6 challenges facing motion design education

Photo by Alex Jones

Photo by Alex Jones

This post is the first in a series exploring the state of motion design education. We’ll look at the issue from multiple angles, asking ourselves and the community some tough questions:

  • What’s working? What isn’t?
  • What can we do to improve motion design education?
  • Are the old educational models still relevant?
  • How does technology influence education?

This first post is my personal take (okay, a rant) on the issue as a designer and businessperson. In future posts, we’ll be talking to schools, entrepreneurs and students about their perspectives.

Please leave your own thoughts in the comments, and we’ll take them into consideration as we build out the series.

Note: Thanks to public and private comments, this post has been updated to correct misleading and/or inaccurate information. A change log can be found at the bottom of the post.

6 challenges facing motion design education

1. We still don’t have a good working definition.

While “motion graphics” seems to be giving way to “motion design,” the field is still painfully difficult to define. That’s also one of its most attractive qualities. Motion design is a seductive blend of graphic design, filmmaking and animation. It doesn’t get much sexier than that.

But for educational institutions, that’s a problem.

Each discipline comes with its own pedagogical lineage, progressions of coursework that have been battle-tested over decades in the classroom and the real world. In graphic design, for example, long before you lay out your first web page, you’re likely to practice life drawing, dabble in art history, wrestle with color theory and experiment with the rules of composition. This makes sense. It works, usually.

Unfortunately, if you smash together multiple disciplines to create a motion design curriculum, you’ll snowball each discipline’s requirements into a towering mess that would take more time and money than most students are willing or able to commit.

Two approaches: the bubble or the maze?

To combat this, some institutions, like Ringling College and the Savannah College of Art and Design, have crafted dedicated departments around motion design. On the plus side, this approach lets schools build custom tailored curricula and faculty, picking and choosing from motion design’s ancestral roots. But it also runs the risk of isolating motion design students from related disciplines, creating a pedagogical vacuum that could, over time, quietly suffocate the department.

Another approach is to include motion design coursework within broader programs like Computer Art (SVA)* or Graphic Design (Art Center). While this situates motion design within a larger framework and gives it some intellectual grounding, it also means that students must stumble their way through a maze of tantalizing tangents and frustrating cul-de-sacs.

A clear, shared definition of motion design would help give schools the power to focus and rethink courses of study.

Where to begin (according to little ol’ me)

It’s easy to forget, but “motion design” is short hand for “motion graphic design” or, slightly rearranged, “graphic design in motion.”

In the 12 years I’ve been writing about motion design and hiring young motion design talent, I’ve found that students with a strong foundation in graphic design tend to do better over the long term. Granted, they get off to a slow start with software and sometimes struggle with the language of animation, but in the long run they fare well.

Any relevant entry point can work (animation, visual effects, filmmaking, etc.), but I believe that graphic design gives students the best shot at a career that is less likely to smack into a glass ceiling after 5-7 years of professional practice.

*Amendment: SVA Chair John McIntosh pointed out in the comments: “[While] motion graphics was an area of concentration in the Computer Art department 15 years ago, SVA has steadily migrated that area to the Design program.”

2. Lack of diversity points to a larger problem.

Without a reliable industry census, it’s hard to know just how bad the diversity problem is — but it’s definitely not good. I’m left to rely on anecdotal evidence gathered from my direct experience with schools and recent graduates.

The gender gap seems to be slowly narrowing, with more female students finding their ways into motion programs. When it comes to “students of color” (not a fan of that phrase), progress has been painfully slow. If you look at the demographic data for schools (SVA, Ringling and SCAD), you’ll see encouraging distributions across the student bodies as a whole. But at the departmental level, motion design — like visual effects — suffers from a preponderance of white and Asian students, with very few other ethnicities represented. (Again, based on anecdotal evidence.)

As cultural institutions, schools not only have an obligation to promote diversity, they’re ideally positioned to do so. Schools (should) operate outside of the normative momentum of industry, which means they can (should) do whatever they can to reshape it for the greater good.

3. Undergraduate programs are too short.

In the United States, undergraduate design programs at fully accredited universities are typically four years long. The first two years cover liberal arts requirements (writing, humanities, sciences) and foundational artistic studies (art history, color theory, drawing, etc.). During the second two years, students dive deeper into their area of focus.

The challenge for motion design is that its inherently hybrid nature begs for more time. If you’re going to seriously understand both graphic design and filmmaking or animation, you can’t simply add courses to the catalog. You must give students the time and space to learn and practice across disciplines. There are no shortcuts.

4. Good faculty are hard to find (and keep).

The central challenge of any applied arts field is finding good educators. There are two schools of thought (pardon the pun), and institutions tend to embrace one or the other:

  • The best educators are those actively working in the industry.
  • The best educators are those that can focus on the art of teaching.

