Nothing can bring your designs to life quite like animation. But if you’ve never worked with an animator or motion graphics artist, motion may feel like a foreign world.
If you’re thinking about partnering with a motion graphics artist, now’s a great time to learn some of the steps involved in the process.
A solid foundation
After working on a few motion projects, here are some of the basics to get your project off on the right foot.
1. Work with a motion artist whose work you admire
And pick someone whose style will work with your project. Of course, as you well know, artists can work in styles they don’t use all the time, but things will run smoothly if you’ve chosen someone who’s in the right realm. Like maybe don’t choose a cartoonist to work on a super corporate-y piece. (Or do if they really need a new approach!)
2. Allow artistic freedom
Your experience will be best when you can have a collaborative partnership with an animator you trust. Just as you [probably] work best with clients who trust your expertise, your motion project will excel when you can rely on your animator to make choices that will work. I’m not saying they automatically have free reign or that they shouldn’t check in with you before getting too far down the wrong road. I’m just saying give them the same level of respect you want for your design.
3. Communicate (duh)
Communication is the best way to keep your project on track. This is especially vital on your first visit to the motion rodeo. For example, did you know you’ll likely be working in RGB and a screen resolution that’s unusual for you? Ask a lot of questions and be forthcoming with your understanding of things. Each motion graphics artist works differently, so it’s important to be on the same page and have an ongoing dialogue between you and the motion artist.
4. Give your motion artist the time they need to do their portion of the work
Motion is time intensive — like, a lot more so than design. Allot it ample time, consulting with your artist at the start of the project.
Solidify your designs, your script, and your voiceover early in the process
Each project and partnership is unique, so some of this depends on how exactly your motion artist is involved at which stages. But it’s crazy annoying for motion artists to have to try to adjust their work on pieces that should have been firmed up weeks ago. If you tweak an Illustrator file, they’ll have to literally go in and change the entire sequence they’ve set up. If you change the script, it messes up the timing they’ve been working out with careful pacing. So get these finalized to the best of your ability and stay in touch with your motion artist if anything develops.
Stages of a motion graphics piece
It’s often easiest for you visual artists to collaborate with visual cues. Sketching out concepts is as core to animators as it likely is to logo creators. This may be a stage you do on your own, or involve your motion artist in, depending on the project.
A visual plot outline, the storyboard starts turning the sketches into the story that the piece will show. The script is the actual words that will either be presented in text on screen or in voiceover (VO). These two elements go hand in hand, and the order in which they’re produced may vary by project (as may your animator’s involvement).
A style frame should look like a still frame taken from the finished video. It helps establish fonts, company colors, and branding, as well as overall style choices for the project. Style frames become an invaluable reference tool for both designers and motion artists, something you can always look to if there’s any question about design. These will probably come from you, the designer.
Style frames are different from key frames, which are one simple frame in the lineup of a motion path. Alternatively, style frames apply to the whole video.
You can also provide motion frames, or a series of still frames to provide an understanding of what the movement should look like, if you have specific direction to give. Write out detailed descriptions of what you want to see happen to accompany motion frames.
Your motion artist may send you short clips of what they’ve been working on and ask, “Are these tests hitting the mark?” This allows you a chance to give feedback and to ensure your team is moving forward in a unified, agreed-upon direction.
The animatic is like the storyboard in video form and might incorporate some of the animation tests in place. It will likely include at least a rough VO and music. This stage allows the motion artist to figure out the timing of the piece, and this is why it’s important to have all the components done (especially the script and storyboard).
The rough cut is similar to the animatic, but most all the visual elements are included and the VO and music are finalized. The purpose is to show where each major piece is in time and what it’s doing, so it’s imperative to have final audio. Depending on how complicated the project is, sometimes you might skip this step and just have the animatic.
This is the complete video, with all motion finished. You should determine with your motion artist in the scope meeting how many (if any) revisions are allowed after the final cut.
The motion artist may need to make color corrections, or there may be a slight tweak to an element. It is not appropriate to redesign elements this late in the game. You will be exceeding scope if that’s happening.
I hope you find an excuse to work on an animated piece. It’s a new adventure that can benefit substantially from great design.
Photo/video credit to Cale Oglesby.