6 motion design industry predictions for 2015

Somehow, 2015 is here. So I dug up my crystal ball (a Times Square snow globe from 1987), put on some trance-inducing music and visited the next twelve months… in my mind.

Via romanowsky.tumblr.com

Via romanowsky.tumblr.com

For your amusement and stimulation, here are my findings.

1. More mainstream attention will be given to the struggle of VFX workers, but little will change

2014 was a bleak year for VFX workers, especially veteran artists in the USA.

VFX shops chased subsidies around the world, draining Los Angeles (and other places) of work opportunities. Many artists grudgingly packed their bags and became nomads, leaving their families back home for months at a time. Some quit the industry altogether.

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pingnews/2890977024/

Bowery men waiting for bread in bread line, New York City, 1910

The industry is still upside down, and 2015 won’t do much to fix it.

Film studios are benefiting from cheaper and faster visual effects work than ever. The market is flooded with artists, so rates are plummeting and experienced talent is increasingly devalued. Technology is partially culpable, as it’s now possible to work on a shot continuously around the clock, thanks to high-speed data transfer and globally distributed teams.

Until film studios feel the same pain as the visual effects workers, they will uphold the status quo, even if it drives the US industry over a cliff.

2. Hybrid interactive/motion work will become staples in portfolios — not novelties

The dance between excitement and profitability is the core challenge of every design studio. With the proliferation of tools for creating interactive and real-time graphics, the novelty of hybrid work will largely wear off in 2015. This will create two results, one good, one bad:

The dance between excitement and profitability is the core challenge of every design studio.

The dance between excitement and profitability is the core challenge of every design studio.

1. Profit and novelty have a complex relationship. Once tools become familiar, production efficiencies can be maximized. After a certain point of saturation, though, commodification increases competition to a point that drives margins back down.

In 2015, motion shops will start to actually make money off of interactive work. This will be the beginning of a long-heralded era of convergence. That’s a good thing.

2. Excitement and novelty are directly related. Part of the reason so many designers and animators drooled over interactive and experiential work over the past few years is because it was new and exciting.

The creeping commoditization of hybrid work will take some wind from its sails. That’s a bad thing. But it’ll be a slow process. So… hooray?

(To see this cycle played out in full, just rewind to the early 2000s, when desktop animation and compositing tools created a similar pattern.)

3. Magic Leap and Oculus Rift will clash, creating a flood of design and production work

Facebook-backed Oculus Rift and the mysterious Google-backed Magic Leap are both hoping to create immersive visual experiences, albeit in different ways.

Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion USD in 2014

Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion USD in 2014

The Oculus Rift is “traditional” virtual reality, requiring the user to strap on some goggles and “jack in” to fully CG worlds. While details are scant, Magic Leap appears to take an opposite approach, promising to convincingly integrate objects into the real world, probably by projecting light directly onto the user’s retina with some not-yet-revealed, mind-blowing technology.

Google led $542 million USD of investment in Magic Leap

Google led $542 million USD of investment in Magic Leap

Both products will have serious miniaturization and distribution problems to solve, but that’ll be for 2016. 2015 will be all about wowing consumers with incredible showcases of immersive experiences.

Thankfully, much of the design and production work this will require will map well to traditional gaming and CG pipelines. Profit margins won’t be incredible — see the graph above — but the race to snatch the spotlight will spur some incredible output from studios old and new.

4. Big budget motion and animation work will be even harder to find (and win)

$300k+ USD budgets for motion and animation work were scarce in 2014. In 2015, they’ll be scarcer still. The old Man Men days are kicking and screaming, but they’re being dragged through the exit door all the same.

draper

2015 will be a rough year for competitive pitches. Older, larger shops will bring their A-game, still operating with a million-dollar-budget mentality, despite the financial risk in doing so. Smaller incumbents will bring out the big guns to defend their turf.

Fists will fly. Blood will be shed. It won’t be pretty.

Consequently, 2015 will be the year that wiser shops will increasingly rely on 3-page director’s treatments and portfolio links to win jobs over full-blown, 30-page pitches with 8 pages of style frames.

And for the most part, this will work.

5. Many mid-sized shops will face pressure to fold or consolidate

In an effort to feed the insatiable Content Beast, clients and agencies will commission more and more long form work for online distribution, challenging shops of all sizes to rethink their approaches to production.

Mid-sized shops — 20 to 5o employees — will feel it the most. With their combined costs of expensive talent (mid-sized shops tend to have more senior folks), expanding infrastructure costs (real estate and IT) and more management overhead, they’ll be slightly too big to subsist on scrappier budgets in the post-broadcast world but still too small to throw armies of artists at high-churn work.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:JapaneseBosozoku.jpg

Safety in numbers.

Just as Artjail and Analog did in 2014, some shops will join forces in an attempt to survive and instantly boost their service offerings. They’ll face steep marketing problems as they try to reposition themselves in a noisy landscape populated by customers who lack long-term memories.

6. Studios and prodcos will shift more energy to direct-to-client work as agencies continue to (quickly) lose ground

A new generation of digital native CMOs and marketing departments has almost fully supplanted their crustier predecessors. Due to either naiveté or genius (it’s unclear to me), these patrons of advertising will deeply question old relationships with agencies, instead turning to studios, production companies and even individual artists to “co-create” campaigns.

