1. MAKE A PLAN - ANIMATIC / STORYBOARDS
When starting a project you might be tempted to simply hop into After Effects and get to work. Unfortunately, if you use this ‘run-and-gun’ technique your project will inevitably lack visual cohesion and flow.
Instead, try creating a simple storyboard and animatic before you begin. A storyboard is simply a series of still images featuring the design of key parts of your video. An Animatic is just a crude animated series of storyboards that outlines how your project will look when completed. By creating an Animatic you can get an idea for what your final project will look like before you start animating. You won’t regret it.
2. STAY ORGANIZED
It can be really easy to have a disorganized project when working on Motion Design work. It’s not uncommon to literally have hundreds of layers in your project. As a result, it is essential that you organize and label all of the assets and layers in your project. This can literally save you hours off of each project. Plus, you’ll want to make sure your project’s easy to navigate if you share it with others.
3. ANIMATION PRINCIPLES
Motion Design isn’t a new industry. For years animators and MoGraph artists have been perfecting the craft and over time they have created a series of rules and principles that can help you become a better animator. The most popular set of rules is the ‘12 Principles of Animation’. You could literally spend your entire career trying to master these principles, but it only takes a few minutes to learn what each of them are.
Squash and Stretch is just one of the 12 Principles of Animation, but it is probably the most important one to learn, especially if you are new to Motion Design. The principle of Squash and Stretch is simple, If an object comes in contact with another object there is a natural expanding and contracting that happens. Without this principle all of your animated characters, letters, or shapes would look like they were made of concrete, which doesn’t look right.
The best way to practice Squash and Stretch is to put your skills to the test with a simple ball bouncing exercise. Simply try to animate a ball bouncing on the floor. It may sound easy, but after a few frustrating hours of trying to perfect a bounce you’ll realize why an artist with a good Squash and Stretch sense is so valuable in Hollywood. In the tutorial below Joey teaches you the basics of the Squash and Stretch technique.
Another great principle to learn is Easing, which is just a fancy way of saying smoothing your movements. In most applications easing is achieved via a Graph Editor. If you’re not familiar with it already, a Graph Editor is a tool that gives users a visual representation for the movement in their composition. By default movements in a composition will be consistent and linear. Resulting in harsh stops and starts. Instead, it is much preferable to use the Graph Editor to create a hill-like graph (see video below). If you do this you will immediately see that your animations become more organic and smooth. It’s like sprinkling fairy dust on your keyframes.
5. DON’T OVERLY RELY ON PLUGINS
Let’s not beat around the bush here, Plugins are friggin’ awesome. Having the ability to make realistic fire, 3D text, and JJ Abrams style lens flares in only a few minutes is incredible, but it can be really easy for someone new to the Motion Design industry to rely waaayyy too heavily on third-party plugins. Seriously, If I had a nickel for every poorly animated MoGraph project with a lens flare I might have enough to buy Optical Flares (zinger).
Instead focus on simplicity. Make sure your story isn’t getting lost in the clutter and if you can’t get your scene to look right, try problem solving with the tools you have available to you. Sure a lens flare can make your project look cool, but does it really make sense in a 2D explainer video?
(BONUS) TURN OFF MOTION BLUR
Motion Blur is a liar. You may think that the secret to getting good animations is to simply turn on the Motion Blur button, but be warned! Motion Blur isn’t usually a great tool for Motion Designers. Instead Motion Blur can be a crutch that newbie designers use to hide poor animation. Just take a look at the work of the biggest MoGraph studios, you’ll rarely see Motion Blur. So the next time you’re thinking about hitting that Motion Blur button, don’t.