PVC Exclusive | Industry Experts

Networking, Establishing Skills and Staying Inspired

Advice From A Motion Designer

Developing your skills as a motion designer is a vital part of becoming a successful artist in the field. However, in the industry it takes more than just technical merit to be an expert.

Experience and the Value of Networking

I started looking out to my local Seattle community of artists to see what was out there about 3 years ago. I found an awesome local After Effects group called AE Seattle which I now host. Getting out into the community and networking is imperative in our day and age. I was able to do a small presentation on Trapcode Particular by Red Giant, showing off my skills with the software to our group. This presentation actually led me to some work as well! For someone starting out in the motion graphics/vfx industry, you really have to network to be successful in the industry. Having awesome work that no one sees, is not only a shame, but also a potential loss of income.

Networking is so important, I can’t emphasize it enough. Meeting people and giving them your information could lead you to your next opportunity, which in turn, leads to the next, then to the next.

In 2012, Neil Gaiman gave a fantastic commencement speech for the University of Arts. Specifically, he mentions a few rules he goes by, which are great things to keep in mind for freelance artists:

“(People get work and keep working) because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are, if you’re work is good and you deliver it on time. People will forgive the lateness of your work, if it’s good and they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as everyone else if you’re on time, and it’s always a pleasure hearing from you.”

There are many groups for creative people to connect all over the world. A great place to check is Eventbrite or Meetup.com for meetings in your area. Some less populated areas may not have a group, and this would be perfect for you to start your own. Even if you don’t have a group nearby and aren’t feeling up to setting up a new one, I highly recommend joining virtual groups.

As I mentioned in my previous article #Postchat and #Mochat are great places for people all over the world to connect and chat about the industry. Postchat is on Wednesdays at 6pm PST and Mochat is Tuesdays at 6pm. Of course you can always check out the Creative Cow forums, the Video Copilot forums and even some facebook groups for motion related content. This can all be a great way to seek advice, connect with others who are doing the same thing, and build your name in the industry.

Also, there are a bunch of actual events that are not only fun to attend but also can be useful as networking opportunities. This last year I had the pleasure of attending both NAB and AE World, and I highly recommend both. NAB can be a great opportunity not only to meet others in the industry, but also to meet the people who make the software we use on a daily basis.

In addition to networking and learning the software, it’s also extremely important to stay on top of both design trends and technical changes. Knowing what’s hot is really important to making things that look current. Staying up with the technical side of the business is important because it helps to figure out if you can do something more efficiently. Then you can pass along the smaller invoice to your client and they can rejoice knowing you are not only on top of it, but that you did it for cheaper than they were expecting.

Creating Work that “Wows”

Back in September at AE World, Andrew Kramer talked about creating work that wows. In his speech, he mentions taking a risk by creating content that is not only really well done, but also is a new idea, or something fun or interesting that catches peoples eyes. This doesn’t have to be a demo reel, in fact, Andrew states “Just make one 25 second video, that is awesome” If you haven’t checked out the keynote here it is, and it’s well worth the 45 minutes. For more information on AE World, check out their website.

Wipster.io recently published an article speaking about what it takes to have a fantastic reel. In it, mograph artist Peter Quinn explains “Make it an exceptionally compelling edit of the best frigging shots you’ve ever shot in your life, a montage of client work you’ve done and, in the very best cases, some kind of emotional thru-line just like in any other project you’d tell. It’s a sizzle reel for you as a person, so make it memorable. When people watch it, they should see some great storytelling (and yeah, some dazzling shots and sequences) but the story of the sizzle should make a person say “I want to watch a full piece” and “I want to learn a little more about this person”. In addition to Peter, several artists offer their advice on what makes a great reel. Ryan Connolly from Film Riot states, “The main issue I see is quantity over quality. In an attempt to show more work or experience, people will leave in average or even poor shots, which is the worst thing you can do. Trim it back to only the best of the best that you have. Whether your reel is two minutes or 30 seconds, great work speaks for itself.”

If you haven’t checked out the Wipster.io service, I can personally attest that it is not only easy, but extermely client friendly. I love how the comments work and how easy the service is at a whole.

Recently Peter Quinn created a small video called “Sh*t showreels say” In his video he identifies design trends and successfully illustrates them. Having a reel can be an extremely important part of your job, it’s a portfolio showing off your best work.  Having gained worldwide acclaim for his work, he now runs the “Sh*t Showreels Say” facebook and has After Effects giveaways on Twitter every once in a while.

Creating work that wows is about having work that looks good, but also that makes people want to look you up, find out more about you, and ultimately hire you.

Over at AE Seattle, we occasionally do a demo reel night. People bring in their reels and as a group we break it down, and give them constructive criticism. Some of the advice learned at these meetups is invaluable, especially for beginners just starting out.