This will require studios to flex muscles they’ve never used before. They’ll need writers and strategists, possibly full time. They’ll have to adjust to much longer, more expensive sales cycles. And EPs and producers will find themselves acting more like account managers than project managers.

Many won’t be able to handle the culture shock and will instead turn to organic vegetable farming. Thankfully, this is actually good for the planet (unlike advertising). So it all works out.

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About the author

Justin Cone

/ justincone.com
Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.

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  • It’s like I’m reading Spain’s motion graphics history. It happened and it happened just as you just forcasted for the us

    • You’re soooo right Frankie ;(

    • Frankie: Thanks for posting. Spain’s recent years have broken my heart. There are so many talented artists and studios there, but it seems there’s not nearly enough work (these days) to support them.

      My understanding of things is that European work started getting hubbed through London and Berlin in the mid 2000s, which drained Spain of its opportunities. Is that correct? If so, why do you think that happened? Were there other economic (or political) reasons at work?

      • Justin, It’s a hell of all things together. Since 1999 prices have dropped to an absurd of 20%/10% of the budgets of that year currently on. In my understanding Europe has very little cultural industry, compared to the US. That cultural industry in the case of TV stations are in the hands of a smaller group of european companies. Spain’s TV is owned by two Italian groups (telecinco and mediaset), these groups have lowered the prices of any player involved in their game.

        The government on the other hand has spent all the european money in useless infrastructure, and run away from any industrial development (culture included). So there are no aid to film production as the UK, and Germany has. I believe the US is having a similar situation with Canada. Also there was a lot of foul play in subsidies for Spanish films.

        But the crisis in our industry is not only the direct cause of that. Also generally half of the money a client pays for a production vanishes and never reaches the production itself, for starters.

        The hardest part really is that creativity stopped being creativity and started being mashups or sometimes copies of youtube videos and big studio/big brand international commercials. And I think the clients started to loose respect of the creative process, because it actually lost it’s spark. Any client could google or youtube a video, mail it to an agency saying that’s our reference. The creative ceased to be essential, the artist/director became a “plugin” that made the thing happen, with a lot less money, thus a lot less spark. But none gave a plus, made a distinct approach, and produced something really exclusive (with some exceptions). Clients became scared, agencies did too, and they sacrificied innovation. The artisan became almost obsolete.

        Without the added value of the artisan approach, the exclusive and unique perspective of the director and the respect for each artist’s voice (in contrast with the global trend) there is no industry. There are only a bunch of starving studios willing to do whatever is needed in order to get the project. Obviously in absence of singularity the price rules, they all do the same, let’s give it to the cheapest.

        There are so many other considerations, but I might end the subject with a question:
        When Ikea is good enough of a furniture for you why would you hire a carpenter?.

        • Thank you so much for your thoughtful response. That ending question is a tough one. I know it’s rhetorical, but I have a response anyway:

          Q: When Ikea is good enough of a furniture for you why would you hire a carpenter?

          A: Eventually all that Ikea furniture falls apart, looks like everyone else’s and generally makes everyone feel lame.

          I think we’re approaching that period in motion design. I’m actually excited for it. It’s the beginning of another cycle of change. I hope.

          • There is a feeling in the world that the flow of things is falling apart. Interactivity for instance is a great new media/language and though I see the charm of trying this new thing for clients I still love an awesome photograph, a great theater play, a fantastic film, breathtaking illustration, superb music, etc.

            Great things are great in themselves, great artists need to be sponsored and respected. I’m not saying that interactivity it sucks, I’m saying that motion design has reached a point where most of it is kinda good, and some is awesome. Interactivity right now is mostly lame, and very little is great.

            It is like Gerardo del Hierro’s film: coming of age film, our art ages and becomes adult. Great things await, and I feel as excited as you. The only thing I would love is a world wide union of artists, so we’re not chased as virgins for a sacrifice.

          • Wiggle Room

            Hi Justin.

            Thanks so much for keeping it real on this. There are so many people I’ve known in mograph, that have an inability to be honest. About the blatant bitterness that’s right in front of them.

            This may sound extreme, but I don’t know any/many (?) cool motion designers anymore.

            Right now, my colleagues have been under too much pressure. They resent the clients, ‘the handlers’, and even themselves for taking the job etc. Seems like everywhere I go too.

            The rampant mismanagement of clients. Oh, and that.

            Or it’s the cheerleading mentality and slander by artists wanting to impress management to keep them around one more week. Completely faking it, manipulating the truth for appearances… jockeying for position.

            Now those same people are quitting and completely bitter.

            The world is a strange place. :)

        • Mittox

          Frankie you are damn right! And if you are a Motion graphics & vfx Freelancer in Spain, be paid it’s a mission, the clients don’t respect the payment periods and laws. The freelancer it’s completely abandoned by justice, and the government drown you in taxes with a strict periods of tax payments, there’s no any contracts to bond the client with you. A complete mess that causes the closure of many projects and frustrated artists who left the business. I migrate to other country to still doing the profession that i love, If I had continued in Spain, possibly my full time job will be ask to my clients when they are going to pay me and possibly i were in bankrupt. Shame.

