Megan Toenyes
director, producer, animator & digital media unicorn

Megan Toenyes

business
director, producer, animator & digital media unicorn
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Megan Toenyes is a director, producer, video editor, animator, illustrator, designer, performer, photoshop wiz, makeup artist, writer, and digital media unicorn. She's a self-described jackalope of all trades with an impressive body of work and client list.

I first met Megan something like 7 years ago, when we were in the same media arts class in college. When I walked into her house, we exchanged big hugs. Since college, Megan has gone on to create some incredible work in basically every role you can occupy in the video, design and media arts world. Her creative abilities span so many genres - she's a bonafide renaissance woman.

In August, when New Maps Project was just an idea I was bounding around, I made a list of about 5 people who I wanted to feature at some point. Megan was one of them.

Megan's interview is a little different than most of the New Maps Project interview content that you'll see. So much of it was a conversation - and a very meaningful one at that - so I opted to leave my words in certain parts of it.

Q: I know “how did you get started?” Is a really typical question, but I’d love to know about your creative journey. When did you start creating & when did you decide this was the career path for you?

Megan: So I was a baby… and then I grew up. (laughs) Yeah, but I started creating at a very young age -  like most kids - finger painting and whatnot. What I remember being the genesis of it all was - I really liked to entertain my mom and my grandma - so I would put on circus shows for them in our backyard. I was called Amazing Megan. I would be on the swing set and just perform for them. That was really fun.

My mom and stepdad didn’t adopt my siblings until I was 10 - so I also spent a lot of time alone as a kid. I spent a lot of time watching movies and adding to them, playing imagination. I’d also sit on the bathroom counters and wrap the mirrors around myself. Did you ever do that? Oh man, and I would spend a LOT of time in there. I think the makeup stuff [Makeup Your Mood] calls back to that because in the mirrors I would create Megan World. There were so many different angles that you could see yourself from. Different sides would be different characters. When I looked around I would kind of do different facial expressions and it was sort of like working on character acting as a kid. Some parts of being a performer also comes from that.

Also, my parents had a band when they were still together, so I danced a lot with them. 

When I was a kid, I was pretty shy. I would be pretty good at blending in, though. Eventually, I found I was my truest self when I was at theatre camp. That was where I could let go and really be myself. Through my whole childhood and through highschool there was this idea that I was going to pursue acting. I was going to make it as a movie star. In college, I decided to do something more practical and go into graphic design and video editing. As I said, I watched a lot of movies, so I was like as long as I’m working in movies or in entertainment, I don’t really care. I think I’m going to be happy one way or another until I make my big break and act again. Which I might not actually do, but y’know, it got me to where I am now.

Q: Was anyone a pivotal person/mentor in terms of inspiring how or why you create?

Megan: When I was in high school, I was like any other high school kid figuring out what I wanted to be, what I wanted to do. Then I had a good friend of mine pass away suddenly and tragically when I was 16 and he was 17.  So, I had to grapple with the concept of mortality at a time when I think a lot of my friends weren’t ready for that. I went into a bit of a depressive spiral. My art teacher, Mr. Christoper had us do charcoal drawings and it was through that that I realized I was really good at that. So I just spent HOURS in my Mom’s basement drawing and working through that tragedy; working through myself. Finding that was the only way that I could get through that darkness. 

Then I pursued media arts at the University [of Montana]. I went into the integrated digital media program - which is how I gained the knowledge of both animation and film. In the program, I had a sound teacher named Dale. Dale was also very pivotal in helping me believe in myself that way. 

Fast forward a lot - I got a job working at Scishow for Hank Green. Hank was able to manage a huge company while also maintaining his integrity and treating his employees really well. 

The other people I can think of specifically would be Matt Gaydos and Nicole Sweeney. They also work at Complexity for some other channels Hank has produced. Nicole works for CrashCourse and Matt for Animal Wonders. We went to Vidcon and I had the opportunity to stage manage. At Vidcon, I met a lot of cool YouTubers. After Vidcon, I was like I want to try this, I think I could vlog! So Matt and Nicole challenged me to do VEDA - which is vlog every day in either April or August - I did August and I vlogged every day.  I edited a video every day and yeah, it was a lot of work on top of being a video maker at SciShow. But I did it and I fell in love with it! Continuing to make all of my own YouTube videos is what led to producing my own web series at Snarled. Following that spark sometimes gets you to do something that maybe you wouldn’t have done before. And also having people that push you being like why not? I think I’ve always needed that.

