School of Motion

Mastering MoGraph: How to Create Your Best Work, Lightning Fast

  • By Matt Nelson
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Five Common Hurdles to Hitting Deadlines, and How to Tackle Them

Producer: “Our deadline for this project is tomorrow. Can you do it?” Me, gritting teeth: “Uh... sure.” Producer: “Great — we’ll check back in tomorrow.” Me, at 3 AM that morning: “WHY DID I DO THIS TO MYSELF!?”
Creating quality motion graphics isn't easy. Client projects can be especially demanding, with impossibly short deadlines imposed seemingly last minute. It's easy to feel underappreciated by your client or creative director, when demands are high and it seems like they may think what you do is simple. It's not, and we know that, but that doesn't change the creative director- or client-designer dynamic — and we're the ones providing the service. We answer to them.
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In our years as working motion designers we've identified five common hurdles to hitting project deadlines. In this article we explain how to tackle each one, while staying on schedule. (Solutions in bold.)

Hurdle 1: Not Enough Time

With your deadline looming, it's tempting to start up a new project and jump right in. Don't.
As Abraham Lincoln is believed to have said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”
Heed this advice. Determine and schedule your workload before you begin.
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What's the order? How long will everything take?
  1. Get specific. Use this comprehensive, time-delineated project spreadsheet (or your own) to strategically outline the project, task by task, and minute by minute.
  2. Add up the total project time.
Then, get started, according to your timeline; or — and this is a tough one, even for the veterans among us — contact the client/creative director immediately to let them know more time is needed.
Bonus: set a timer for each and every step of the process. This will help you stay focused and on task, increasing your efficiency and providing you time to review your work before turning it in. (There's nothing worse than submitting something you haven't double- and triple-checked.)

Hurdle 2: Lack of Ideas or Inspiration

When it comes to animation, there's inspiration everywhere. That's not the problem. What impedes a project is how and when you look for inspiration if your own creative juices stop flowing.
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Instead of interrupting your workflow, exiting After Effects and opening up Instagram or Vimeo, do your visual research before the project starts.
To achieve this, dedicate time each and every day to collecting what inspires you, and save these projects into organized folders on your desktop, in your Instagram Saved folder, and/or on a Behance Moodboard.
Dig deeply into the profiles of your favorite artists, and see who they're following; play around with search filters to find the more obscure artists and design blogs; and always check out the latest posts on Booooooom, Muzli and Abduzeedo.

Hurdle 3: Underwhelming Design

Is there anything more frustrating than finishing up a motion design and knowing, intuitively, that it sucks — without knowing why? No, and we've all been there.
On a positive note, at least this means we're skilled enough to know there's something wrong. On the other hand, this knowledge doesn't help at all.
One way to circumvent this barrier is to sketch your design before you open your preferred software.
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This task will require five to 10 minutes up front, while possibly saving you tons of time — and hassle — on the back end.
Your preliminary sketch can be as rough or detailed as you like. Treat it like a blueprint.
Where will the elements be blocked out? Will you have enough space on the canvas to fit everything? What sort of visual techniques will you use? Believe it or not, thinking through these basic concepts and drawing out your masterplan will prevent most instances of mid-project now-whats?.

Hurdle 4: Fractured Focus

Crunch time coming, and can't concentrate? We get it. Keeping your focus can be challenging, whether you work at home or in an office.
Fortunately, we've learned some techniques for staying on task.
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First, prevent distractions:
  1. Use Self Control (or Cold Turkey, in Windows) to block Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and any other site that might derail your work.
  2. Switch your phone to Airplane Mode or, if you need to keep it on, try the Freedom app.
Then, re-motivate yourself.
Step back from the computer for a few minutes, and write down what excites you about the project. Even if it's the most boring corporate assignment you've ever had, ask yourself, "What could I do make this truly shine? What would blow my client away?"
Having the right mindset makes all the difference.
(This might be the right time to dive into those inspirational folders you created to hop Hurdle 2.)

Hurdle 5: Unhelpful Feedback

The client knows what they want, but that doesn't mean they know how to articulate it — and sometimes the creative director isn't much help.
It can be quite discouraging to start a project without a clear plan, or to submit a draft and receive vague or otherwise unhelpful feedback.
To prevent stalling out at the starting gate or anywhere in the process, drive the conversation, helping navigate through any murkiness until you're clear on the client's vision.
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Follow these steps:
  1. Schedule an in-person client meeting or video call.
  2. Develop a script for the meeting, outlining what you'll present to the client and what questions you plan to ask.
  3. Send the client your designs 30 minutes before the meeting.
  4. During the meeting, share your screen, and walk the client through the work.
  5. Explain what you did for each style frame, why you chose that particular approach, and how that approach benefits the project.
  6. Open the floor to questions and comments.
  7. Take thorough notes.
  8. Ask your own questions.
  9. Ensure you get the answers you need.
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As Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick said, “Every problem has a solution. You just have to be creative enough to find it.”
The motion design community is vast and powerful, and as issues arise we address them. Hopefully, these answers to some of the most common hurdles help you next time you're in a bind.

Looking to master the MoGraph project process?

That's we developed Explainer Camp, our deep dive into the art of producing and delivering the visual essay.
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Taught by Jake Bartlett, this project-based course will teach you how to take a client project all the way from initial phone call to final delivery. You’ll practice storytelling, storyboarding, design, animation, editing, and every other facet of the real-world production process.
Along the way, you’ll watch Jake tackle his own project, documenting each and every step and teaching you the tricks of the trade.

Need help getting hired?

If project hurdles aren't your problem, but finding work is, our free How to Get Hired pocketbook will help.
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For this e-book we asked 15 of the biggest studios in the world to share their advice on how to get hired as a motion designer. Their answers are illuminating.