If I learned anything from studying animation is that one of the best ways to bring a message across has always been a motion graphic, illustrating a product or service with unique graphic designs and becoming animated.
Companies hire artists that delve in graphic design or animation to help bring their products to life, being able to acquire both skills is an important combination as a motion graphic designer in the creative and marketing industry.
So, where does one begin to learn and develop these skills?
Today, you will start your journey into how to create a motion graphic.
Animation has been around for a long time and has entertained the masses of all ages, motion graphics are used in the marketing industry to explain and promote products by companies for consumers.
In this motion graphic, it can show a product and how it works as well as why you should buy it.
Like writing a story, it is better to show rather than tell.
Principles Of Animation
Before we begin, we must first know about the principles, 12 guidelines created by the animators of Walt Disney during the golden age of animation.This knowledge will help give you an idea of creating a fluid and organic animation in your motion graphics.
For this article we will only be going over 5 of the 12 principles for the sake of starting at a beginner’s pace to assist us in creating a professional motion graphic:
Slow in and Slow Out:
Slow in and slow out is used to create gradual speed up or slow down to a movement of the motion graphic at the beginning or at the end of an animation.
Like a ball bouncing up and down, this gives the illusion of physics in animation.
Straight Ahead and Pose To Pose:
They are two ways of approach animation, straight ahead means you literally work straight ahead from your first frame and then the second, third and so on.
Basically meaning you animate as you go along. Straight ahead is good for animating elements like fire or a water splash, animating as you go helps make your animations look organic and unpredictable.
Pose to pose is where you draw the beginning and end of each main drawing (these are called keyframes) and go back later to fill in the drawings in between.
This method is good for maintaining control of your animation involving characters, it helps you get an idea of what the action is gonna look like very early on in the animation.
This image of a character in different poses is an example of pose to pose, which we will be using as reference for this motion graphic exercise.
This was taken from a famous book called The Animator’s Survival Kit, a great source to read on if you want to study further into animation.
Follow Through and Overlapping Action:
A few examples of this principle can be Superman flying through the sky and his cape ripples through the wind, or a dog walking through a park while his ears are bouncing.
This principle is a motion reacting to another, bigger motion. Great to use for creating a more natural animation.
Arcs are used to create a circular or round path of movement, like a child on a swing.
To improve the animation you could have a character’s arms swinging back and forth in a curved motion while she is walking.
A number of frames used in any movement of the motion graphic determine the amount of time it takes for that motion to be executed, the further the frames are away from each other the slower the motion is.
The closer they are together the faster the motion is.
Keep these in mind when animating, for they can make an action dynamic.
This is just a quick overview, which we will mention again when we get to animating.
Before we get started I want you to think of a simple character that you want to animate, they can be whatever you want to be.
But here are the rules, they must be a humanoid.
They have to have two arms and two legs, other than that you have the freedom find inspiration and creativity.
To help come up with a character, search for inspiration on the internet.
My way of finding inspiration is by using Pinterest, it’s a great website to use for finding what you need and putting them into one folder where you can access on any device.
So go have a look at Pinterest and look for some graphic designs that take your fancy.
As a motion graphic designer, you must think of simple designs that can be executed your motion graphics professionally, rather than think of something complicated and executed badly due to its complexity.
Creating Your Character
Now that you have an idea of how animation works and had a look at some inspiration, let’s begin designing a character to animate.
I will be recreating this character, say hello to Eyeball Barry.
He enjoys watching movies, long walks on the beach and hates salt.
If you want to create this little guy feel free to follow the steps with me.
First, open the program and create a new project and pick A4 as your preset then go to orientation, and select landscape.
To bring up the ellipse tool and begin creating a circle, you click and hold the shape tool and you should see a tab appear to reveal a series of different shapes to use.
Select the ellipse tool, to create a perfect circle you press and hold Shift and Ctrl before dragging the mouse across the empty space.
Use this to create the base of the body.
To change the color of your shapes, go down from the tool window to see two squares overlapping each other.
Double click on the squares and a window will pop up that will let you change the color.
To create the limbs for our character go to the rectangle tool and create a thin rectangle.
To round the corners of the rectangles, find the small dots inside the shape.
Click and drag one of the dots towards the center to round the corners.
After that copy (Cmd/Ctr + C) and paste (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + V) the shape and reposition the 2nd shape, you now have your first limb.