Q: Your work spans across a lot of genres and activities - how do these feed into each other? Does it boost your creativity or is hard to jump from one mindset to another?

Megan:  I’ve always liked to be challenged in a lot of different ways, but sometimes I can be indecisive. I do think doing different things boosts my creativity and I try to keep a daily detailed schedule so I actually accomplish the things that need to get done and not just procrastinate the day away. 

But yeah, I think that it’s important to pursue things you’re interested in even if you’re not sure if you’re going to be good at it or not. You’ll never know if you’re really good at something unless you try it for the first time and continue to practice it a bunch more times if it brings you joy. Like, I’m not a great basketball player. I could shoot great free throws in my driveway as a kid, but turned out that no matter how hard I trained my freshman year of high school, I wasn’t meant to run or think like a great basketball player. It never clicked. I’m also not a great logo designer, even though I tried really hard in some of my college classes but then I realized it’s just not my thing! And that’s okay! Motion-based things like animation and making vidoes were very intuitive for me though. And of course during Halloween season in 2016, I thought I’d try to put my painting experience to the test with some face paint and transform myself into a pop art zombie. I gave it a very solid attempt and discovered I was pretty great at it! And it made me REALLY happy. So I kept practicing and ended up signing with a company to produce a web-series based off my amateur and comedic efforts at makeup designs 2 and a half months later.


Q: What's your favorite project you've ever done?

Megan: My webseries “Makeup Your Mood”. It was a passion project that I also got paid for. It was an off-beat satire on the makeup vlog format that allowed me to perform and create art full time. Truly a dream of an experience. I miss it but I need to remember that it was exhausting to create. If I had been allowed to, I should have uploaded every other week rather than weekly. I did all the writing, directing, filming, performing, art creating, video editing, and motion graphics, and I was producing another weekly show during that time as well…it was a great example of what I could accomplish by myself but also a massive lesson in the importance of finding balance in my life. Just because I work 70-80 hours a week, doesn’t make me a BETTER artist. It made me a worse friend/partner/sister, and it took a toll on my physical and mental health. It’s all about moderation! And sometimes you gotta swing too far on the pendulum to learn that lesson.

Q: What’s your favorite part of your processes? I know you have several!

Megan: I think I love “transformation” in general. It applies to everything I do. From editing, comedy, animation, character work, face art, toy art, video collages, etc. I get a lot of joy out of just turning nothing into something. My favorite part is when I’m IN IT...I’ve decided on the idea and I’m seeing it transform before my eyes. I get so excited during the playfulness of it that I kinda black out (and sometimes have a minor crisis mid-process if it’s not working of course). But by the end result I usually feel very impressed with myself. Like, oh wow... I actually pulled that off! All the dopamine has been released in my brain and I’m reminded why I make the things I make.

Q: What inspires your work?

Megan: I love a lot of satire, surrealist humor, and lowbrow art...anything that just takes a slightly slanted, outrageous yet intelligent view on a topic. I think that’s what I’m trying to accomplish whenever I make anything. I like a good double-take. 

 If we wanna get into specific artists and influences... Lady Gaga, Meow Wolf, Jim Henson, Trey Parker (“South Park” but specifically his first film “Cannibal: The Musical” *chefs kiss*), Mark Ryden, Laika Studios, Janelle Monae, Monty Python, Edgar Wright, Stephen Colbert, Tim and Eric, Chris Fleming, Charlie Brooker, Nicoletta Ceccoli, Jennifer Kent, Hattie Stewart and I could  go on and on.

Q: Tell me about a moment or a job that made you feel amazing or gave you a "wow this is real?" feeling.

Megan: Aw yeah, those are the best feelings. I have a few answers to that. When I worked as a video editor and animator for SciShow, my boss Hank Green had the opportunity to be one of the chosen YouTubers to interview Obama. It was an unreal feeling watching someone I knew in person, interview the president IN PERSON.  

Other notable moments were getting over 800,000 views on my second makeup your mood video and then seeing on Instagram that of this young girl posted a list of her “most inspirational heroes” and seeing my name on it. (brb sobbing)

Q: There’s so much background work that goes into becoming successful on your own and it’s not all glamorous. What does a typical work day look like for you? 

