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How to Move From Graphic Design to Motion Graphics Design

Learning motion design is usually at the top of designers’ to-do list surveys. And that’s a good thing, too: the market is exploding. We see video everywhere – not just on device screens, social media, web videos, and tv/movies; notice the prevalence in retail store displays, museums and attractions, sports and music events, bus stop kiosks, supermarket checkout lines, and even highway billboards. Also, brands are increasingly expanding their implementation of video in their marketing and branding efforts. Design-wise, we live in a moving world.

How to Move From Graphic Design to Motion Graphics Design

Transitioning from a career in graphic design and expanding your skill set into motion design has both inspiring and challenging news.

The inspiring news is:

  • Design is design is design. Basic graphic design concepts still apply: placement, scale, balance, color, hierarchy, contrast, symmetry, tension, etc.
  • Most motion designs start as static layouts – called style frames – and they’re usually done in Illustrator or Photoshop.
  • Speaking of Illustrator and Photoshop, you will still be using them! You can also use InDesign to create tables that make their way into videos.
  • You will use tools and conventions you are already familiar with: tools and features like the pen tool, layer modes, and gradients, will still be available.
  • The motion design community is like no other: friendly and super-supportive. In fact, Maxon (the maker of Cinema 4D) actually has an email (training@maxon.net) to connect with their master trainers and ask questions! 
  • Your designs will spring to life: while transitioning to motion design, you will be adding motion, time, and space to your designs. Your work will become dimensional.

The challenging news is:

  • Prepare for a tidal wave of complexity: Motion design software (compared to graphic design software) typically features more complex user interfaces and workflows. Then there is the related expansion into areas like gaming, mixed reality, and AI-generated art.
  • Plugins, Extensions, Scripts, and Third Party Apps are widespread and necessary. Especially in 3D, achieving world-class results requires learning additional applications. Rendering Engines, Particle Generators, Materials, and Shaders Packs – the list goes on and on. There is no comparable scenario in graphic design software.
  • Lifelong learning will shift from being a good idea and an occasional endeavor to a lifestyle choice and habit. This may take some getting used to. Your friends and family will notice.
  • You will need to up your problem-solving skills: with more complexity, more things tend to go astray. Solving issues will become a new mindset – and a new superpower.

As with most new endeavors, transitioning from graphic design to motion design has benefits and challenges. The benefits are worth it.

So, after a cost and benefit analysis, you’re ready to take the plunge! Up next – well, how do I get there?

  • Educate yourself: there are many options to learn Adobe After Effects, Adobe Premiere Pro, and Maxon Cinema 4D. Noble Desktop has courses and certificate programs to get you on your way.
  • Practice, practice, practice. It’s tempting to think you can master something by watching someone do it, but this is misleading. You must attempt and struggle to make these concepts your own. There is no way around this.
  • Join a community. There are many avenues to integrate yourself into the motion design community: leave comments on social media posts, post your work, participate in online events (Adobe MAX, Maxon 3D Design and Motion Show), and join a Meetup. The motion design community is friendly and supportive.
  • Pick an area of interest: start as a generalist. As you are learning, start to think about what aspect of motion design intrigues you most and would like to specialize in. Motion design is further subdivided into specialties: 2D motion design and animation, visual effects (VFX), 3D modeling, 3D materials and textures, character animation, rotoscoping and compositing, etc. Specializing is one way to differentiate yourself in the field and may facilitate commanding higher rates.
  • If possible, accept the unicorn assignments. There are typically two types of motion design jobs: assignments that pay well with conservative, template-driven design standards, and assignments that are exciting design-wise, push the tech envelope, and may not pay very well. If you are able, especially when you are beginning your journey, try to accept as many unicorn assignments as you are reasonably able to. Learning by leaps and bounds and having portfolio samples with dynamic and awe-inspiring work will turbocharge your career.
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