How can you truly excel as a motion designer?
Finding the answer to this lies in considering the different components that make up the job title itself, as well as attempting to define the subjective term of what equals “good work.”
For me, good motion design work is that which, contains a keen visual interest & sense of movement, presents concepts in an insightful way and connects with the viewer.
Based on this definition, here are 7 tips to improve as a motion designer. Seven things you can do, to continue to move your work in that direction.
1. Study design principles
Studying design principles is a huge advantage for those who studied at good institutions, versus those who just opened the software and copied Video Co-Pilot tutorials.
Not having an understanding of how to best organize visual information will leave you unprepared to make good visual works.
Look at this frame from Lucas Brooking.
This frame contains a treasure trove of design principles for students to study:
- Contrast (Color, Form, Texture, Luminance)
Understanding design principles will give you a basic structure to hang your concepts on.
If you have never sat down and attempted to internalize these principles, then you’re limiting your effectiveness as a visual artist.
2. Improve as an illustrator
This advice comes back to my desire to see more unique visual works from more motion designers.
If you want your work to stand out, then limiting yourself to circles and squares isn’t the answer.
Improving as an illustrator is about drawing as much as you can. This frame from a Giant Ant piece shows just how important your ability to illustrate is if you want to create works that move past basic concepts that are being repeated by motion designers.
How do you improve as an illustrator?
Learn to draw, then do it for years. Repetition is the key to improve as a motion designer. Once again, we are confronted with the reality that there are no short cuts to creating great work.
3. Practice frame by frame animation
We are visual artists, but we are also animators.
Being overly reliant on expressions or keyframes will limit your work over the years. Have an understanding of motion on the frame to frame level. Have a grasp on the illusion of motion from one frame to the next.
The Animator’s Survival Kit is a fantastic resource to learn about the principles of animation and improve as a motion designer.
Here is a fantastic video by Cento Lodigiani, that highlights the principles from the survival kit.
Once you’ve studied these though, you’ll need to spend 100’s of hours doing traditional animation to truly begin to master its potential for your work.
Doing traditional animation in the Photoshop Timeline or in Adobe Animate will make you a much better After Effects and Cinema 4d animator as well.
What you’re really after is training your eye for a sense of timing and movement, independent of how the keyframes look.
One of my favorite animators, Henrique Barone, is a perfect example of embracing traditional principles and applying them to motion design.
4. Learn about the software you’re using
Digital Art relies on technology, and in turn software.
The programs we use are designed in certain ways, usually with quite a bit of thought as to why.
Learning the theory of Global Illumination in Cinema 4d (mimicking the way light bounces in the real world) might give you insight into a new lighting set-up for that next project.
It’s also an advantage in navigating around hardware or software issues as they arise.
Being a Digital Artist requires technical knowledge, and the more you can learn on this front, the better positioned you’ll be to serve your clients and your team.
Some things to consider on this point:
- Learn what you can about the software’s, “Behind the scenes,” components
- Learn proper workflow from one software to the next
- Do short projects to continue to build your understanding of all that the software offers you
5. Refine your inspiration
Choosing where to get inspiration is an important part of improving your own work. You can choose to just navigate through Vimeo, but there are better ways.
Trusting a few curated sources will help, as well as having a strong resource library of books to lean on.
Some curated feeds that I would recommend:
But above all, remember to find inspiration from different disciplines and different places.
You don’t have to exclusively use the work of other motion designers to inspire your work.
You can find inspiration from many walks of life.
6. Get away from the computer and have experiences
Visual artists and film-makers need a well of inspiration to draw from.
That well will run dry if you don’t go out and fill it with experiences and life.
In order for your work to grow deeper and more relevant, you need to continue living a life that is engaged in the world around you.
So if you feel like your work is stale and you’ve hit the “creative block”, then maybe a little time away from the computer will lead to a breakthrough.
- Going for a walk in the park
- Seeing a movie
- Having a meal with friends
7. Go easy on yourself
If you’re not where you want to be as a motion designer yet, don’t be too hard on yourself. We are all on a continuous journey of growth and improvement.
The simple fact that you recognize this gap in skills is a great sign that you’re headed in the right direction.
Putting too much pressure on yourself will only hinder your work and steal your joy, which in turn will lead to burnout. A happy artist is usually a prolific artist, which is the key to rapid growth.
So do lots of work, but don’t put the weight of the world on your own shoulders.
It’s a process and if you’re applying yourself, then you’re on the right track.
Growing as a motion designer is about the artistic and the technical, but also the personal.
There is no short-cut to becoming a master of your craft, there are only the journey and the effort.
However, focusing on the classical disciplines and taking a holistic approach is the best path to travel along.