Megan: Well, I don’t just sit and play with make-up all day. That’s what some people might think, right? But it varies depending on what my job is at the time. When I was producing two shows a week for Snarled and Hissyfit I was working probably 70-80 hours a week and not sleeping much and crying a lot and uh just kinda struggling through. I was always feeling like I was never going to make the deadline but I would still make the deadline because I would stay up late. I had the stamina for it then, that was only like two years ago now. 

But for example sometimes I would wake up, take a laptop to Break Espresso or some cafe and I would write an episode of Death Happens and do the research for it. Death Happens was the show I made about weird ways people would die. So that was dark. I would finish writing that - that would take about 3 or 4 hours - then I would come home and I would drape my black sheet over my closet door, set my camera on a tripod pointing at me, press record and shoot that episode. After I finished that, maybe I would eat something or dance in my living room then I would edit the Makeup Your Mood episode I shot the day before. The amount of multitasking I had to do was a recipe for madness. Only one of those things should be what you do in a day. Like writing an episode? That’s what you do in a day's work. I’m learning. I didn’t know that at the beginning so I would just work so hard. I was getting paid for one job while doing ten, you know. That was a lesson of knowing what I was worth. 

Nowadays it looks different - I sometimes edit from 9pm to 1am, I’m kind of a night owl. I exercise regularly though, especially since I got hurt earlier this summer. My dog dislocated my shoulder pretty bad (laughs) - it fully separated, it was very gross, I had to go to the ER. I go to the gym and try to make myself breakfast, keep myself balanced and then work earlier in the day. If I get into a rut, I take a break. I can, because I work by myself and sometimes my day is spread out - I’ll do work in the morning then work at night. It’s a lot healthier now than what it used to be when I was working 70-80 hours a week and pulling 18 hour days. 


Shannon: I think this would transition well into talking about work/life balance, so let’s talk about that.

 

Megan: Work life balance! Oh man! It’s the hardest thing.

Shannon: The hardest thing! 

Megan: I used to feel like if I wasn’t only just working, I wasn’t doing anything. Y’know? I felt like people were going ahead of me, like I wasn’t keeping up if I wasn’t always working. It was hard for me to relax and feel good about what I was doing. I think it’s extremely important now that I’ve experienced what burnout is and have realized that it’s not sustainable to just work and work and work ‘til you burn out. And so I’ve gotten a lot better at it.

Shannon: Yeah, if you’ve gone through a burnout - like you have and I have - where you realize oh that’s important. Because if you’re burnt out continuously you just end up quitting.

Megan: Right, and I don’t want to quit! I don’t want to stop creating but there’s times when I’m like I have to for my own health

I find that it’s very important to have friendships that boost you and don’t drain you of your energy. There’s a lot of people in life that we have to give to but I think we deserve to spend time where we can relax with other people and socialize and fill up your cup. Without work/life balance you have nothing to draw from for your art! I think that is really important - if you stop living outside of your work you stop being relatable or stop making anything that’s drawn from real life. 

Shannon: Did you have any notable burnouts that you want to talk about? Maybe like after the 70-80 hour weeks you were working?

Megan:
Yeah! I had to ask if they were going to fire me at one point because I couldn’t do Death Happens anymore. I thought Death Happens was going to be my big way of conquering my fear of death. Instead it made it worse and I had this weekly show where I was giving a video essay on weird ways that people died. There was one in particular that was how you can die from toys. There was a lot of kid deaths. It was very sad and after that I wanted to quit everything. I wanted to just not see YouTube again, I hated it, I didn’t want my face to be up there all the time and I just wanted some space. I did take a break and they allowed me to vlog for a while instead of producing my regular show which was really nice, but I still had to produce a video each week. That type of hustle doesn’t allow you much time to purely relax and enjoy life. You’re mindset’s always like “how could i turn this into a YouTube video”. Yuck.


Megan: This year in particular has been a bit of a transitional time for me as far as like what I want my personal work to be while I also have all this client work. It’s a really good time for me to experiment - and not brand myself in one particular way. I like to make things that all tie in together but I don’t want to limit myself. So, my friend Trevor and my partner Andrew and I went to Meowwolf. Have you ever heard of Meowwolf? 

