8 Creatives Share Everything You Need to Know About a Career in Motion
WORKING NOT WORKING
We interviewed 8 creatives working in Motion Design and Animation to learn about their professional starts, their daily processes and current challenges, and what they want to see more of for themselves and their field in the future. We dive into the details and discuss topics specific to motion, like the importance of sound in enhancing their work, whether a showreel is still a necessity for motion creatives, and how artificial intelligence will impact their craft and careers.
Banner artwork by WNW Member Nejc Polovsak
How did you first get into motion? What led you to pursue it as a career?
Rad Mora: I started early on making my own claymation Celebrity Death Match-inspired clips back in the days when we had to transfer everything to VHS. Pursuing a degree in Communication Design at Parsons with a focus on motion graphics cemented the fact that this is the world I want to be in. It was the perfect combination of filmmaking, animation, and graphic design.
Yaya Xu: I studied character animation in college. During that time, I watched lots of motion works from Vimeo. It was those great motion works that made me want to become a motion designer.
Diego Salinas: I went to college to study fine arts. At that point I was really interested in video arts, new media, and interactive projects. I started working as a visualist for DJ sets at friends’ shows and parties using videos I found on the internet or on VHS or DVD. I realized I could actually create my own audiovisual content and fell in love with the process. I abandoned fine arts to dedicate to this full time.
Molly Valdez: I started out doing traditional graphic design, with my first job working at a small city’s newspaper (so small they still used quark). When they started switching to online content, I tried making a gif in photoshop with just three frames. It was so simple, like having a blinking sticker, but led me to start learning After Effects. I started working with my partner Judson (who I still work with and married years later) around the same time and we would make album artwork and flyers for our friends’ bands. I remember the first time we made an animated cover. The artist was super into it and slowly clients started asking for the same thing. So it happened kind of naturally and just became a part of what we were personally into as well.
Shira Inbar: The program director in my graduate school encouraged me to experiment with motion in the core work I did. I was previously much more focused on publications in print, but she really insisted that I try. So I did, and it changed everything in the way I work and think. Later I was assigned a TA position in the motion design class in that program, which helped me understand more about the origins of the field, what interesting work has been done, how it relates to the bigger picture of visual culture and communication design, and how I can approach teaching motion design (which I do to this day). When I was about to complete my MFA, I was contacted by a creative director at MTV News who invited me to join his team. From then on, motion has been an inseparable part of my practice - both while working with clients, when making things for fun, and when learning something new.
Nejc Polovsak: I started doing 3D as a hobby, doing basics, making still images, 3D modeling, texturing, lighting, and rendering, and then designing things for games at work later on. Then there was a point in time when motion design started booming (around the point when Mograph module came out in Cinema 4D). I was getting more and more interested in combining good design with good animation, and I quit my job to pursue a motion design career. As I started picking up freelance jobs quite quickly, I decided to go on my own and after 8 years, I still enjoy it as in the beginning.
Kaitlin Kobs: I was crazy lucky to get an internship in motion graphics at MTV with no prior motion experience. From there, my career in motion kind of snowballed.
Maria Chimishkyan: I was exploring a complex high/low blend of patterns for my college thesis and playing around with them in animated, still, and printed form. After feeling as though I had reached the limits of what was possible with my existing tools and still imagery, I started to dabble in Cinema 4D. There was a lot of trial and error involved but also an element of the unexpected that was outside of my control. I was endlessly curious to keep going.
What was the first project where you found your voice?
Rad Mora: Personal projects I called "E-Motion" tests where I started exploring our relationship between what's on our screens and the sensations they elicit.
Shira Inbar: In my first job at MTV News, on Richard Turley’s Visual Storytelling team. Designers attempted to make cable television relevant again for teens via daily interstitials, GIFs, broadcast takeovers, and general randomness about things happening in the world. Because the schedule was so tight and I really had only a few hours to work on 2-3 videos every day (each 10 or 15 seconds long), I had to work out of impulse and just put it out there. It was hard, but I realize now that as much as this sounds like a cliche, "just doing" brings out good things. A lot of weird things too - but sometimes weird is good!
Kaitlin Kobs: My voice is continually evolving but I feel like the project that really set the tone for my career was working on the VMAs during my internship. I helped a lot experimenting with different glitch techniques, using weird programs off the internet, and a bit of coding to alter the data in videos. It taught me how to think outside the limitations of Adobe.
Maria Chimishkyan: “Infinite Playground” for Electric Objects.
The Brass Tacks
What is your daily process like?
Maria Chimishkyan: I spend a lot of time thinking before I actually begin working. I usually mull through possible concepts for illustrations and animations, then spend time flipping through my book collection and ephemera I’ve collected to break through existing thinking patterns + knee-jerk reactions and let my mind wander. A fair amount of watching sci-fi, trash TV, and Russian cartoons also happens; then sketching ideas by hand. When I’m ready, I completely dive in and make a whole mess of digital explorations and then pull back.
Diego Salinas: Daily research looking at what's out there. Saving stuff in Are.na, endlessly looking over the web. Getting inspired is key for my daily process. Once I'm inspired, I just start jamming and iterating as much as possible to get a result I like.
Shira Inbar: My process almost always involves multitasking: having a conversation, making some things, looking at other things, trying something new, learning a new technique or program, answering emails, doing something for Little Cinema (a series of immersive film screenings I'm part of). At the moment, I work full time at design studio Pentagram, on Emily Oberman's team. So I usually get up at 5 and either work on a freelance project (more "sunrising" than moonlighting) or go to a dance class. When I get to work in the studio, I usually divide my time between several projects: so far I've worked on an identity and motion graphics package for an awards show, titles for a film, a couple of logo animations, some visual identity projects (design and research), and even a magazine. If it's a Wednesday I'll leave the studio at 6:30 and go teach motion design. If it's another day, I'll work a little later and then go home, make dinner, hang out, and then get back on my moonlighting.
Nejc Polovsak: I (try to) get up at around 7, have a nice slow breakfast at home and spend some time with my girlfriend and our dog, then slowly start to prepare for work. After that I usually take time at my home office to reply to emails, check any news, and think about the day ahead before heading out to town where I share office space with some friends. I'm usually most productive in the morning until lunch time. How long I work in a day usually depends on the current project and who I work with. I love having freedom to adjust my own schedule but sometimes you have to adapt, especially doing 99% of the work remotely with time zone differences and communication that needs to happen outside of "normal" work hours.
Which programs are most vital in giving you the tools to express yourself creatively?
Rad Mora: After Effects and Cinema 4D are the languages I speak. I'm currently in a remedial DuoLingo phase with Houdini and Unity.
Yaya Xu: AE and Cinema 4D. But most ideas come from my notebook. I like to think through writing on paper.
Shira Inbar: Adobe CC, Cinema 4D, Processing, Blender, Keynote, Resolume Arena, AE Scripts, Google Sketchup, a projector, a camera.
Nejc Polovsak: I've been using Cinema 4D since version 9.5 and it's still my main tool without which I don't really know what I'd do in life. It's a perfect mix of tools that allows experimenting and coming up with visual ideas pretty quickly.
Kaitlin Kobs: After Effects is home, and Cinema 4D is my vacation rental. I'd love to spend more time in Cinema 4D, but the learning curve is very real and Octane is very expensive. I use After Effects for almost everything, including making posters and developing branding. It’s like Photoshop and Illustrator all wrapped into one, and of course you can make things move.
How important is sound and music in your motion work?
Kaitlin Kobs: Very important. Sound is a huge component in how impactful the motion will be. On my to do list is to learn Ableton so I can make my own sound design.
Nejc Polovsak: Regardless of how good visuals are, sound and music can always take it to the next level or give it a certain special mood which is impossible to achieve with visuals alone. I also love having an interesting track which I can animate to, or one that can help me come up with some visual ideas or transitions.
Molly Valdez: Very important! Most of the people we work with are musicians and record labels, so the music is the most crucial influencer of anything we make. But even in work that isn’t for a music-related client, music and sound is still the biggest influencer in how I make work. Like what I listen to while I’m making it, or how it would feel if the piece did have a sound. My partner is also a musician and writes a lot of music for our personal work and reels, so it’s always on the brain.
Rad Mora: Sound definitely enhances but if you are able to communicate effectively through motion, silence and imagination fills in the rest.
Yaya Xu: Music helps a lot in building up emotion and enhancing movement. But sometimes for some short motion ideas or motion identities, the sound or music is not essential. Also depending on the design and the rhythm of the movement, music could be unnecessary and just a few sound effects would be perfect.
