Motion graphics is an ever-increasing industry. Just as the software it’s created with is getting cheaper and more accessible, so is the eagerness of artists to create even greater pieces of work. From TV commercials to the introduction of a new movie, great motion graphics can be seen just about anywhere. If you're a beginner that's ready to jump into the world of motion graphics, here are some nuggets of helpful information to have you creating your best work yet.
#1 Know What the Client Wants
While this tip may be more focused toward freelancers and professionals, if you’re just starting out this is something you still need to keep in mind. Clients may not always be the easiest people to work with, and many times they won’t really know or care what goes into creating great motion graphics work. After all, if they did they could be doing it themselves. But they still have a vision or an idea for what they want displayed to the world. It’s up to you to bring their idea to life in the best possible way. Knowing exactly what the client wants will ensure you won’t have to do any revisions, and you can get the project done in the shortest amount of time. So you need to have that interview with the client. What ideas do they have? How much creative freedom are they allowing you? It’s important to keep in mind that while clients know what they want, it doesn’t always translate well to motion graphics. That’s why it’s up to you, the artist, to suggest ideas you know would work better with this unique medium. The client won’t always take your advice, but it’s important that you present your own ideas.
#2 Plan Out Your Work
Before you ever jump into After Effects, CINEMA 4D or any other application you use to create motion graphics, you need to have a plan of attack. This could mean brainstorming by storyboarding or sketching. Come up with different ideas beforehand so you can quickly determine what will work and what won’t. As you probably know, creating great motion graphics is a lot of work. If you don’t know exactly what you plan on creating, it can turn in to a lot of trial and error in the application. This can become very time consuming. It’s a lot easier to toss one of your ideas if it’s a simple sketch on paper than it would be if you worked on it for hours in After Effects. That’s why it’s crucial to have that trial and error time during your planning phase than it is to do it in an application. So next time you’re about to open up your software, take a step back and make sure you know exactly what you plan on creating.
#3 Make It Flow
Having good flow for your project, whether it’s a simple title piece or a complex project that tells a story, is critical for the viewer to understand what's going on. Don’t just throw in a flashy effect because it looks cool. Instead, think about how each new cut transitions into the next, how you're guiding the viewer's attention, and if the viewer will be able to follow along. The last thing you want is to make the viewer feeling lost and confused.
#4 Have a Good Naming Structure
No matter what application you’re working with you should have a naming structure that you stick with. As your motion graphics piece starts to get more complex, with layers upon layers making up the final shot, it can be very easy to get lost. Without a proper naming convention, you could be skimming through a sea of layers until you find the one you're looking for. Instead of just creating new nameless layers to save time in the short term, take the time to name each one appropriately to its purpose in the composition. This will not only make it easier for you in the future, but if you need to pass your work to someone else in the pipeline they will appreciate your organization.
#5 Use 2D Effects to Save Time
3D has become an integral part of motion graphics, but that doesn’t mean you will need to incorporate it into every project you work on. Sure, you can create some amazing effects with the powerful dynamic systems most 3D applications include, but this can take a significant amount of time to create and render. If you’re on a tight schedule try to find places where you can exclude these flashy 3D effects, a visual effects (VFX) application like After Effects can very easily create convincing 2D effects that can look just as good, and be completed in a much shorter amount of time. Of course, that’s not to say you shouldn’t ever use 3D effects. In fact, they can be vital for the success of a shot, but they aren’t always needed for every project.
#6 Decide on a Style
Having a consistent style throughout the entire project is important for keeping the viewer engaged. You don’t want to have a different color pallet for each cut or a completely different font style for the next set of text. This will make your shot feel disjointed and difficult to understand. Talk with your client about the style you want to create for the project or decide for yourself. In many cases, it's beneficial to bring a few examples to your client beforehand to help them visualize the styles you’d like to create. Oftentimes, these examples don’t need to be more than quick sketches with some color where appropriate, but they can go a long way to show your client the ideas you have inside your head for each shot.
#7 Make It Clear
This tip is closely related to the previous one. When you have your style set, you need to make sure what you're presenting to the viewer is perfectly clear. No matter the project, even if it’s a simple logo animation or a complex story that's being told through motion graphics, you need to maintain clarity. Clarity in your work is much more important than flashy effects. If what you’re presenting to the viewer isn’t clear, then no amount of interesting effects can fix it. In fact, simplicity in your work is often the best route to take. Sure, applications like After Effects can create amazing VFX, but that doesn’t mean they need to be implemented into every project. A motion graphics piece that is simple and clear to the viewer will leave a lasting impression.
#8 Take a Break
Have you ever come back to a project the next day and noticed a whole list of things that need to be fixed? You were able to see them because you had fresh eyes; it was almost like you were looking at it for the first time. Creating a finished motion graphics piece isn't something typically done in just a few hours. As mentioned previously, there should be a planning phase where you allow yourself plenty of time to prepare your shot. As you spend countless hours focused on your project, you can start to get tunnel vision. Things that didn’t look very good suddenly aren’t looking so bad. Keeping this laser focus for hours can result in a skewed take on your work, which can often result in shots that work well individually but hurt the overall flow of your project. As schedules start to get tighter, you may not have the luxury of coming back to it the next day but you still should take a short break. Take a step outside or grab a cup of coffee. Getting away from the screen for even just fifteen minutes can help you see areas that need to be fixed or things you may not have noticed before once you get back. Motion graphics is an exciting and challenging art form, and the demand for skilled artists is high. While each project will always present challenges of its own, try incorporating some of these tips into your next motion graphics project to see how they help you create better work. To learn more, check out these great After Effects tutorials for motion graphics on an Introduction to After Effects for Motion Designers and Creating a Vector Car Animation in After Effects.