A Mogician Reveals Her Secrets

Posted by Talitha
June 13th, 2014

Most or our clients have no idea how we do what we do.  It’s enough for them that we deliver high quality work on time and on budget.  It may seem like magic to some people. How does a static design become something dynamic and alive?

I thought I’d give an overview of the tools and processes we use to create animations to give a more complete picture of what Blue Pony does every day.  It’s not magic, but it does require a lot of hard work, creativity and experience.

Could You Make it Look Like Pixar?

Every once in a while, we get a client that asks for the Pixar look.  If they have 5 years and 100 million dollars to burn, then anything is possible.  Pixar is Pixar and we love what they do, but we create MOTION DESIGN, which is a separate discipline.  We are into communicating an idea effectively using animation techniques to tell your story in a way that print advertising can’t.  If you really want to knock the socks off your audience, we can make an amazing animated sales tool that grabs attention and allows someone to do more than just look at a page of paper.  We can make things come alive, go more in-depth, and allow for actual interaction with the idea you’re trying to get across.  Animation can be so much more effective than just print.  Don’t get us wrong, we love print too, and we think that there should always be a place for actually holding that beautifully designed piece of paper in your hands, but we get excited when we can take it one step further.

How You Do That Thing You Do

We motion designers throw around a lot of technical terms that probably make us sound like total nerds.  In a typical day you might hear one of us say:

“I need to send that to render.”

“Can you export that to MP4?”

“I’ll put a wiggle expression on those keyframes.”

“Just throw some easy-ease on it.”

Yes, we sound nerdy, but every industry has it’s own lingo.  We like to keep the industry talk to a minimum around you, though.  We like to communicate clearly, no matter who we’re talking to.  But if you really want to know what keyframes are, we’ll be happy to explain some time.

After Effects: Our Go-To Program

In the motion design world, we use an advanced set of tools to create animations.   You may hear us refer to Adobe After Effects often.  This is the workhorse around here.  After Effects is 2D animation and compositing software that allows us nearly endless possibilities for creating motion design.  90% of what we do is done in After Effects.  You can learn the basics easily.  Watching a couple Lynda.com tutorials can allow you to create something like this:


But to really know the program and create something like this takes years of training and experience:


There’s a lot of easy easing going on in there!  Which brings me back to the lingo.  I know our clients wonder sometimes, what is rendering and why do I have to wait 4 hours to see my video when you said you were done animating it?  It’s kind of like making a cake.  You put all the ingredients together, but then you need to bake it to finish it off.  Rendering is basically just that “baking” process as we export out of After Effects.  Some videos take 5 minutes to render, some might take 15 hours.  It all depends on the complexity of the render.  Our computers often spend hours and hours each day happily rendering away in the background while we work in another program, unless of course, we experience the dreaded Kernel Panic, which looks like this:

As you can see, Apple wants to make sure you know how royally screwed you are in 4 different languages. And no, Kernel Panic is not Colonel Sander’s evil and less tasty cousin.  It’s akin to a PC’s Blue Screen of Death (yes, Mac’s do crash occasionally).  It’s not all roses in the super hip world of Mac computing.  If you get a Kernel Panic, you’ve probably lost your render and any other work you didn’t save.  That’s why we set our computers to auto save every 5 minutes.

Can you make it 3D?

Why yes, we can, and to do that we use a program called Cinema 4D.  There are several 3D programs used industry-wide, but for what we do, Cinema 4D works the best.  Our 3D animators can create some amazing things with this program:


We often export a 3D animation out of Cinema and bring it into After Effects to composite everything together like this:


Now you’re beginning to see that being a motion designer usually involves putting a lot of layers together to create one big beautiful animation.

The Art of Motion Design

And finally there’s one more piece of the puzzle that needs to be mentioned: The animator.  I get the feeling that many people think we are technically trained to operate programs like After Effects and Cinema 4D and nothing more, but we are actually highly trained artists.  AfterEffects and Cinema 4D are only the tools we use to create our artwork.  We studied graphic design, animation, illustration, art history, art theory and fine art in college.  We each have our own unique animation and design styles, just like any painter.  We know a lot about how people perceive and process visual information.  So when we look at something we’ve just created and change a font color or move something over just a bit, it’s not arbitrary.  We’re using our artistic sensibilities, honed over years of practice to make a design more harmonious and effective.  Because at the end of the day, we’re all about communicating your vision in the best and most beautiful way we know how!

TalithaFeaturedTalitha Benner
is a Designer at Blue Pony

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