We want to see better motion graphics in the world. They’re a great way to grab attention and make an impression—but only when they’re designed well, communicate a strong narrative, and showcase some real creativity.
We’ve been in the motion graphics game for a minute. Since we’ve learned a lot along the way, we thought we’d pick our team’s brain to get the best advice on how to make great motion graphics, from the brainstorm to the final product. Luckily, they came through and shared 27 great tips that will help you at every stage of the process. We hope they help.
GENERAL MOTION GRAPHICS TIPS
Apply Your Visual Language: A strong brand isn’t just a logo. It’s everything you create. With motion, you’re working with many elements: audio, visuals, and music. Each should reflect who you are and what you’re about. If you don’t have those style specs determined, it’s important to have that conversation now and update your brand style guide accordingly.
Trade Inspiration: A great motion graphic is the result of a creative team pooling their talents. That also means sharing inspiration. Whether it’s compiling moodboards or trading video links, the more you expose each other to interesting things, the better your motion graphic will be.
When in Doubt, Do Less: This might be our most important tip. Remember: It is much better to see a simple concept executed well than a huge production executed poorly. If you don’t have the time or resources, don’t try to stretch yourself thin. Downsize your vision, and do it right.
Ask “Why Motion?”: Before you do anything, first ask yourself if a motion graphic is what you need. What are you uniquely adding to your project by making it move? Could you do the same with a static piece? Animation should be additive, not just additional. Otherwise, it feels forced. If you’re not sure if motion graphics are the answer, here’s a helpful breakdown of the different types of visual formats that can help you tell your story.
Know Your Goal: What are you trying to achieve with this project? The goal needs to be very clear from the beginning. (This will influence all creative design decisions down the road.) Brief the team thoroughly and answer major questions, including:
- What’s your use case (e.g., teaser, product overview, explainer, narrative)?
- How should people feel after they watch the video?
- What action should they take?
- What awareness level are you targeting? (FYI, motion graphics work especially well for awareness and consideration.)
Have Design and Animation Involved From the Beginning: Design and animation are integral to a successful motion graphic, so it’s important to bring designers and animators into the brainstorming process from day one. (Leaving them out is one of the biggest mistake teams make.) Their invaluable thinking will help guide ideas, offer interesting insight, and determine whether or not a concept will be enhanced by motion. (BTW, content marketers can learn a lot from thinking like designers. Here are 4 ways to put that mindset to work in your next brainstorm.)
Get Everyone on the Same Page: No idea should be signed off on without the entire creative team’s approval. Additionally, everyone should understand:
- Distribution (where the motion graphic will live and how it will be consumed)
Know Your Run Time: Length has a huge effect on your production timeline and cost. You should decide what length is appropriate for your story and your goal. If you’re not sure, here’s a helpful guide to figure out how long your motion graphics should be.
Example: To generate buzz for Cornell’s first-ever “Cornell Giving Day,” we created a motion graphic series aimed at inspiring alumni, students’ parents, and friends of the university to give. Each motion graphic channeled the theme of “the difference one day can make” to build hype and deliver a very specific message. In total, the campaign raised nearly $7 million in donations.
Tell a Single Story: You have limited space, and you need to make the most of it. A good motion graphic delivers a single message and uses every creative element to support that story.
Watch Your Wordcount: Motion graphics are short—usually under 2 minutes. Yours may include voiceover or kinetic text, which also affect timing. As a general rule, you need less words than you think. (You should always test your script by using an online calculator to figure out your V/O read time.) The great thing about a motion graphic is that it uses design to communicate, too. Save your words, and let design do some of the heavy lifting.
Edit Mercilessly: Trim the fat. That includes everything from condensing lines to word choice. You want to write in direct, easy-to-understand language. In some ways, writing for motion graphics is like writing a children’s book. Say everything simply. You might even sub out words for those with less syllables (think “disseminated” vs. “shared”). Always read aloud to see how it will flow when it gets to VO. If you stumble on a line, it’s probably best to rework the phrase. (Learn more about how to write awesome motion graphics in 8 steps, and get our best tips to nail your explainer video script.)
Run It by Design: Yes, a copywriter is a wordsmith, but the words are only half of the motion graphic experience. It’s words and visuals. Designers should vet scripts to provide feedback about the feasibility of design, the flow of story, and any opportunities to visualize instead of explain something with words.
Note: Some people believe scripting and storyboarding should actually happen simultaneously (even our own team is split about it). The priority, really, is to make sure there are open lines of communication between copywriters and designers, because it’s easier to iterate and edit in the concepting phase than to make changes down the road.
Example: To create buzz about Mercer’s 2015 National Survey for Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, we created a motion graphic that called out major insights, crafting a narrative that gives viewers an instant overview of the survey.
AUDIO (MUSIC, VOICEOVER, SOUND EFFECTS)
Know Your “Sonic Branding”: Your brand style extends to audio, too. What does your brand sound like? What’s its personality? What feeling are you going for? Music, VO, and sound effects are crucial to communicate that.
