I always carry a Tide to Go pen, since I always spill coffee on myself.
Morgan Gruer is a director, animator, and artist currently based in Los Angeles. Working primarily with live-action animation, illustration, design, and effect supervision, Morgan draws on her passion for film and art to direct videos for artists such as The Decemberists, Robinson, Ed Sheeran, Rihanna, Lil Yachty, Celine Dion, and The Venus Project. She recently won the Fem Filmmakers’ Festival Innovation Prize for her work in mixing live-action shots and animation for short films. Prior to this win, her animated short, Reflections, received accolades in the film festival circuit, kick-starting her career in film.
How much do you travel?
I travel a lot. I feel like I’m never put anywhere for more than a month at a time, and to be honest, after a month in a new place, I get antsy and find excuses to go somewhere else. I do like a mix of traveling for work and for fun, and usually try to combine the two when I want to go somewhere new.
Where are some of the places you’ve been this year?
I was in Europe for three months and then I’ve gone back a few times this year. I’ve gone to Seattle, Denver, Texas, New Mexico, and bounced from New York to L.A. for about five months. I have some trips planned to San Diego, San Francisco, Napa and Portland. I’m going to Las Vegas this weekend for a music festival, which will be interesting. Every few weeks I’m trying to go somewhere new to gain a fresh perspective and just get myself excited about life.
Do you have your bags constantly packed?
Right now, yes. The past year I’ve gotten really good at packing lightly. I have this one carry-on that I bring everywhere. I’ve gotten my method down pretty well as to what I think I need versus what I actually need. The trickiest part comes with weather that may be temperamental in a new place. I’m also someone who’s very indecisive with outfits. I like having options and usually tend to go for packing different types of basics that I can layer and different accessories – especially jewelry – that I feel spruce up any outfit but don’t take up much packing space.
Any further trials and tribulations you face while packing?
Something that I’ve gotten better at the more I travel is being okay with wearing something that maybe if I were home would combine things a little bit differently. The past two summers, I traveled alone for a few months at a time and had one pair of sneakers and one pair of sandals for the whole trip. I remember some nights when I was going out, I wanted to dress a little fancier but I didn’t have the right shoes. I felt a little bit self-conscious about that until realizing that nobody cared about what were on my feet as much as I did, and after that, it didn’t really matter. Just be confident in whatever you’re wearing.
What gives you confidence in your day-to-day?
I’m naturally a pretty confident person, but exercise is a really big part of my life and I find that if I’m feeling a bit low, that will usually help me regain some strength. On those low days, being inside gets me further stuck in my head. As soon as I get out and get some fresh air (and hopefully sunshine), I feel much more calm. I feel like I have to be moving my body for my mind to be at rest.
When you get to a new place, is it difficult for you to transition?
When traveling alone, it’s definitely tricky to adjust. My biggest friend has been my sketchbook – if I’m eating alone, the sketchbook is a good crutch, but also a good conversation starter. Unlike headphones, it paves the way for conversations. If it doesn’t, that’s okay too.
What’s your experience been traveling alone?
I never really sought out to travel alone. I would have, at the time, preferred to travel with people but I had a window in which I was able to travel and jumped at the opportunity. As a young woman, a lot of people question how safe it is to travel alone. Of course there is truth in that, but I found that traveling alone forces you to meet new people, be open, non-judgmental, and push yourself out of your comfort zone. It’s liberating, but also helps you realize when you should reach out for help if you need it. I’ve also found that every time I travel I’m overwhelmingly surprised by how nice people are without expecting anything in return. They’re just nice for the sake of being nice. I think that’s something that’s definitely shifted my outlook when I’ve returned – to try to maintain that open mindset and be welcoming to people who are new here or reaching out for friends.
When you arrive at a new place, what’s the first thing you do?
Skin care routine, take a nice shower, get something to eat. It’s easy to hide away wherever you’re staying because the outside is new and scary. But as soon as you get outside, something good always happens.
What’s your travel horror story?
I’ve had a lot of suitcase mishaps. The first time I was traveling alone I had bought a new suitcase that was kind of crappy. The wheel popped off so I was dragging it through the airport. Then the zipper got stuck on the escalator going down, and when I looked up the entire contents of my suitcase were dispersed across the whole escalator. Since then, I don’t skimp on suitcases because you need one that’s going to last.
What are your travel staples?
I always have chapstick and hand cream because my skin and my lips always feel dry. I usually like Vaseline, CarMax or Aquaphor- all are really great to use on your lips or hands. I always have my water bottle and Advil, since I get headaches. And of course snacks, I go for kind bars, nuts, dried fruit; vitamins, especially before a flight. Tide to Go pen, since I always spill coffee on myself.