Talk about the importance of the reel in the motion industry.
Molly Valdez: So important, especially to show the personality and style of the creators. I feel like that’s equally important to the work showcased.
Nejc Polovsak: I think showreels are still the best and quickest way to show your skills and work you've done. Reels are also a good way to show off your editing skills too.
Kaitlin Kobs: A reel is a must. I think almost every employer requires it. People don't have time to watch every single piece you've ever made, so being able to boil your work down to one or two minutes is important.
Yaya Xu: I don't have a reel now. It was important at first, if you want to work in a production house or want to show your skills. If you want to be more design-driven or want to work in a design agency or be an artist or art director, your website with project descriptions is more important.
Shira Inbar: Occasionally I see motion studios who ask to see reels in job postings (rarely so in design studios). I kind of feel like the Instagram grid is replacing the reel though. While the reel does have its advantages like reflecting how designers think their work is best presented, edited, and timed to music, Instagram gives the viewer a quick, zoomed-out view of a whole array of content and abilities. When viewing a designer's grid, it's easy to capture their tendencies at the moment in terms of technique, color, and mood. The grid also enables the viewer to select what they want to watch, and provides the designer an opportunity to write more about each post in the caption. The designer can also use tags and hashtags to distribute their work more effectively and contextualize it.
What would be your dream project and why?
Rad Mora: An interactive generative animation that interacts with the world around it. One in which the screen falls in love with the viewer and vice versa.
Diego Salinas: I would love to create all the visuals for a live show of any of my favorite musicians. I've always looking for projects with music-related context. I really enjoy that.
Molly Valdez: To create an animated film as a visual companion for a whole album. It would be really incredible to be able to devote so much time and exploration to a single work, with an entire album and multiple songs giving the room and time to create a whole animated world.
Shira Inbar: I'd like to make more motion work in the editorial field. It would be amazing to keep pushing the boundaries of content development - and to produce a variety of work that ranges across type, image-making, sound, and current events. I think that it's important to shift the discussion of motion design away from the gear-headed place and more to the place of culture and politics. I would also like to work more collaboratively, since this almost always opens up new possibilities and elevates the work.
Kaitlin Kobs: My dream would be doing live environmental motion graphics installations at concerts that are reactionary to music.
Maria Chimishkyan: Too many ideas here. A few are: Live/interactive tour visuals; Collaborating with fashion designers and coders to create new wearable experiences & ways of representing collections through video; Designing a full visual system for an album / record; AR poems in nature.
Let's talk money, terms, and conditions. What are the struggles in your industry?
Rad Mora: Getting paid within 30 days would be nice.
Diego Salinas: I live in New York, where budgets are crazy high but agencies and clients are always trying to reduce them. So being good at negotiating is essential.
Yaya Xu: Scheduling is my biggest pain. Sometimes the client doesn't follow the schedule or extends the schedule, or the turnaround is too short. It can negatively affect my personal time. Also, as a small team or the only designer, it's hard for me to protect myself when clients want to make more changes or more design without increasing budget.
Shira Inbar: I work in both motion design and in graphic design. In my experience, it's easier for me to reach the terms I aim for with clients who are commissioning motion design work. Maybe this is because the clients are possibly larger and have budgets that are more flexible than those who are commissioning graphic design. Or, possibly this is because motion design is sometimes regarded as a practice that's more demanding in terms of skill, technique, and time. I personally don't think that's true though.
A challenge I think the industry is facing now, especially in projects that are aimed for social media, is time. Because things move so fast on these platforms, companies and clients sometimes don't take into account the time it takes to design and produce what they want. I do think that this is a good challenge to face though because it flexes the way we work, changes the nature of the content we see on social, and informs the clients about the reality of making. Another interesting challenge that I think impacts our field is that, simply, motion is everywhere and companies and brands are constantly producing content. Content is almost always motion-driven, or at least related, so the field is growing rapidly and designers can find themselves juggling a lot, or needing to branch out.
Kaitlin Kobs: As someone with an educational background in graphic design and professional experience as mostly a motion designer, I struggle to find jobs that encompass both the graphic designer and motion designer in myself. That's why I'm often trying to create my own projects. Money is a tricky subject because I've taken pretty low pay to work on projects I was excited about, but have also worked for clients and agencies that have the big brand money but the projects just feel like a job. So it's a give and take on what you feel your time is worth and what you want to get out of the job.
A motion project can often be a major investment of labor and time. How many projects do you complete per year on average? Does this required commitment make you much more selective in which projects you take on?
Rad Mora: Everyone wants things done yesterday. You are often hit up for gigs that start right away and lining up schedules or being flexible to move around requires patience and trusting yourself to say no. I probably work 12 - 20 projects a year. Some can take a few days, others months.
Yaya Xu: I take around 4 to 6 projects a year. Some of them are way smaller than others. I have to be selective so I don't kill myself. Budget, the freedom of having my voice, and the client are things I consider when I choose projects.
Shira Inbar: I'd say that I work on about 6-8 HUGE projects, and then TONS of small things on a weekly basis. The HUGE projects can sometimes involve a small team and can be an event, a festival, a film, a campaign, an educational series, an exhibition. The small projects can include animated illustrations for magazines, a series of posts for social media, posters, a logo animation, a prototype, etc. In general, in almost everything I work on I try to see what happens when it starts moving.
Nejc Polovsak: The longer I'm in the industry the more selective I am about what I work on, which can be sometimes painful to producers who just want to lock an artist for a project. Commercial motion design projects are on average still relatively short, lasting anywhere from a week to 2 or 3 months. But the time spent on them can be quite intense, without allowing for much else - hence always trying to be careful what I lock myself into.
How do you predict motion will evolve as a field in the next 5 years?
Rad Mora: Motion is not stagnant (duh) but it will not be relegated strictly to the confines of a screen. Interactive design and work that engages viewers and participants crossing the digital and physical divide will become more important in the next 5 years. We are going to be living in the "Phygital" world.
Diego Salinas: Artificial intelligence is getting here really soon. I've been using a new tool for artificial intelligence for the creative industry called Runway. There are some crazy implementations of AI that can be used to track objects, clear backgrounds, or understand and replicate movements in an amazing way that had to be done manually before.
Molly Valdez: Motion will more and more become a skill expected to be part of any designer’s abilities. Right now I say I’m a motion and graphic designer to call attention to both interwoven aspects of what I do, but just like how people used to say “I’m a digital and print designer,” saying “designer” will imply both skills.
Shira Inbar: Obviously all the things that people like to talk about, like AR and immersive video. As far as I'm concerned I think that motion design will expand into a vast landscape of more "niche" disciplines that are tailored specifically for various digital platforms. I also think that motion will continue to transform the way news is published, told, and distributed - impacting the way people get informed.
Nejc Polovsak: Lines between heavy VFX and motion design will continue getting blurred; we will see it applied to even more mediums and formats and we'll see a boom in the number of people trying to work in this field. With shrinking client budgets that could also mean more fragmented work distribution, more direct to client work, companies building up their own motion departments, and bigger motion studios having a hard time staying competitive in the industry.
Kaitlin Kobs: The Motion Designer is becoming just as important as the graphic designer. In every opportunity, motion is being incorporated to satisfy our ever-growing appetite for more content per second.
Maria Chimishkyan: I think as our realities become increasingly enmeshed in the world of technology, motion will start to become an everyday part of everyone’s identities, from filters to animated clothing modification; it will only become more and more personal. Motion will also become increasingly interactive and unexpected- it will start to live, breath, and interact with its audience as opposed to its current more static and finite state.
What do you want to see more of personally and for the motion community?
Rad Mora: A broader definition of how, where, and most importantly what it means when motion design will be integrated on varied surfaces.
Yaya Xu: I hope motion designers can have a larger voice in the process of whole branding design or advertising.
Molly Valdez: More experimentation, weirder shit, and hopefully way less rotating hue animation!
Shira Inbar: I'd like to see more women and POC working and teaching in the field, and more women and POC driving it, as I think it's still white-male dominated. I’d like to see more tactility in work. I also want more transparency about how things are made, more conferences, more exhibitions, more award categories ( there are very few awards for motion design created outside of advertising). I'd like to see more collaboration and mentorship, and more conversation and culture!
Kaitlin Kobs: As a female motion designer, I can't count the number of times I've worked in a room of predominantly white males. I'd love to see more diversity and women in the industry. Let's lift each other up!