In this article, I’m going to share some advice that has proven incredibly helpful over the years in hopes that it can help you as well!
We’ve all known someone who had an essay due and forgot to save it and through an act of god, the power went out and they lost all the work they’ve done. For a motion designer, it could mean possibly days of work and their job if this were to happen.
The world of a motion designer perhaps obviously enough revolves around time. From the unmoving deadlines for their clients right down to the keyframes, time is money. So losing time to something as simple as forgetting to press CTRL/CMD+S every 10 minutes can mean a hit to the reputation, a lost referral, a lost client or worse. My tip to you is to save as soon as you create the file and keep hitting that keyboard shortcut. Which is a great segue into the next point about...
As previously mentioned, time is important to a motion designer so efficiency becomes a factor for those who take the work seriously. The first method of saving time that most start with is to start learning their keyboard shortcuts. Some designers actually make custom keyboard shortcuts for those functions that should have one but simply don’t or perhaps should be something else.
The major drawback to customizing keyboard shortcuts is that you can only work on your machine with any degree of efficiency. Learning the default shortcuts will only save you time. Try to only add those missing the commands. A good one I’ve found for premiere pro users is to create an additional shortcut for the “add edit” command as SHIFT+Z; so you can split a clip and undo it if it’s not in the right place without moving your hand.
Give Yourself Extra Time
There’s nothing worse than having to work extended hours under the pressure of a tight deadline. In this business, deadlines aren’t going away but we can learn to work with them. The best advice I can give you is to give yourself extra time when possible. On the occasion a client or boss comes to you and asks you when you can get the job done by, take the amount of time you think you need and add roughly 30% to it.
It’s like driving a car that doesn’t have a crumple zone (the front or back of the car), you don’t really need it until you get into an accident and then you REALLY need it. So plan for mistakes, unforeseeable conflicts, software limitations, computer crashes and so on. What will likely happen is you’ll finish early (or actually on-time) and your boss or client will love you for it.
Some call it a work-back schedule, others call it a project timeline but what is shared across the board is that everyone makes one, and for good reason. If you’re unfamiliar with the idea, it’s a schedule of events involved in the progress of the project. For example, if a project starts on Friday, the first draft of the script might be due on the next Wednesday. Key events like this would be described and scheduled.
For motion graphic artists, the flow of events in a project is rather straightforward because we know what’s involved but it’s important to realize that to anyone else, it’s a complete mystery. By making a project timeline, you are helping your client understand what’s going on and are essentially excavating it to find where issues might pop up during the project. This is a great way to stay organised, instill confidence in your client, and avoid problems that might otherwise prove issue.
Back it Up!
We’ve talked about losing our work to power outages and simply forgetting to save but there’s another threat to our days of work being lost… the loss of our most precious computer. It almost always comes without warning and can generate a lot of stress when a computer gets stolen, targeted by a hacker, or struck by water, fire or other kind of unfixable damage. If any of that were to happen, what kind of situation would you be in?
The thought process of a motion designer with some business savvy would look at the situation of recovery before an incident like this takes place. A computer can be replaced but client files cannot, therefore they must be kept safe in multiple locations and preferably password protected. The best way to do this is to backup the files online, and also on external storage as often as possible within reason. It’s worth the time to do this right as there may be legal ramifications or lost business otherwise.
Most motion designers already have this in place but for those who don’t, storyboards are a great chance to develop the look and feel of the project while at the same time laying out the movement, transitions and relevance to the dialogue before the first keyframe has been set. It’s primary purpose is to provide a chance to preview the video media before hand and provide any feedback and approval before the majority of the time is invested into the production. Storyboards reduce time spent on revisions and are the motion designers best friend.
Use Non-Destructive Workflows
Non-destructive workflows are simply ways of going about a task while keeping a possibility of going back a few steps. An example of this is to use a mask in photoshop to remove an object for it’s background rather than deleting the background. You can’t get pixels back that no longer exist. For motion graphic artists a more applicable method of working in this fashion is to save multiple versions of your project. For example, when you send your client the first draft, save the working files with “01” somewhere in the filename and start a new version for every draft that the client sees afterward. If the client for some reason wants to use an animation from draft 2, you’ll be able to simply pick it up from there.
You’ve likely spent days if not weeks putting together the video for your client or boss, so it’s important that they are pleased with what you show them at the end of it all. You’ve finished your animation and are ready to show it off. STOP. Watch what you’ve just rendered out in full, and make sure that there’s no glitches or problems. You’d be surprised how many times something sneaks its way into the mix. This one tip may seem obvious, but it’s often overlooked countless times and it’s important.
Track Your Time
Your HR department loves this, your financial department loves this, and you actually should too! Keeping track of your time while working on a project allows you to break down what kinds of activities were involved and can help you charge more, discover hidden efficiency problems, stand up for yourself in conflicts and more. Like backing up your files, it’s well worth the time.
K.I.S.S. - not the band
All designers at one point or another hear this one. “Keep It Simple Stupid.” It’s a great mantra for designers as messaging can get lost real quick, and at the end of the day; that’s what they’re paying you for. Find your core message, refine your artwork to its simplest components and don’t let your video content drag on any longer than it has to.
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