Everything You Need to Know About Becoming a Motion Graphics Designer
The profession of motion graphics design is fairly new on the design front. Technology-enabled design professions are growing. And there are so many different types of designers out there, it’s tricky to keep them all straight! There are graphic designers, web designers, user experience designers, user interface designers—the list goes on.
“Motion graphics is a growing field, and it is not likely to ebb anytime soon,” says designer Paul Joseph. “Part of this is because the high-tech looks used in motion pictures get old very quickly and new fresh approaches are always in demand.”
As creative filmmakers and video producers expand both their imaginations and their budgets for impressive technology and design, skilled motion graphics designers are essential. Without these savvy, innovative artists, your favorite shows, movies, and even websites and apps would look very different.
But what exactly does this profession entail? And how can you get started in this creative career? We connected with a handful of experts currently working in the field to answer this question and more about the world of motion graphics design.
What does a motion graphics designer do?
Motion graphics designers, sometimes just called motion designers, create artwork for the web, television or film. This could include movie clips, trailers, commercials, title sequences, etc. They use visual effects, animation and other cinematic techniques to bring life to their creations. They design graphics that are in motion—just as their title suggests.
By animating graphics and creating vivid visual effects, motion graphics designers bring films, websites, commercials, and more to an entirely new level. With the increasing prevalence of video content online, a motion graphics designer could find themselves working on almost anything, on any digital platform.
Additionally, there may be opportunity outside of these more traditional applications of motion graphics. Jose Andres, creator community manager at Enklu Cloud, sees augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) as the next major expansion into the world of design technology. “I've ventured further into the world of interactive technology,” Andres says. “The tools I have access to now have changed my design process immensely. I can start laying out a concept and create assets with AR & VR tools way quicker than I ever could using traditional desktop software.”
Depending on the type of motion graphics you enjoy pursuing, you could end up working on a big-ticket film in Hollywood or freelancing the opening intro for a new iPhone app.
Where do motion graphics designers work?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), animators and multimedia designers typically work in motion picture offices, computer systems and software companies and advertising agencies.1 This industry also had a very high percentage (59%) of self-employed workers in 2018, indicating that remote work arrangements are very possible in the field.1
“Our studio specializes in branding and graphic design services for broadcasters on Twitch®, YouTube®, and Facebook Gaming®,” says Nick Avola of Visuals by Impulse. Avola explains that all of their motion designers work remotely. “We find it produces happier, more effective artists. Our team can manage their own time, at their own will. Distractions are minimized, and designers can get ‘in the zone.’”
That said, there can be drawbacks. Losing the convenience of collaboration is one downside to the remote-work arrangement. “Teamwork is often more effective when creators are working face-to-face,” Avola says. “Not to mention the challenge of time-zones.”
What skills do motion graphics designers need?
We asked motion graphics designers to weigh in on the most important technical and soft skills for their role these days.
“Calligraphy and 2-D art still have their place,” Joseph says. “But most motion graphics are now based on 3-D modeling, and that is a huge part of the future of graphics.” Joseph explains that understanding points in 3-D space, lines connecting those points and polygons made up of those lines comes from working with modeling programs.
“A good 3-D designer understands motion and timelines,” Joseph says. “Objects can move. So can light sources. The camera, which is the view of the audience, can also move. The designer can choreograph complex movements, one element at a time, and spin them off in multiple ways.”
According to Andres, organization is crucial for both freelancers and team members. “Keeping a tidy file with organized assets, dependencies, layers, etc., becomes more crucial the bigger your projects become,” Andres says.
“Organization and multi-tasking are critical attributes we look for in new motion designers,” Avola says. “You’ll be managing a lot of layers and elements simultaneously. Keep your files neat and tidy, or you’ll pay the price down the line.”
One of the biggest challenges to creating motion graphics is the fact that it can be incredibly time-intensive. Procedural animation is one way to cut down on that.
“There’s been an awakening of the word ‘procedural’ in recent years, and this trend is set to explode over the next decade,” Avola says. “Through simple and complex algorithms, procedurally-generated, full animations can be created in a fraction of the time. Work can be tweaked, adapted and revised at ease thanks to automated processes.”
Avola says motion design software is increasingly making use of scripts, expressions, and coding to save time in the creative process. For example, procedural animation allows designers to apply predetermined physics to 3D objects—if two objects collide in an animation at a set speed, the results are predictable and can be modeled appropriately.
Texturing and lighting effects
“The audience doesn't see the model, they see the shapes and the images,” Joseph says. He emphasizes that surfacing is part of making 3D graphics look photo-realistic. “Surfaces can be reflective, shiny, transparent, translucent, rough or refractive. They can also simulate textures or display moving images. The potential is unlimited.”
Understanding big-picture context
“A good designer knows what their designs will be used for,” Joseph says. He emphasizes that video, multimedia, game design and virtual reality are all growing and a possible destination for motion graphics designers. But each different application warrants a different approach. “Understand all of these applications and how to plan for them.”
“Plans change, as do project scope and goals,” Avola says, explaining that skilled motion designers need to be ready to change their original vision to accommodate client feedback. “Stay humble and roll with the punches.”
Timing is one of the most difficult and most important skills for a motion graphics designer, according to Avola. “Motion design is a very story-driven tool—and the best stories contain a natural flow and rhythm.”
A fantastically detailed and otherwise good looking graphic isn’t effective if the pacing is strange or doesn’t fit in with other elements like sound. The best animators and motion designers learn to adapt their work and incorporate rhythm and pacing into their process.
Motion graphics designer salary and job outlook
You’ll be excited to hear that motion graphics designers are fairly well-compensated for their technical expertise. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for multimedia artists and animators was $72,520 in 2018.1 Professionals earning the most in these fields were employed by software companies and motion picture industries.1
The BLS also projects a 4 percent rate of employment growth for multimedia artists and animators, attributing this steady grow to the increased consumption of film, video and digital media.1
How do you become a motion graphics designer?
There is no single path into this career—but the BLS explains that employers for motion graphics designers and animators usually prefer candidates with a bachelor’s degree and a strong portfolio of work.1
A degree in the field can give you the broad understanding and technical skills that matter most in the industry, but there are additional ways to set yourself apart. There are countless online tutorials and resources to help you add skills to your repertoire. Following top animation blogs is another way to get exposure to new trends and techniques. Getting work experience on projects and adding to your portfolio is also a great way to start working towards your dream job.
Get your motion graphics career into motion
If you have dreams of becoming a motion graphics designer, it’s important to acquire the necessary skills and hands-on experience first. Becoming familiar with the techniques and fundamentals of the field will help equip you with the comprehensive knowledge needed to evolve with the industry.
If you’re ready to get started building the skills you’ll need for success, visit the Rasmussen College Graphic Design program page to learn more.
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed December, 2019] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2015. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2020.