label seems complex to me, but maybe it’s not.

That’s funny, because I did that and it actually worked out very smoothly very quickly. I surprised myself. Then the Alchemist reached out to me, because they want that animation in their new brewery. So, I asked them for the vector [editable] file, so I could blow it up for them. And I started going back through it and picking apart my work, and I’m like, how the heck did I do this?

I bet! So, the Alchemist is going to hang it in their brewery? Is that a commission?

Yeah, I’m getting paid to do that. Then, a couple months later, they commissioned me to do their Focal Banger label for the Focal Banger release party. [Also,] They had a friend do a mural of their canning line, it’s kind of abstract-looking. It looks like when you have a black piece of paper covered in ink or whatever, and you etch it out. They commissioned me to animate that, and that will be projected somewhere in their brewery.

So there’s a whole market for the Harry Potter World of Beer labels.

It’s a weird market. You have the Alchemist, who’s willing to pay, and then I’ve had other breweries ask how much it would cost, and I’ll say $50 or $100, and they say it’s too pricey. Do you realize how much time I’m going to put into this? $100 is an incredible steal.

Do you have plans to further monetize your brand?

I’m in talks now with an app called Craft Nation. Their whole thing is brand loyalty. You can check in with multiple beers and earn reward points, and it would come up with reviews and everything. It’s a way for breweries to then look at who their drinkers are. I’m working with them to figure out how my animations can be used within the app to enhance the experience. It’s not a career, but it’s nice side money.

Beer Labels in Motion is on Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.