To help precisely position your shapes together you hold shift and paste a shape it will be placed on top of the original shape.
Make sure your limbs are positioned correctly, by highlighting both shapes you can see if you have a perfect circle when the 2 shapes overlap, if not, then reposition them.
Once they are in place repeat the process with the other limbs by copying and pasting the shapes.
If a shape is in front or behind of another where it shouldn’t, right click on the layer and go to arrange, from there you can move a shape forward or backward.
For final tweaks, change the colors of the limbs at the back to create some depth.
This will help tell them apart when they overlap each other once we are in the animation phase.
You should end up with a finished character, now before we export we have to put every shape in its own individual layer.
Go the to layer tab and click on a new layer and label each layer to the shape as shown in the screenshots, this is to keep your workspace professionally organized, which will help you in the long run.
Afterwards begin cutting (Cmd/Ctrl + X) and (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + V) pasting the shapes to their layers.
You should now have your character’s layers tidied up and ready to export into an Illustrator file.
Setting Up Our Character
To do this there are two options, either by clicking and dragging the file to the project window (top left of the screen) or click File>Import.
A window should pop up with some options, make sure Import Kind is Composition and the Footage Dimension is on Layer Size then click ok.
Once the file is imported it will turn it into a composition, for those who are new to after effects, a composition is like a canvas when you move a canvas all the content gets moved with it.
When you double-click on the composition it opens up to show all the layers you’ve created from Illustrator.
First things first let adjust the composition and create a simple scene, go to Composition>Composition Settings.
A window will pop up where you can change the size of the composition to 1920 x 1080.
At the bottom of the screen, you should see all the layers that you’ve created in Illustrator, along with the right side of the layers you should see a swirl symbol, this is the parent tool.
Start by clicking and dragging the swirl symbol from the F elbow layer and drag it to the F arm layer, another way of doing this is by clicking on the parent tab on the Front elbow layer and selecting the Front arm layer.
By doing this, when you move the Front arm layer, to will the Front elbow layer too, repeat this process with the other limbs until you have parented all the layers matches with the screenshot.
To change the size and position of the body click on the small arrow on the body layer, this will open up a tab and should show another tab called transform.
Click on that arrow to show the settings for the layer including size and position.
You should notice that if you change the settings on the Body layer, the rest of the layers should change as well because you made the body the parent of the other layers.
When resized the character might look a bit pixelated, to fix this select all the layers and click on the bottom that looks like a sun in the composition window.
This will turn all the layers from pixels to vectors, meaning no matter how big you make the layers they won’t be blocky.
Let’s create a background for our character.
To do this go to Layers>New>Solid, then change the colour to what you like for the floor.
At the bottom of the screen, you should see your new layer on top of the other layers and is covering up every other layer in the process.
Click and drag the layer until the character is standing on the layer.
Go back to the composition settings (Composition>Composition Settings) and change the colour of the background that matches with your floor layer.
Now that we are ready to move the anchor points on the limbs, anchor points are like the centre of rotation for each layer.
We will need to reposition the anchor points similarly to where the joints are on the limbs.
To do this you have to find the Pan Behind Tool near the top of the screen you should see a toolbar that has a dotted box with 4 arrows inside of it. Click on that and then select the Front elbow layer.
When you select a layer you should see a circle with a cross at the centre of that layer, if you hold shift while you click and drag the circle it will move in a straight line.
Reposition the circle as shown in the screenshots, think of the anchor points as joints on a limb, so the anchor point of the elbow layer should be placed where the elbow is.
Arm layer anchor point will be by at the shoulders, shin anchor points are on the knees and finally, the leg layer’s anchor points will be at the hips.
Rigging Your Character
The term Rigging in animation means creating a skeleton how a 2D character in order to animate the said character.
This is used for puppet animation, which is what we are preparing to create.
Go to Windows>Duik to bring up the plugin window.
Select the Front elbow layer and click on controllers in the Duik window, match the settings with the screenshot before hitting create.
You should see a new controller layer, reposition the controller to the character’s hand.
Then select Front arm, Front elbow, and C_Front elbow and click on IK in the Duik window.
Tick 2-layer IK and hit create, the result of this should’ve broken your character’s arm apart.
Don’t worry, we got this.
To fix this select C_Front elbow and go to the effects controls to the upper left side of the screen.
