How to get started with Motion Design

Silk and Stones — invincible, Produced by Mamascreen. Art Direction & Animation by Roy Slagter.

Last week I dared to enter my mysterious yet messy studio. Because I didn’t organize my work for quite some time I decided to do so. As a result, I found lots of old ideas and stories that I made up when I was 7 years old, but one really caught my eye. It was a piece of paper with a bunch of stick figures drawn in a sequence of boxes. And this got me very excited, since it reminded me of a storyboard! More about that in my next post. For me, this is where my passion for animation and motion design started.

Motion design is a discipline that applies graphic design principles to film making and video production through use of animation and visual effects.

If you’re reading this blog thinking; hell yes! Then this post is exactly what you need to start your motion design career! In this post I will explain to you the 5 steps on how to get started with motion design.

Step 1: Toolset

n order to start with motion design you first need to learn the tools required to animate and conceptualize. When I first started pushing pixels, I used Adobe Photoshop which I still use today. Nowadays, there are lots of tutorials out there carefully crafted by amazing artists e.g. Mt Mograph and Jake in Motion.

Those who are already familiar with the Adobe workspace can jump right in to Adobe After Effects. Adobe After Effects is the go-to-tool for 2D (and 2,5D) animation. It allows you to create simple scenes and animate them right away! The tool also offers you a variety of effects and options to lift up
your animation.

Produced by Mamascreen. Art Direction & Animation by Roy Slagter.

Step 2: Visual library

While getting the hang of the tools required to create motion design, I would suggest you to get out there and look for all the beautiful well made GIFs, movies, art, music and stunning landscapes you can possibly find! Many times I find myself reusing memories to design. Even if you’re a good motion designer, without building your visual library you will not get the best out of
your skill set.

Step 3: Principles of Animation

After you’ve spend some time in Adobe After Effects and watched a dozen motion graphics, you now want to learn about the principles of animation by Disney’s Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. The principles of animation are 12 variables which help you to make your animation feel more dynamic and most of all, more pleasing to look at! The animation principles are as follows:

  • Stretch and Squash
  • Anticipation
  • Staging
  • Straight Ahead & Pose to Pose
  • Follow Through and Overlapping Action
  • Ease-in & Ease-out
  • Arcs
  • Secondary Action
  • Timing
  • Exaggeration
  • Solid Drawing
  • Appeal
The 10 principles of Motion Design — Jorge R. Canedo Estrada

More about that in this video from AlanBeckerTutorials.

Step 4: Be curious

In my opinion you learn the fastest if you stay curious towards everything you see. I often ask myself, how is it made? Why did the artist create this? What is the deeper meaning behind this piece? Platforms like make it very easy to download project files from, in my opinion, one of the greatest motion designers out there! Break them down and go through them frame by frame. Get to know how they created the animations and use the knowledge you’ve gathered to make your own. I recommend you check it out and get your hands dirty.

Step 5 — Fulfilment

This is the most important step on how to become a motion designer. To become successful in the field you really have to love what you do. It’s not just a job, it is a passion, a way of life. Sometimes you’re asked to do shitty projects or work with horrible clients. Just remember, it is part of the job. At the end of the day, I love what I do and if I had do it all over again I would definitely choose the same path.

Quick tip: many believe that your best work is created while working on personal projects. Should you find yourself feeling unhappy about the projects you are being commissioned to do, start creating what you love and the projects that suite you more will come.

It’s not necessarily the client work that makes you cool. It’s the personal work that makes you cool that clients hire you for.

— Gmunk

Bonus Step: Tell, Listen and Collaborate

I recently found this out myself. After a while you might achieve the above, but the true value lies not in knowing the tools or practice. It lies within the people. Your friends, your family, the love of your life, and the many great artists out there. Talk to and collaborate with them, love what you do and share the experiences! Listen to their advice and stories. Because someday, that one story might turnout to be your next life changing short film.


To sum up, in this post I told you about the 5 steps (and bonus step) on how to get started with motion design. First, learn about the tools required to animate. Second, build up your visual library. Third, get the hang of the principles of animation. Fourth, be curious! Fifth, enjoy the process. And last but not least, listen and collaborate.

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