Shannon: No!

Megan: Oh my god. You’d love it. It’s based in Santa Fe and they’re expanding to Vegas and Denver but it’s like an immersive art museum and it’s incredible. In their gift shop they had barbies with Dinosaur heads on them and I almost bought one for $70. Then Trevor and Andrew were like “Megan don’t buy that for $70.” 

I was like, “guys I think I’m gonna and they were like “don’t! we’re gonna have a craft night when we get back” and I was like “Okay, but I’m only not gonna spend $70 on this if you guys promise we’re gonna make these because that sounds so fun” and we did. We all had strengths that complimented each other. Like Trevor has one of the most twisted and genius creative eyes, and Andrew was awesome at sawing things off and dismembering (because the dismembering needs some strength.) I utilized some of how I photograph myself with my makeup looks and started having photoshoots with the dolls and it was so silly and stupid but it was so fun for the three of us to do together. It did exactly what we were talking about - it allowed me to have a hobby while also pursuing space to figure out what else I was doing in life. The balance is really necessary.

Q: What are your feelings on instagram and social media in general?

Megan: So, how I feel about Instagram right now is it’s often pushing people to brand themselves before they’re ready to. These 12 year old kids are going onto instagram and they’re seeing that you can become famous on it. Of course, what to do they do? They’re like I like making slime, for example, so I’m going to lean into it really hard and that’s only what I’m going to do and then it’s like and then what? Are you just going to make slime forever? It doesn’t allow people the room for growth that’s natural when you go through adolescence, when you go through being a young adult and I think it’s toxic in that way. I think it can be a really good tool. I think that when you’re so young it’s hard. It’s kind of where I’m at too; I like to change a lot, I like to be dynamic in what I do, I’m all over the place with editing and animation and make-up and it all goes together because that’s who I am. But what if I would lean hard and only do makeup and stunt all my other skills just because I want to be instagram famous? The whole idea of like click our website and gain a thousand followers tomorrow and you’ll be more famous. Its like this hunger for fame overrules the pursuance of the thing you’re famous for. Do you know what I mean? 

Shannon: Yeah! For sure.

Megan: Is that kind of how you feel too? Also, I don’t like when I know people in real life where I’m like I know you’re not like that. You’re putting on a character for people because it’s the cool thing to do. 

Shannon: Yeah, or for you and I - going through this big drawing stage in our teens - imagine if you realized you were good at that and you leaned into it too hard because it’s the first thing you’re good at.



Megan:  Yeah and I would have! 

Shannon: Would you be where you are now?

Megan: No! 

Shannon: Also I think once you’ve gone through like 10 years as a creator you realize you have to just have to make it through all of the shitty periods where you have art blocks and no motivation and you have to find a way to push through it because you like it. But what if your only motivation was clout chasing? Would you stick with it? 

Megan: I don’t know, oh man. 

Shannon: Would you do soul searching? Would you just quit?

Megan: Yeah, would you just leave the internet? (laughs) I mean, I don’t think I would have allowed myself to experiment as much as I did before instagram clout was really a thing. 

Shannon: I feel like back then we all just thought of instagram as somewhere you post your food!

Megan: Yeah! Totally! And it had all the filters and you went all heavy with it. 

Shannon: Oh yeah, I like went back and deleted old stuff and was like oh god what was I doing.

Megan: I just did that too! I have two accounts now - one for like real life things, because I didn’t know how to organize art things and life things. I kinda just don’t, I am what I am, I’m not trying to strategize with it too much because I find that when I do strategize I’m very unhappy. I’ve then put too much pressure on that. 

Shannon: I totally agree with that, because it’s hard, I recently downloaded the preview app where you can look at your posts ahead of time. Which is good in terms of I have the content and I really just need to figure out how to present it. I need to lean into my writing skills, but it’s become a thing

Megan: I know, it’s because you want to keep it all organized, keep a color story or something. 

Shannon: Or even struggling with new topics and then thinking, how authentic is this? Trying to pick the ones that are close to you but then you run out!

Megan: Oh yeah! I know! I’m like is it weird if I post too many on the same day? Like why am I overthinking this? I also have the preview app because I post on the behalf of Hank a lot. It’s easier to do that because he does have a theme going that’s like a row of podcasts, a row of real life photos. I keep it organized through that but I also use it for myself then I’m like oh now I’m doin the thing. I think there’s a balance of doing it in a way that’s not gross.

