What Does a Motion Graphics Designer Do?

Luke Leighfield
Luke Leighfield, Content Writer

If you’ve got experience with graphic design, animation, or filmmaking, then motion graphics designer might be a job title to consider if you’re thinking about a career shift. As a motion graphics designer, you could put your skills to work in a host of new areas – like film studios, advertising agencies, startups, and lots more.

In this post, we’ll answer some of the most common questions about becoming a motion graphics designer, and tell you everything you need to know as you think about your next steps.

What is a motion graphics designer?

The world of motion graphics design is pretty fresh, probably because it relies on technology that’s only been commonly available in recent years (similar to web design, UI design, and UX design). But it’s a growing field, with more people joining every day.

In short, it’s a type of graphic design applied to filmmaking and video production contexts (or other visual media with moving images) that uses animation or filmic techniques.

As budgets for films increase and people’s creative ideas expand with the possibilities afforded by new tech, top-notch motion graphics designers are more in need than ever. Without their skills, our favorite TV shows, movies, and apps wouldn’t look anywhere near as polished.

What does a motion graphics designer do?

Motion graphics designers (also known as motion designers or motion graphics artists) create moving artwork that’s used online, on TV or in films. By employing visual effects, animation and other cinematic techniques, they create a huge range of items including:

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    film promos
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    infographics
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    music videos
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    UI design elements
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    video content
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    explainer videos
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    title sequences
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    video games
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    social media content
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    etc.

Now that video content is constantly available online – and many of us consume it for hours a day – a motion graphics designer could find themselves working on almost anything, on any digital platform.

Depending on the type of motion graphics that floats your boat, you could enter the world of Hollywood and lend your skills to the likes of Disney. Or you could move to San Francisco and flex your After Effects skills at a hot new startup (or, y’know, Microsoft), working on intro graphics for an app or website.

As careers go, this is one of the most broad and varied. And, at the risk of sounding corny, your options are only as limited as your dreams. So dream big!

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Where do motion graphics designers work?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that closely-related roles, animators and multimedia designers, usually work in motion picture offices, computer systems and software companies, and advertising agencies.

Prefer working from your sofa? We’ve got good news. Around 59% of workers in this space were self-employed in 2018, and we suspect that figure’s only going to rise. Goodbye, commuting!

Essential skills for a motion graphics designer

As a motion graphics designer, you should aim to pick up a range of skills, including:

3D modeling

Nowadays, most motion graphics are based on 3D modeling, so it’s becoming an essential skill to have in your toolbox.

Animation perspective

Objects, light sources, and cameras can all move. You’ll need to choreograph complex movements, element by element, which is no mean feat.

Character animation

While not all motion design involves characters, lots of it does. So you may want to brush up on your animation skills of figurative, illustrated characters.

Compositing

You’ll need to know how to combine multiple layers of video elements to render a final moving image.

Flexibility

Plans change. Some team members can be tricky to work with. Clients will pepper you with feedback. That’s why it’s important to keep your creative process adaptable, so you can weather any changes throughout the process.

Kinetic typography

Moving text (‘kinetic typography’ in industry words) helps capture attention, set a tone, and entertain. It’s used in commercials, music videos, mobile apps, and websites to give text some extra sizzle and impact.

Organization

Having design chops is just the start. You also need to be able to multitask, optimize your workflow, and keep your files tidy. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself in a pickle.

Procedural animation

Using procedurally-generated simple and complex algorithms can help you create full animations in far less time.

Timing

Motion design is all about storytelling, which means it’s crucial to hone your timing skills. Storyboards are your friends and can help you template the beats of your story.

Texturing and lighting effects

Surfacing is part of making 3D graphics look photo-realistic: reflective, shiny, transparent, translucent, rough or refractive. You’ll need to simulate textures and use surfaces to display moving images.

Software

The tools that motion graphics designers use are evolving fast. Here’s a list of software that you may come across in the job.

Adobe After Effects

Powerful visual effects (VFX) program that lets motion graphics designers add effects to video after shooting.

Adobe Flash

Widely used to create motion graphic design, especially online in web design. Also used in some animation products and animated web TV productions.

Adobe Media Encoder

Rendering program that helps motion graphics designers render their video editing and animation work like a pro, as well as automating their workflows.

Adobe Photoshop

In addition to being invaluable for creating images, graphics, paintings and more, Photoshop also lets you make simple animations and transitions.

Adobe Premiere Pro

Industry-standard video editing tool used by a huge range of video editors, from novices to pros.

Apple Inc. Motion

Now a part of Final Cut Studio, Motion is a motion graphics tool that makes it easy to create cinematic 2D, 3D and 360° titles, fluid transitions and realistic effects in real-time.

Maxon Cinema 4D

Offers tools to create motion graphics, including the native MoGraph plugin, or ICE by Softimage.

How can I become a motion graphics designer?

Full-time motion graphics designers come from a wealth of backgrounds, and there’s no single path to follow. However, you may find you need a bachelor’s degree to even be considered for a role.

If you choose to not go down the bachelor’s route, there are tons of online tutorials and resources that’ll help you hone your craft. It’s also smart to follow animation blogs to learn about new trends and techniques.

Regardless of your education, you’ll need a portfolio. Your portfolio is a collection of work that shows your visual style and skills. It helps prospective employers – agencies, directors, startups and clients – decide whether you’re the right person to bring in for a job or project.

It takes time to build a portfolio, so take advantage of any work experience opportunities you get. You can also add work from related fields, like graphic design, video editing, and anything else that you think is relevant when applying for a motion graphics designer position.

What does a motion graphics designer’s career path look like?

Once you’ve established yourself as a motion graphics designer, your career can go in myriad directions. Some of the more common routes that people go down include working in cartoon animation, advertising, logo animation, and video editing (we’ll take a closer look at these below). Or you might decide to take a less hands-on route as an art director. Choices!

Cartoon animation

As a cartoon animator, motion graphics designers bring 2D drawings to life with 2D animation. So if you fancy working on your favorite cartoons as part of a motion designing team, this could be the job for you.

Advertising

Full-time advertising motion designers use the movements of objects and colors to sell a product. Like getting a neon green shampoo bottle to jump on a trampoline, for example. Who knew 3D animation could be so fun?

Logo animation

Animating a logo helps to make it pop, whether it’s giving it a small dynamic effect, or creating an entire promotional video from the logo. Logo animation is especially common in advertising, where you might use it to give a car’s logo extra shine and pizzazz. It’s also used to give some sparkle to most TV channels’ logos.

Video editing

Seemingly everyone wants to forge a career as a YouTuber, which means there’s plenty of video editing work around for onscreen stars lacking the editing know-how. Some people will request animation videos, so they can put a simple voiceover on top.

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Average motion graphics designer salary

On average, motion graphics designers are paid pretty well. Naturally, this depends on how many years of experience you have, where you live (expensive cities like New York tend to pay better), and what industry you’re in.

The BLS states that the median annual wage for multimedia artists and animators was $72,520 in 2018, with the biggest earners employed by software companies and motion picture industries. Here’s a more specific breakdown:

Cartoon Designer: $75,000-$115,000 Advertising Motion Designers: $60,000-$90,000 Logo Animator: $40,000-$70,000 Video Editors: $48,000-$78,000