How to Become a Motion Designer, and Make up to $150,000 a year

Avatar AE Tips And Tricks | July 30, 2016

There’s been a lot of talk over all the millions of jobs that will be created over the presidential campaign. There is however, one aspect that students and millennials can’t wrap their brains around, and that is the rising cost of education.

It begs the questions: Do I really need a 4-year degree? 

There are a lot of degrees that require it; healthcare and the sciences will always be in that category, and there will always be millions of students around the world pursuing those degrees. But what about you? You’re the free spirit. You’re the one who wanders the streets with camera in hand. You’ve heard the lines. “Hey, can you edit this photo for me?” I heard your good with Photoshop.” “I was wondering if you can put together a slide show for your dear old Aunt Stacy, you can do that for me right?” “Can you make a dope logo intro for my youtube video? Thanks bro!”  You are the young, bustling creative type that wants a refreshing, creatively rewarding job.

Glassdoor, the #1 website for an inside look on salaries across the United States, puts the average base salary for motion designers across the country at $64, 000 a year, with some motion designer salaries soaring to over $180,000 a year.

Motion graphics doesn’t require a 4-year degree, but can be learned at trade school or on your own, which can be substantially less than the traditional route. But what exactly is motion graphics?

Motion graphics is everywhere. Simply put, it is the art of taking still images, video and or text, and making it move across any and all devices. Or as Wikipedia states:

“Motion graphics are pieces of digital footage or animation which create the illusion of motion or rotation, and are usually combined with audio for use in multimedia projects.”

These animations can be seen in commercials, movie titles, music videos, web-based animations, and yes, youtube intros!

The market for motion designers is growing tremendously. What most people aren’t aware of, is that most motion designers are young (and old) creative types just like you! As a motion designer myself for over 8 years, I want to bring awareness to this extremely accessible trade. If this all seems right up your alley, here are 5 things that will help you get there:

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1. Start Small

When searching for the #1 hard skill for a motion designer, After Effects reigns supreme. The program is universally used by motion designers all over the world, and you don’t need to be enrolled in a full-time university to begin learning. To download After Effects you will have to download Creative Cloud, which has a student monthly membership plan that’s $20 bucks a month (for all Adobe Applications, including Photoshop!). You can start learning After Effects by watching our list of free tutorials, or use services like Lynda and Skillshare. There are also a host of individuals in the community that create training programs like Matt Trunks and Andrew Kramer.


2. Think Big

As with any industry, the bigger it gets, the more competition. On your path to become a motion designer you will have to immersive yourself in the best work out there. There are lots of blogs that can help keep you inspired, notably Motionographer, and The Art of the Title, but this also means researching the newest trends, staying up to date with the hottest agencies and their work, and having a full understanding of what good the best motion graphics looks likeWhen you’re just starting off, this is extremely important, because the best motion designers can create exactly what they see in their head, or from a business perspective, exactly what the client sees. (More on this under “Bridge the Gap”)

“The best motion designers can create exactly what they see in their head, or from a business perspective, exactly what the client sees.”


3. Seek Out Clients

So now that you’ve watched all the tutorials and gotten all the inspiration you need, it’s time to find some clients. There are several ways to start, but I recommend start by offering favors. Maybe it’s a logo animation for your local church, a barter exchange for a friend, doing free work can help you build a great portfolio and help you gain experience. One of my most successful projects was a free music video I created, but it helped launch my career!

Once you are comfortable, take the plunge. Start charging for your services and use websites like Upwork and Elance to reach people all over the world who are in the need for motion graphics. These are all things you can do while you are in school, or even before you start.

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4. Build Your Brand

If I can highlight this a million times I would. In the motion graphics industry, presentation is everything. Your portfolio needs to be accessible, so building a website is a must. There are tools like Squarespace, Cargo Collective, and Behance that make it really easy to store all of your work. Social networks such as Linkedin, and sites like Hired are also important because it’s where recruiters can find you, and it’s also where you’ll find all the big tech companies (Apple, Microsoft and Amazon, are all hiring!) Your reel is equally as important, and Division05 does a fantastic job breaking down How to make a Good Motion Graphics Reel.


5. Bridge The Gap

I mentioned this a bit earlier, but wanted to dive a little deeper here. There is a space between where we want to be as motion designers, and where we are. That space can take some people 3 months, and some 3 years. There’s no easy way or quick trick. It just takes time. In order to succeed in this industry, we have to be willing to constantly bridge the gap. This is summarized eloquently by this video created by Daniel Sax, narrated by Ira Glass.

“There’s no easy way, or quick trick. It just takes time. In order to succeed in this industry, we have to be willing to constantly bridge the gap”

Motion graphics is a booming industry that is in need of driven, creative individuals like yourself. It’s growing in every direction, with more and more original content being created every day. One of the biggest companies in the world, Google recently released Google Material Design, which uses a ton of motion graphic principles, and is used as a style guide for all of Google’s products. With a very low-cost entry to learn the hard skills, I believe it’s a future proof industry that more creative millennials should consider.


Lastly, I will leave with with this amazing video on what it takes to make it in the VFX industry: