Inspiration, Pro Tips

7 Motion Design Lessons Learned the Hard Way


Joey Korenman is a motion designer and owner of online learning platform School of Motion.

Contrary to what every 30-minute YouTube tutorial might insinuate, motion design is a lot of hard work. It takes dedication and practice to become a motion-graphics master, but the trick to succeeding in this incredibly difficult profession is to stick with it and have the right perspective. To help you along your way, I’ve put together a list of 7 important lessons that I had to learn the hard way.

1. You’re going to suck in the beginning

Every profession has a number of things you must master in order to be successful, but in the motion-design world, the list of things you need to know can be overwhelming. Here are a few of the principles that you need to know as a motion designer in order to succeed:

  • Graphic Design
  • Principles of Animation
  • Color Theory
  • Compositing
  • Sound Mixing
  • Typography
  • Storytelling
  • Video Editing
  • Color Grading
  • 2D & 3D Workflows
  • Texturing
  • Lighting
  • Rendering
  • Distribution Strategies

The list could seriously go on to at least 50 more items. All of this is to say that becoming a great motion designer takes a lot of time. If you’re an aspiring motion designer, you probably have great taste for knowing good design from bad, but having good taste and being able to create great work are two very different things.

Know that, in the beginning, your stuff won’t be great, but over time, your work will improve and you’ll be creating amazing pieces of art.

2. Practice, practice, practice

Watching tutorials can only get you so far. At the end of the day, you need to simply put your fingers on the keyboard and start creating. They say that it takes 10,000 hours to master something, but in the motion-design world, it’s probably closer to 20,000.

Make it your goal to create a new project as often as possible. Some people try to create new motion-design projects every day. This can be a great strategy if you want to challenge yourself. If you want some quick inspiration, check out Beeple’s everyday project. He’s been creating a new work of art every day for the last 11 years! He started off as a terrible illustrator and is now putting out world-class art daily.

3. Simple and refined is better than complicated and cluttered

One mistake that I see many people making again and again is simply trying to bite off more than they can chew. It’s far better to create a simple and effective motion-graphics sequence than have a complicated scene that’s hard for the audience to follow.

Great motion designers (and graphic designers for that matter) know that good design is all about using minimal information to convey a universal idea. You don’t need to have 2,000 shape layers if 5 will convey the same idea — simple is better.

This great piece from Cento Lodigiani shares how refined animation can speak louder than complex animation.


4. The motion-design industry isn’t for everyone

The motion-design industry can be brutal. In fact, I’d go so far as to say if you are not 100% committed to your craft, you might want to rethink your career. We’ve already discussed that it takes a lot of time to become a great motion designer, but the time commitment is just the beginning.

If you work hard, you will inevitably get to work on really fun projects with amazing people. But the day-to-day work can be tedious. You aren’t going to feel creatively fulfilled every day. If you’re a family-oriented person, it’s important to remember that most salaried motion designers can work well over 40 hours a week. I can’t even begin to count the number of times that I’ve had to work overnight at the office to get a project out. And even if you work hard and get to the top, there’s no guarantee that your industry will be around in 20 years.

5. Trends are cool, but they aren’t forever

The motion-design world is all about trends. Every year, it seems like there’s a new motion-graphic style that everyone is putting out. In the past, it’s been explainer videos, 2D flat animation, and liquid motion. Right now, it’s pop-art, 3D macros, and 1980s emulations.

The things you watch will inevitably show up in your art, but simply copying work that someone else is putting out isn’t going to make you a well-rounded artist. Instead, it’s your job to combine the things you’ve seen to create something new.

Motion designers that try to create their own unique style will inevitably get more work and recognition than those that simply regurgitate work they’ve seen in other places. This is what makes agencies like Buck so innovative and successful.

6. Sound is just as important as visuals

I’ve heard it said that visuals tell your audience what to think and sound tells your audience what to feel. There’s something intrinsic in us as humans that makes sound cut right to the emotions. So picking the right soundtrack and sound effects is essential for giving your projects a creative edge.

As a result, you need to spend plenty of time searching for the right music for your project. Try downloading a watermarked version of the track and placing it in your timeline. How does it contribute to your story? Does it complement or overpower your visuals?

7. It’s not about learning the software

I’ve saved the most important lesson for the end. The secret to becoming a great motion designer is not simply learning the right software; it’s learning the right principles. There’s a big difference between button clicking and creating art. Many people think that if you simply learn After Effects, Cinema 4D, or even Houdini that you will inevitably become a great motion-graphics artist. This is simply not true.

Motion Design Board
Example board from School of Motion’s Design Bootcamp

It’s about learning both ends of the motion-design equation: Motion and Design. Learn the principles of animation, learn how to utilize design techniques to tell stories visually and to make beautiful frames — invest in yourself and expect to work hard, because learning After Effects or Cinema 4D is a cakewalk compared to becoming a good designer.