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How to Get Started as a Self-Taught Motion Graphics Artist

Andy Redwood is a writer, proofreader and full-time cat-wrangler, who also corrects our newsletter on a regular basis. So we were more than a little surprised when he told us he’s also passionate about motion design, and used our Squash & Stretch extension for his most recent project, ‘Gifts with a difference’.

In this interview, we talk with Andy about how he got started with Motion Graphics in After Effects and his journey creating animations that make a difference.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. What‘s your day job?

I’ve been a proofreader for about 12 years now, correcting English texts for professors and students. I’m also writing a book about climate change, Wicked Solutions, which I hope to publish soon.

So you don’t have a professional background in design? How did you get into doing motion graphics?

A couple of years ago, my fiancée suggested I get someone to make a video to promote my book. I approached someone through the internet and waited a few weeks for the results to come back. I’m sorry to say it was a truly, truly horrible video. I decided that with some practice I might be able to do better, so I started to learn After Effects, and make videos for myself.

Motion Graphics is all about telling stories, and it’s clear you’re not just passionate about motion graphics, but also the stories you tell. So what stories do you want to tell and why?

About 5 or 6 years ago I started to become aware of what’s happening with climate change, the changes we’re already seeing in the world. Honestly, it scared the bejesus out of me. I decided there and then that it was the most important thing I could be working on, and ever since I’ve been trying to figure out how to make the science and solutions more accessible to a wider audience.

Narratives are key, and that’s where the videos come in – they can reach an audience that words just can’t. Say ‘carbon budget’ and you lose people pretty quickly, but show them a snappy video about it and you’ll have a better chance of holding their attention. For better or worse, I spend more time making videos than writing at the moment.

These days we have an almost unlimited number of learning resources, from free tutorials to books to professional, supervised online training classes. What does your learning process look like?

I learnt the basics of After Effects and motion graphics from YouTube, and that’s still my go to place when I want to learn something new. That’s why I really appreciate people like yourself who take the time to share skills – without that, I’d never be able to grow and learn.

Typically, when people create their first animations, they look very poor and it takes a lot of practice to get better. What are the key lessons you’ve learned? Which insights have brought your projects to the next level?

There’s a great quote from a guy named Ira Glass, which is essentially ’you’re gonna hate what you do when you first start doing it, but don’t stop’. That really spoke to me. You’re always going to compare yourself to others, but you have to keep going and find your own style.

On a more practical level, if you see a video you like, figure out how it’s done and practice, practice, practice until yours looks good too. There’s no substitute.

For your project “Gifts with a difference” you used our After Effects extension Squash & Stretch. Can you summarize in a few sentences what it does, why you used it and how it helped you to get the results you were looking for?

I had a specific look in mind for the video, which needed a gift to ‘come to life’ and bounce around the screen with some real personality. Without a tool like Squash & Stretch, I wouldn’t have been able to make the fluid animations that give it character. But using your script, I’m able to take a basic animation and add super-smooth motion – whether it’s full-on cartoon style or more subtle motion – with just a few clicks. This is something that would take me days to do on my own, so it’s an invaluable tool.

When you take your first steps in motion design the results are often rather disappointing, so it’s tempting to just copy a tutorial or buy a motion graphics template and apply it to your content. But then all you’re doing is cloning the creative contribution of someone else. Squash & Stretch is based on a library of handcrafted animations, so when you use it, do you also feel like you’re just cloning somebody else’s creative work?

That’s a good question – to me it gets to the core of the difference between scripts/tools and templates. I always feel like using someone else’s template is like trying to cook in a stranger’s kitchen – there are strange ingredients I don’t recognise, the tools are hidden in places I can’t find and I’ve no idea how to work the microwave... Templates may look pretty, but they’re limited in functionality (and, like you say, not the most satisfying).

Scripts and plugins are more like adding a new tool to your library (or kitchen). I’m not a ‘traditional’ animator, so anything that can help me give life to my ideas is great. Just like with the Gifts video, I can think of a storyline and a visual look, create the basics and then use the Squash & Stretch presets as building blocks for my story. This certainly doesn’t feel like I’m cloning someone else’s work, because I get to decide all the details. Tools like this just remove the tedious part from the animation process, letting me focus on the creativity.

Thank you, Andy – this was really inspiring, and we wish you all the best in your future projects!

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