I really just drink a ton of water. Like the day leading up to me flying and even on the plane. I feel like that does more for my skin than anything else. I try to not wear any makeup and I like to be able to wash my face and moisturize when I get off off a plane.
In transitioning from plane to meeting or work to dinner, what do you do to refresh yourself?
Curly hair like unlike straight hair can be revived with water. So I usually like to touch up my hair by putting a little bit of water on it to spring the curls right back up. Going from day to night, I’ll bring lipstick that makes a bit more of a statement and maybe makes me feel a little sexier. I usually end up accumulating some different lipsticks on the bottom of my bag, and then I can never find them because they’re all in my purse.
Nars. They’re expensive but they last for so long. I’ve had the same lipstick for years. I can put it on in the morning, and after eating multiple meals, an apple, and drinking water, it’s still perfectly applied by the evening. I don’t have to worry about reapplying, it doesn’t get on your teeth, and doesn’t make your lips dry.
Go-to everyday bag?
It’s funny, I’ve noticed that my bag choice changes a lot from New York to L.A. In New York, I am a big backpack person, and all about having a cute, functional backpack because in New York you’re carrying everything, everywhere. If I’m going somewhere in the day and then have to be somewhere at night, the stuff that with me is coming as well. I recommend Timbuktu, for a functional but still sleek-looking bag that is structured, supportive, and water resistant. Topshop is also good for a cuter work backpack that fits a laptop, but will look good with your outfit as you transition from day to night. In L.A., I drive everywhere so I can just leave stuff in a car. I can get by with smaller purses, and less functional bags, because I don’t have to worry about holding onto something for an entire day.
When you travel with hair, body, and face products what’s your routine like?
I travel with a few cosmetic bags: one for makeup, one for toiletries, and one for jewelry. That definitely helps me pare down what I need. In the past year, I haven’t bought too many larger-sized products because I’m constantly on-the-go. I’ve got the travel size of a few of the products that I like. My favorite right now is Kahina Giving Beauty products, which are argan-oil based and a great size for traveling. They’re moisturizing without being oily or greasy and do wonders for my skin.
What would be something people are surprised to learn about you?
I’m equal parts extrovert and introvert. I definitely get energy of being around the right people but I also really need alone time and downtime to process things. I genuinely enjoy spending quality time alone, outside of spending time with people. I like having the balance of the two.
There was a lot of imposter syndrome and feeling like I’m not qualified or don’t deserve to be doing what I’m doing. That was a huge hurdle that I had and it took me a little while to get over it. I’ve finally started to feel like I actually know what I’m doing and that I do deserve to be here after working hard like everyone else. One other hurdle has been the fact that I’m a lot younger than most people that I work with and being a young woman I constantly get comments like, “You’re so young! You’re so little.” People often associate being young with being inexperienced or immature. That’s not the case. I constantly have to work harder to prove to whomever that my age doesn’t matter and I’m fully capable and qualified for whatever the job is.
Talk a bit about being a female director in this space.
You know it’s not something I felt at first. And it’s something that I’ve actually felt more recently as I’ve become more comfortable in my skin as a director. When a male director is difficult to work with they’re just labeled as being a typical director. When it’s a woman directing, she’s oftentimes pegged as bossy. There’s been a lot of that recently where I feel like because I’m a girl and I’m in charge I’m labeled as bossy or asking too much when I’m really not. If it were a guy, I don’t think the same things would be said. I’m trying to remain confident in myself and know that I’m doing the best that I can do and I’m working equally as hard as everybody else. So it doesn’t really matter what is said at the end of the day as long as you create good work.
Where do you draw strength from in your work?
Naturally, I’m actually a pretty indecisive person. A lot of this job is about trusting your gut and your instincts. So many times on set you have to make a snap decision and there are thirty people waiting on you and you don’t have time to mull it over and weigh your options. You just have to go with what you feel is going to be right. I also think a big part of that is surrounding yourself with people that you trust and asking their opinions. I try to surround myself with people who are way more experienced than I am so that I can have good people to turn to when I need help and trust the advice they give. A big part of this is learning to trust other people.
Do you have a piece of advice you’ve been given that has stuck with you?
In work and in life, I try to make decisions that I will feel happy about and confident in.
What’s your best piece of movement advice?
Be able to go with the flow and be able to adapt, wherever you are. I think there’s a lot of people who travel and expect that they’re going to be able to get what they usually have wherever they are, but they can’t. Be open. Be friendly. Especially when traveling, this goes a really long way. You may not know the language and you may not even know where you are going to end up, but having a smile and a positive attitude are two factors that will get you very far.
— as shared with KYC Morgan Gruer photographed by Logan Powaski in her LA home #keepyourcadence and keep up to date with Morgan’s latest work: