Becoming (and Being) a Freelance Motion Designer

I have been planning to write up some articles about motion design, and being/becoming a motion designer, for some time now, but have always put it off. Recently, however, I received an email questionnaire/interview from an aspiring Visual Communications student from the University of Technology, Sydney (who shall remain anonymous, unless they express a desire otherwise), so I figured it would be a good opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, by answering their questions here.

NOTE: I’d like to consider this an open topic. If you have any questions that I didn’t answer here, feel free to ask in the comments and I may add your question to the post!

Q: Describe a motion graphics piece that you have designed that you are especially happy with.

A: To be honest, I’m always fairly critical of my own work. I find it hard to be 100% satisfied with what I’ve created, especially when I occasionally browse Motionographer for inspiration (talk about spirit crushingly good work sometimes!). That said, for the sake of answering, I was quite happy with the Videmic Ident (shown below) I created for a self produced (with a former production company) web series pilot.

The series was basically a web-based Tosh.0 (reviewing viral videos and web TV in general). In the piece, I attempted to convey a viral video spreading from a single point (the initial laptop that does the “upload”), which then spread out to various locations (cities) that were infected/infested, that in turn continued the spread until all lines eventually converged at the Videmic logo. Naturally the name “Videmic” was also a play on the viral, or “pandemic,” nature of the videos and shows discussed.

Q: What kind of technology did you use in this piece, or do you normally use? What kinds of specific functions and features of software, or tricks, were especially important for you in this task? What did you find particularly tricky, challenging, or interesting, in terms of using this software to create the piece?

A: I used mostly Cinema 4D in this particular piece, but I would say I normally use After Effects (or it very often gets used for the finishing touches to a piece that wasn’t primarily created in it). A common recommendation when working in a 3D program is to keep things simple (for rendering times sake in particular!), and finish it off in compositing software like After Effects (an excellent example of this can be found here on Nick Campbell’s blog, greyscaleguerilla).

The most important feature in this case, though very basic in concept, was the simple fact that it was in 3D. While I’m very comfortable in After Effects alone, it’s no secret that the industry loves it some 3D motion graphics these days, and it is becoming more common for 3D experience (Cinema 4D in particular) to be a requirement for motion design jobs.

As far as tricky/challenging/etc., I was fairly new to Cinema 4D at the time, so this list could be long, but on the whole, while many elements are similar in concept between various compositing and 3D software (i.e. keyframes, 3D cameras, etc.) that doesn’t mean they are handled in the same way. Just learning these differences can be challenging, not to mention having to remember them when going back and forth between different platforms on a regular basis (don’t even get me started on remembering which keyboard shortcuts are for which…).

Q: How do you develop your creative/visual ideas when working with software? How is your creativity influenced by the programs you use? How did the outcome develop in the motion graphic example from Question 1?

A: Though I tend to start ideas out on paper without any particular software in mind, the software I’m using can ultimately dictate the direction things take some times. This can of course come simply from limitations inherent in the software, but I also find that just tweaking and playing with different effects, plugins and parameters can sometimes also greatly influence the direction of an idea. Think of it like sketching in a note book, and just play around until something you hadn’t thought of before presents itself. It’s also a great solution to designers block sometimes. A lot of the outcome in the Videmic piece came from just this, playing with plugins and ideas (based on a general “viral spreading” concept) until I found something I liked.

Q: How did you learn – or are still learning – to use software to create motion graphics? Is it mainly from formal education, self practice, internet tutorials, more experienced colleagues etc? What has worked best for you?

A: I had no formal education when it came to motion design. Way back when (over 10+ years ago), I took some graphic design courses along with some general IT (I thought I wanted to be a web developer/designer). That all took a back seat when I moved to Europe and ended up staying for a lot longer than I originally expected. While abroad I got into video editing, and the opportunity to start animating some basic logos eventually arose.

Naturally as I explored the realm of animation and motion design, my first formal exposure to After Effects and motion design came via internet tutorials. I have since been able to teach myself After Effects and Cinema 4D through self practice and tutorials alone (my google fu is strong!). I’ll even watch tutorials that have nothing to do with what I’m working on, or I’m necessarily interested in, as many times techniques and tips that are discussed can be used in other ways that the tutorial may not have intended.

Always be learning!

Q: Any advice or tips you would like to pass on to visual communication students learning motion graphics (or design in general)?

A: I’ll repeat myself from the last answer, always be learning! This goes for the self-taughts and the college grads. Times change, technologies change, styles change and tastes change. It’s not just a good idea to always be learning, it’s practically a requirement! Subscribe to blogs, join forums, attend conferences and make an active effort to keep ahead of the curve. Your clientele, and pocketbook, will thank you.

(Didn’t find an answer you were looking for? Ask away in the comments below!)

About the author

Written by

My name is Justin Metz and I'm a freelance motion graphics designer. I started back in 2004 as a personal blog and portfolio site. We are now a collective of motion and sound designers from around the world.

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Recent Work

  • isg-thumb
    In Sixth Gear

    Part of a motion graphics package, this ident was made for In Sixth Gear (ISG), a sport and luxury car related blog, online store and now internet video channel.

  • macmillan-thumb

    This motion graphics ident was created for the MacMillan Publishing group (UK) for their educational video series.

  • kalliance-thumb
    K Alliance

    This motion graphics ident was part of a complete broadcast package created for K Alliance, an online e-learning company.

  • tatv-thumb
    McGraw-Hill: TakeawayTV

    Over a year in the making, this clip is a short example of the ident, supers and other elements created for a 60 episode English language learning series for the renowned publishing house, McGraw-Hill.

  • reddit-thumb

    After a conversation with admin Erik Martin (hueypriest), we offered to put together a quick little intro for reddit’s “ask me anything” video series.

  • videmic-thumb

    This ident/promo was created for a self produced web show staring Karina Stenquist (formerly of Mobuzz fame) called Videmic.