  • Interesting prediction. Thanks for sharing!

  • Bub

    Not so rosie a picture you paint. Oh well, Happy New Year, wishing you all the best in 2015!

  • Brett

    Very wise predictions oh sage one!

  • laynardo

    Great article guys! Another note- In 2013-2014 I witnessed first hand traditional large scale motion houses showing up more and more on experiential pitches. They come in and low-ball smaller full experiential houses out of the jobs, and throw their weight around. They are really pushing to leap into interactive motion design; but they are missing some very key components that all the hires in the world won’t solve for them (article for another day :)). But I can say this- Experiential design isn’t just about interactive motion design, it is once piece of a much larger creative puzzle.

    I am interested to see how this plays out in 2015. I can say for me, it has definitely pushed us into direct to client work in a big way. Which has turned out good for us.

    That said, I still find it very very hard in NYC to find a good traditional motion designer that can follow direction, understands interactive, and knows 3D. All the really good motion peeps are booked 24/7. So maybe 2014 was more of a weed out process IMO. We get flooded with motion portfolios at Fake Love, at least 20+ a day. Most of them are fresh out of school, and honestly, the work is not great. I don’t think it’s the talent, it’s something else I can’t put my finger on yet.

    Anyway, great writeup!

    • Timothy

      I couldn’t agree more that 2014 booked all of the best artists. I struggled some in 2012 and 13 to work all 12 months. Now I am turning down work at least once a week. It is as though some magical line has been drawn in the sand and while I’m appreciative of being on this side of that line I do know guys on the other side and constantly think about how I can help. 2015 might just be the year that a large part of the work force has to figure out what to do to get hired…or become “organic vegetable farmers”.

      As far as the sustainability of studios. From my 7 meager years I have learned one very important lesson. That is the studios that make either sound financial decisions and/or the studios that produce the best work stay in business. I have freelanced at dozens of shops and the only place I worked where the creative integrity of the company was solid has been in open for 13 years and keeps making good decisions.

    • Great comment! Fake Love has been way ahead of the curve on this stuff, so I really appreciate you chiming in.

      “But I can say this- Experiential design isn’t just about interactive motion design, it is once piece of a much larger creative puzzle.”

      Absolutely. At Psyop, it was my duty to introduce experiential design to the 13 year history of animation and design culture there. It was challenging, not because people couldn’t “do” interactive — but because it requires fundamentally different thinking.

      “Hybrid work” for me is an intentionally vague term. For most shops, it will simply mean creating content for the interactive experiences that will be architected by other shops. But even that seemingly small change requires a big shift in thinking.

      As for your comment about education: That’s something I’ve been wanting to explore more on Motionographer. Expect more on that topic in the coming weeks. :-)

      • Hall

        That is fantastic please spread the word about interaction and it’s relationship with the industry. Your diagram easily conveyed a strong message. Fake love has done a consistently great job of placing good intent within their design process by using interaction as a foundation rather than strapping it on at the end of a brief. Looking forward to more good work from everybody in the new year

  • superfi

    Bring it!

  • Gugy

    well, not a good outcome out there. Unfortunately our industry is becoming more and more mainstream and that means lower wages and lowers budgets across the board.
    Tough times ahead with more pitches and less value to the amazing creative work some of us in the industry put together. Sad but true.

  • Your predictions are provocative. I remember talking the future in happier times with you, Adam Remson and Ed from DD. it was an time when everything was creatively possible And the conversation was full speed.

    • Hi Fran! I still the future is rife with possibility! But I think the large-scale approach will be very, very difficult to sustain. I think smaller sized shops that operate more as collectives will get the most interesting work. If they can stay on top of their costs and timelines, they’ll thrive.

  • Proletariat Motion Guy

    I’d love to see less pixel fucking in 2015.

    Speed increases in software and hardware are inevitable. Real-time 3D rendering is already here. Just wait until it becomes more mainstream. For those that use it, they haven’t looked back since. It’s just a matter of time. That could be good or bad. Not sure yet.

    It will be interesting to see what happens to hierarchies of CD, AD, Designer, Animator. Right now it’s extremely bloated and way too top down for my tastes. Would be great if we could merge CD/AD/Designer into one person in instances when simplifying is better. It’s mind numbing at times dealing with too many people over the simplest of details.

    Just hire and entrust better designers instead? Is this realistic?

  • Well, shit.

  • Do you have any advice for a motion designer to successfully navigate and move forward into the future despite the inevitable challenges?

    • You’ll probably get better advice from other readers, but mine is this: Don’t ever get comfortable. Don’t settle. If you feel you’ve mastered something, move on and learn something new.

      I’m not saying you should spend all your time jumping from interest to interest — that’s counterproductive. But if you stay curious about your world and attempt to explore it through your practice as a motion designer, you’ll be future-proof.

      • laynardo

        agree with Justin. That is why I have on my bio- Experimental Motion Design. It still says I am down with everything motion, but I am open to every possible version of that.

      • Thanks Justin. Good advice to live by.