Untick auto-stretch and tick clockwise, the clockwise option chooses which direction does a limb go.
Repeat this process to the other arm and shins, you only need to do this to those 4 layers.
The arms should bend clockwise and the legs bend anticlockwise.
You will now be able to move your character’s limbs with ease.
Bringing Your Character To Life
Now, this is where the magic happens, we’re gonna take our character that is now rigged and make it move.
For the motion graphic, we are only going to be focusing on 5 layers, the body, arms, and legs.
Right now there is a lot of layers cluttering up the workspace, to tidy this up we’re going to select all the other layers and click on the shy tool that looks like a character peeking over a high wall.
Nothing will happen until you select the shy button at the top of the composition window, this will hide all the layers that we won’t be using while we get started on the motion graphic.
RECAP! Do you remember pose to pose and straight ahead? Because we’re gonna be using it to animate.
Well, we’re gonna be using pose to pose.
Position the character so he looks like he’s in a middle of walking, select all the layers you see while holding Shift and press >P (shortcut for the position) to adjust the position of use the mouse tool to click and drag the controllers and body.
Let’s start simple, we’re going to make the body bob up and down.
To do this select the body layer, in position click on the stopwatch to create a keyframe at the beginning of the timeline.
Move roughly 5 frames into the timeline and lower the body’s position.
Then move another 5 frames, click on your first keyframe and copy and paste.
When you press space you will play the video and should see your character moved down and up.
Do this again until you have 5 keyframes in total in the timeline, starting and finish with the same frame.
Highlight all the keyframes and right click on one, go to Keyframe Assistant>Easy Ease.
This creates the slow in slow out, this helps create a smoother motion on your motion graphic.
Go to the last keyframe and press N and then space, you should now see a looped motion graphic of your character bobbing up and down. If so congratulations, you’ve created animation!
Don’t celebrate just yet, we still have the limbs to animate.
To start, select both front and back shin controllers and click on the stopwatch, on the first keyframe move one of the shins forward and move the other shin it back.
On the second keyframe move both controllers in the opposite direction, finally on the last keyframe move the positions back to the first frame.
An easy way to do this is to copy and paste the first keyframe.
Now your character should be shuffling when you press space to preview.
Zoom in on one of the shins and you should see a line with dots, this is the path in which the controller goes through because of the keyframes.
You should also see a little pin that you can click and grab near the first of last keyframes, this will lift your character’s feet up during its walk.
This is using the Arc principle, creating a curved path within the animation.
Lastly right-click on the keyframes where the foot lands on the ground, then go to Keyframe Assistant>Easy Ease.
Now your character’s legs are walking smoothly.
Next is the arms, we want them to swing back and forth in the opposite direction to the legs to give that realistic walk.
Like the shins, select both elbow controllers and create the keyframes by adjusting the arm position through the timeline.
Then find the pin in the movement path to create the arc motion.
Highlight all the keyframes and right click Keyframe Assistant>Easy Ease.
And that’s it! You have successfully created a motion graphic.
If I had more time with this I would go back and work on additional animation and also play around with the motion blur to make it look more dynamic.
Like, making the pupil bounce while Eyeball Barry is walking.
During my years of studying animation and motion graphics, I have learned the 3 things you need to help create a new skill.
Inspiration: you have to find something that makes you feel motivated and passionate to learn and create.
Tools: no matter what you use, you need to learn how to use your arsenal of whatever skills you’re trying to learn.
Lessons: how do you find out about how to make something? You google it, pick up a book or even straight up ask someone about, no ones gonna give you the knowledge so go out there and go get it!
I stumbled upon these 2 when I was learning how to use Adobe After Effects back in 2008 and I still watch them to this day.
They both post tutorials about the basics of After Effects, as well as sell plugins and scripts to motion graphic designers, make the work process smooth and convenient.
If you’re starting out in anything involving After Effects check these guys out, you won’t regret it.
Also, to help keep all your inspiration in one place where you can access no matter where you are.
I would recommend using a website called Pinterest, for those who don’t know its a website where you can pin images or links to a board.
You can find thousands of images on Pinterest to look at a save to your board, or if you find something cool on another website.
You can save the URL to your board as well if you create stuff for a living and want something to help collect mood boards of inspiration.
Go to Pinterest.
Hopefully, this gave you an insight of how motion graphics work, If you like this kind of stuff or know someone who does.
Be sure to share this article.