Something I learned from Chad Perkins, (Lynda.com Author): Put your best work in it:

This may seem rather obvious, but if you watch your reel, look for the worst work. That’s what people are going to see. Look and see if you can move it, make it more interesting or replace it with better work.

A reel is a small presentation of your best work and so there’s no time for blank frames. What I mean by this, is that if theres ever a time in your reel where something is not happening, try and cut that out. People will get bored pretty quickly with a slow moving reel, with long transitions that hold on blank white (or another color) for too long. Just remember that every frame counts.

Your reel should tell a story to some degree, it should want people to go to your site and find your best work. 

Another thing to remember is how important audio is. Audio can really help sell your reel, especially when you cut it to the music. I highly recommend buying royalty free tracks from Audio Jungle or Premium Beat so you don’t run into copyright issues. Audio is something that can be easily overlooked and its importance in selling your reel should not be underestimated.

Your reel should really not be longer than 1 – 1 and 1/2 minutes. There are always exceptions to each rule, of course, but generally, people want to see your best work, and don’t want to sit through some of your mediocre work to miss the good stuff. As mentioned above, cutting out your worst work can make your reel much more appealing and also help people from clicking away if they only have to devote a minute to it.

Here are some great examples of both motion, and non-motion reels:

Ryan Purcell’s Cinematography reel a great example of a non-motion reel that is very effective. It’s 1:32 of his best cinematography work, showcasing both his technical skills as well as some of the work he has done. He uses the theme of fire and repetitive camera moves to effectively tell his story through his cinematography.

This 2011 reel from Neekoe is stunning. The sound design perfectly matches the cutting and pacing of the piece and ties it all together. Neekoe is also showing off his technical skills as a motion designer as well as what clients he has, to help sell himself to future clients.

Sander van Dijk has a really great reel. The attention to detail for the sound design elements is stunning. His reel showcases, not only his artistic design talents, but also the momentous amount of keyframes. His reel also showcases his use and understanding of color which can be important for things like branding. 

Looking at each reel from a client hiring perspective, each one of these reels is effective in making me want to check out more of their work and look into hiring them on as potential employees.

Having a professional looking website will sell your clients, and is a great place to showcase your work. The first thing on your website should be the first thing you want your clients to see. In my case, I have my reel, this way, my clients job is easy, they just go to my website and click play. My site also has handy things my clients may want to see after they see my reel. This includes other video projects, some photography work, as well as a short “About Me” and contact page. Obviously I want my clients to know how to contact me for potential work. In addition, I also want them to know a little bit about me and my skills. However, the “About Me” page should be concise, your clients don’t want your whole life story, just what’s applicable to the work you’ll do for them. Website hosting is pretty cheap and so are domain names. Things like WordPress, or Squarespace make it pretty easy to run your site as well, and I highly recommend checking these options out. Also see Dan Carr’s post on WordPress for Video Pros for some more tips.

Having a resume is also a great tool in getting a job. Although your reel or project, will be a visual representation of your work, it’s just as important to have a resume detailing the work you do in the written form. Also, this gives potential clients a chance to contact your references and find out more information about your work.

Have Passion for Your Work

You can always tell when people enjoy what they do, they have passion for it. For me, this is motion design, I’m extremely passionate about the work I produce and make sure I’m proud of the work I’m doing. Having passion for your work, regardless of your discipline is something people will notice. Take extra time to make it perfect, spend your off hours creating things instead of sleeping. Being passionate is extremely important –– especially at the 50th hour of a project and when you’ve been through 4 revisions. It’s the passion that will drive you to finish the current project strong, and continue onto the next one. For me, being passionate means that I am a part of the After Effects community, both locally and in my online presence. I open After Effects at least once a day and just create something, even when I don’t necessarily like the outcome. The point is that I’m learning and creating something. There are also a number of 5 seconds projects you can contribute to or even create your own. For example, within After Effects, take an effect that you’ve never used and think of a theme, then incorporate them both into a 5 second video, and challenge yourself. Below is a great example of a similar project called Animation Sequence Project. You start with a 250px by 250px square in the center of the screen, then do whatever you want with the frame for 10 seconds, but at the end it must return to a 250px by 250px square.

There is a book called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell who claims for anyone in any field to be an expert they need to do a certain task for 10,000 hours. Opening up After Effects once a day means that you are adding hours to your 10,000 hour mark to being an expert.

Inspiration and creativity go hand in hand. Because our culture is driven by advertising, we see motion design and visual fx everywhere: TV commercials, on the web, at conferences, even in our phone’s OS. It’s important for people who are creative to have a source of inspiration. Something I found specifically useful when I was starting out was looking at an advertisement on TV and trying to recreate the effect in After Effects. This proved difficult more often than not, but I learned a ton, and it can be very beneficial, especially to any artist who’s starting out. These tips helped me get to where I am today. I hope you find them useful and use them for your advancement in your own careers. Now go and make something awesome.


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