Shannon: Social media is interesting because you HAVE to have it if you’re a creator.

Megan: Do you think you find it hard to not check it? 

Shannon: No, I don’t think it’s that, it’s more that I have to schedule time to write, time to think about posting, think about layout and it often feels like a lot. But you have to do it because it’s essential marketing.

Megan: That’s why I try to keep mine pretty light these days, I went through a phase of being pretty vulnerable and honest during this time when I created my show Monster Brain. It was my third show on Snarled; they cancelled Makeup Your Mood and then they were like this will be equally popular, do an art therapy series. I thought of the idea, Andrew helped me, it’s an art therapy series where I drew monsters. It was good, but it was my least popular one and I worked twice as hard on it. So it felt like a failure to me, while at the same time I was talking to people about how to manage their loneliness and battle the monsters in our heads. It was very weird. I was also being very vulnerable and sharing too much on my stories on instagram. At a certain point it was crossing a line with what my privacy needed to be - I needed to work on myself and I didn’t want to be this person you feel sad for. At a certain point, it’s kinda draining on other people. I think there’s a healthy amount of hey being a creative is hard my life isn’t always peachy and happy, but y’know im working through it. But I think if you linger on it for a bit too much it’s a lot. 

Shannon: I get that and also the privacy thing, I mean, often now I think I need to be more authentic but at the same time it’s like well, do I have to? How much of my real life needs to be online?

 Megan: Yeah (laugh) because you are a business too!

Shannon: Right! So you have to tread the line and it’s like am I being inauthentically authentic? Intention wise? Which is… way too far down the rabbit hole.

Megan: Oh! Woah, yeah. You just labelled something that I hate on instagram and I’ve never known what to call it! Inauthentically authentic! Oh man, there’s a lot of that. Woah 

Shannon: Yeah! When you’re doing it for your business and it feels... weird. Motivation wise.

Megan: Oh man, nailed it. I feel like that will change over time. I hope, at least. 

Shannon: I hope so too, but it’s such an interesting thing because authenticity has become like a commodity, a buzzword.

Q: What’s the most difficult part of working for yourself? What do you struggle with the most?

 

Megan: I struggle with time management - I operate really well under deadlines. So sometimes if I know something isn’t due until Wednesday and it’s Saturday - I might not start on it. Which is fine but maybe I should have started because something comes up later. Then I feel FOMO that I missed out because I now have to work. 

The other thing that I struggle with - especially before I got my dog - was loneliness. I had a really hard time because I’ve always been a people person - I used to work in the service industry - and I like working in teams. When I found myself mostly conversing with people over slack or over email I found it difficult to converse in person again. It was like oooh this is hard. Then getting out there and hanging out with friends - if they don’t work from home it’s kind of hard to relate. They’ll ask like what did you do today? And I’m like I worked, then they’re like don’t you just hang out at home all day? I’m like nooo I do things! And I struggle with not having a team or employee parties! Sometimes I want a pizza party and I want someone else to pay for it! 

 

Shannon: Well and then you also miss having your work friends, people that you’re excited to see when you go in.

 

Megan: Yeah! And I used to have that when I worked at Scishow and that was what I loved most about it. We had a really good team, the company was great and it kept you wanting to come back. However, the work got very monotonous for me, I hit the ceiling and I realized I had to challenge myself and do something else. Makeup started as just a hobby too, going back to that. I was working at Scishow and decided to turn myself into a pop art zombie and then I was like oh I’m good at this! Kind of like drawing in highschool - I kept doing it and got obsessed with it. I started making some videos, mostly timelapse. I wasn’t really making content at that time. Then I had this opportunity to pitch to Snarled and I ended up signing a show with them based off of my amateur and satirical take on being a makeup vlogger. Luckily I made a lot of friends through Snarled too which helped fill my cup with that desire for teamwork at the time.

Q: What's a piece of advice you could give to someone thinking about working with you? / What's something you wish your clients or audience knew?

Megan: Piece of advice working with me... I like deadlines, clear communication and I thrive with certain boundaries or themes. And something I wish my clients or audience knew… I guess that I’m always curious. I’m always growing and striving to be my best, most authentic self and I hope they are too.


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