Guest author: David Mattock is a freelance animator who runs Full Rotation, a successful boutique collaborative design and animation studio located in Devon, UK.
Animation and motion design are natural allies to graphic design. If you're looking for a parallel career path to open new opportunities or just want to breathe life into your current design practice, this article is for you. We'll start with some definitions and explain the different types of motion design, describe the principles of animation, walk through training and technical skills and finish up with a handy list of learning resources.
Doing more with graphic design, the case for adding complementary skills
Have you been a graphic designer for some years, creating brochures, corporate identity pushing print and setting up page bleeds? Do you feel you love design, typography, and art but want to do more with it? Perhaps you have done thousands of design spreads and wish to explore the outside of A4 and 300dpi.
The good news
You can apply your design skills to get your designs moving and making animations - think explainer videos, corporate video, advertising, film, TV and more. As a designer, you already have the skills to create and you know if something looks good. It’s just a matter of altering your mindset and learning a few new programs. From there your skill set will broaden, along with your work opportunities!
What is Motion Design?
You may hear the terms motion design and motion designer bandied about, this is another way of describing animated graphic design. A motion designer is different from a VFX artist or 3D animator, and we will get to that later.
With motion design you still get to design beautiful layouts and typography. Now those images are moving, need to sell a message and entertain the viewer. It's constant design over 60 secs or two minutes etc. Imagine your designs moving on the screen creating emotion, set to music and voiceover.
What mindset do you need?
Escape from the safety of the 'still image' comfort zone. With animation, the layout and composition will change by the second. So, you need an open mind, one that is thinking of the following frames, and there are 25 per second to deal with! But it’s more challenging and possibly rewarding.
What new creative skills do you need?
You need to get a feel for timing, which comes with practice. Learn principles of animation such as anticipation, overlap, and Squash & Stretch.
Anticipation: a preparation for the main action of an animated scene, as distinct from the action and the reaction.
Overlap: two closely related techniques which help to render movement more realistically, giving the impression that characters follow the law of physics
Squash & Stretch: when objects move they have some level of flexibility in their shape. For example, a ball changes shape, "squashing" when hitting the ground, then "stretching" as it bounces up.
Creatively you will need to learn to keep the viewer watching, leading their eyes to what matters. Learn to transition in and out of scenes, make things pop, whizz or swoosh when required.
What new technical knowledge and software do you need to learn?
The main program for Motion design is Adobe After Effects. It's a layered timeline approach allowing you to animate any graphics in a layered manner.
You will still use your existing skill set of Photoshop and/or Illustrator to create assets that work together.
There is so much FREE education on After Affects out there (see our resources section at the end), and so many great tutorials. Video Copilot is the most famous and certainly helped me, but you can go to Youtube or Google.
After Effects is a 2D based program so assets are flat, but you can animate assets flying around in a 3D space past cameras, etc.
Motion design can and does include 3D animation, but you don't have to do it, start with 2D and build up, depending on what you are interested in.
Many people us a program called Cinema 4D for 3D animation for motion design, but I like Maya as I also do full 3D work and character animation.
If you are interested here is a beginners tutorial on Maya I created.
Other types of animation
This really is just one aspect of what you could explore, there are many types of animation or paths you could try.
1. 3D Animation
3D Motion Design for Sirin Labs
This could be as little or as much as you want. At first, you may want to only add a 3D logo or text flying around with your 2D motion design, later you could add beautiful 3D graphs, scenery, or environments. You could create a full product demo with stunning motion graphics.
2. Character Animation
If you fancy bringing characters to life, this does involve learning a whole new skillset within animation, acting, emotion and weight.
Animating for high-end features and visual effects is a different career choice, but certainly there for any designer to explore.
If you are thinking of pursuing a full-time degree course in animation I've reviewed the top UK universities and courses.
Whether you're looking for a new challenge or just want to vary your work, dabbling with or jumping full into motion design and animation can offer further professional development, a broader skill set, different projects or just to add a bit of fun and do something different.
I started as a graphic designer for print before wanting more variety in my day to day work life. I taught myself After Effects and Flash and getting my first job as an animator animating interactive websites, and animated banners, then moving into TV work.
Years later I went all out and went back to study an intensive short course at Escape Studios in London in Maya, from here I landed my first freelance role and have worked for myself ever since slowly growing a small company - Full Rotation .
You never stop learning, and never should. I've attended online courses in advanced character and creature animation and finding a passion for it, who knows where your path can lead, but I now have an extensive skill set to tackle any project.