Vet Your VO: There are many factors that go into finding the right voice. Depending on your goal and brand style, you’ll want to consider age, gender, accent, tone, style, etc. You can test voices with popular sites like Voice123 or Voices.com, which give you access to a large talent pool. Pro tip: As you narrow down your search, you can play around with both VO and music samples to get a sense of how the two mesh together. You’ll want to source music samples separately, then pair with your top 3 VO choices. (You can do this before you buy, so there’s no reason not to.)
Prepare for Music Licensing Fees: The perfect piece of music will tie your motion graphic together, but be prepared to spend. You can generally expect to spend 10%-20% of your total budget on music licensing. (You do not want to cut corners here unless you like lawsuits!) You may go for a custom piece (the priciest option) or work with licensing vendors for existing pieces. Just make sure you always comply with licensing use. Some of our go-tos include Marmoset, Musicbed, Audiojungle, Killer Tracks, Needle Crop Co, and Score a Score.
Don’t Skimp on Sound Effects: Not every motion graphic needs sound effects, but when they do, they need to be high quality. Sound effects may seem like a simple layer of audio, but they can be incredibly distracting if they don’t mesh well. (Seriously, you’d be better off without them.) Pro tip: Check out Freesound for free sound effects.
Example: This motion graphic for Microsoft uses music, sound effects, and voiceover to explain the work the W3C community does to create standards to define an open Web platform.
Iterate Early and Often: Storyboards are sketches for a reason. It’s not as traumatic to redesign things at this stage. But if you rely on your animator to save your design, everyone’s gonna have a bad time.
Design for the Whole Scene: Anticipate the animator’s needs, and give them the best visual canvas to work with. That means designing for the whole scene vs. what’s on screen. For example, design the forest, not just a tree. The animator may need more of the forest to do any pans or may need to know what’s behind that tree, which you wouldn’t normally consider in a static design. This applies to everything on screen. Pro tip: You’ll want to create illustrations with the fewest anchor points to make your animator’s life easier.
Prep Assets for Your Animator: Have everything ready to go so that they can get to work. As mentioned above, give the animator as much to work with as possible. For example, if you design someone waving, make sure the animator has the entire body and the arm, so when the arm moves, there’s actually a body behind it. Have open lines of communication so that you both know what is expected.
Match Your Scenes to the Script: Be mindful of the pace of VO. You don’t want your scenes to move too quickly. Conversely, you don’t want to be stuck on the same boring visual for 15 seconds straight. You need visual variety that tracks with the script. Pro tip: You want every line to have an action/visual, but sometimes you have a longer piece of VO. In that case, sneak in a transition and another scene.
Avoid Rookie Mistakes: We all know the devil is in the details. Simple mistakes can undermine the quality of your motion graphic like nothing else. Make sure everything’s in line. That means consistent proportions in characters (are head and limbs proportional?), considering the physics (would an anvil land lightly?), etc.
Example: We helped Intuit QuickBooks create an explainer video for their new Invoice with Google Calendar app. The design featured QuickBooks brand colors and smooth transitions to create a cohesive motion graphic.
Use a Pro Animator: This seems obvious, but there’s a lot of subpar work out there by people who “think” they can do animation. When you use a pro, you not only get their skills but their creative thinking. They live in a world of motion, so they offer ideas to enhance story or represent abstract concepts. Most importantly, they can reel you in if your ideas are not motion-friendly.
Watch Your Transitions: Sloppy transitions aren’t just a pet peeve; they can really take the viewer out of the story. (This is probably the most common problem we see in motion graphics.) Scenes should “talk” to each other, whether you’re telling one continuous story or presenting a story in chapters. When crafting transitions, you want them to be intuitive, cohesive, and story-driven.
Use Secondary Animation Well: Another amateur tell? Sloppy secondary animation (e.g., when a character jumps into a pile of leaves and a few leaves are awkwardly hanging in the air before they fall). These types of elements can add an extra layer of visual storytelling, but they can also become distractions if they don’t fit cohesively.
Nail Your Character Animation: Characters are the hardest things to animate. Sometimes storyboards are filled with character action, but this can be tricky if you don’t have the eye or talent for it. Characters need to be anatomically correct and move naturally and intuitively. If you don’t have the resources to do them well, a more abstract approach will serve you better.
Keep It Smooth: If you’re doing things like GIFS, make sure they loop smoothly for a seamless experience.
Watch Your Time Padding: Timing is everything. Make sure your movement isn’t too fast. People need time to see what’s happening. Conversely, don’t let things hang too long. Movement should match script, and your transitions should tie it all together.
Example: Characters can be tricky, but this motion graphic brings the answers from the Deloitte Digital Democracy Survey to life with lively animation and transitions.
We hope these tips help make the process smoother for you. If you want to know more about motion graphics and how to make them, here are a few posts to check out:
- Find out why explainer videos help your brand.
- Get inspired by these 100 examples of awesome motion graphics.
- Follow these best practices to get the more traffic for your motion graphics.