Ideally, this dichotomy wouldn’t exist. The best educators would be those who can both work in industry and teach. But in reality, maintaining that balance is incredibly difficult.

As someone who has taught motion design at the undergraduate level, I can tell you that it takes huge chunks of time to prepare classes and give students the attention they deserve, both in and out of the classroom. This is especially true for foundational classes that require a blend of lecture content and studio time, as you can’t simply “wing it” and hope to make a difference in a student’s life.

The problem with part-time faculty in industry

While the benefits of hiring faculty that are also working in industry are clear, there are glaring problems with that approach that aren’t often discussed.

The first problem is that working “part time” in motion design is rarely an option. You might have gaps between freelance gigs, but when you’re on a job, your hours are likely going to be long and sustained over several days, leaving little time for class preparation or thoughtful critiques. Even if you have a full-time job with limited hours, shoving class prep and evaluation into your evenings and weekends — while doable — is not ideal. It means you must “find” time for your students instead of simply giving it to them.

Having a bias towards “working” faculty also means inadvertently biasing against motion designers in non-traditional contexts, such as fine art. If it’s important that faculty be recognizably entrenched in the practice of motion design, that usually means they’re doing something that is conventional, something within the expected bounds of commercial motion design practice. This implicitly indoctrinates students in a narrower definition of motion design and incidentally contributes to commodification of the field overall.

The problem with full-time faculty

Of course, full-time faculty have their issues as well. It’s easy to drift out of touch with industry trends or miss emerging technological opportunities from within the cozy confines of academia’s walled garden.

But is that really such a big problem?

Most students tend to believe that the value of their education is measured in how well they can navigate After Effects or Cinema 4D upon graduation. They feel that their professors’ duty is to teach them how to mimic the latest spot they saw on Motionographer, to give them a “bag of tricks” they can use to wow future employers or clients.

The worst thing a school could do? Agree with them.

It is the noble duty of a design school to challenge the idea that mastering design is equivalent to mastering software. This means demoting tutorial-style teaching to second-class status and promoting design education as priority number one. Clearly, students need to learn software, but that need should be met as a non-credit offering in a lab environment and/or via teacher’s aids who’s sole duty to is to provide software support.

5. We need good producers, too.

Each year, I meet recent graduates suffering a kind of existential crisis. Here they are, saddled with incredible debt from an education in design, but while they were in school, they discovered something shocking: they like organizing people more than pixels.

They don’t know what to do with themselves. I try to reassure them that they haven’t failed. Rather, they’ve positioned themselves to become something just as exciting and valuable, an excellent producer.

Producers have a bad reputation in motion design, probably because there are so few good examples of them. But the truth is that without good producers, no studio would survive for long. Good producers bring the best out of their teams. They know when to champion or challenge the client. And by getting projects done on time and under budget they allow studios and agencies to thrive.

But as far as I can tell, there are no motion design programs offering education in producing or project management. This is baffling.

Amendment: SCAD offers “SFDM 721: Studio Business Practice” as a graduate course. Undergraduate students can take this course as independent study (and many do).

6. It’s too damned expensive.

In the United States, art and design schools are incredibly expensive. Here’s a quick sampling of undergraduate tuition and fees at leading schools offering motion design programs:

School Tuition Additional Costs* Total
Art Center $37,330 $18,600 $55,930
Ringling $38,170 $18,160 $56,330
SCAD $33,795 $11,130 $44,925
SVA $33,560 $13,230 $46,790

* Additional costs include estimated housing fees and other required fees by school

That’s roughly $200,000 for a four year education. By comparison, it costs about $250,000 for a four year degree at Harvard.

The solutions to this are varied and thorny. My favorite option? Public universities, which are substantially cheaper than private art and design schools, are missing a massive opportunity to serve a burgeoning need for motion design education. I’d love to see more serious motion design programs at state and city schools.

What’s your take?

I’m only scratching the surface here. Some of the questions on my mind:

  • What do you think is working/not working?
  • If you went to a traditional design school, are you happy with your decision?
  • Who would you like us to interview for future posts in the education series?

Next up in the series, we’ll talk to Michael Jones, founder of Mograph Mentor, about new models for education online.


Changelog

April 22nd, 2015

  • Since I am not currently teaching in a classroom environment, I removed “educator” from the paragraph describing myself. Including it originally was misleading, and I apologize for that.
  • Paragraph amended to “5. We need good producers, too.” to point out offerings that address project management education.
  • Paragraph amended to “1. We still don’t have a good working definition.” to include clarification about SVA’s Motion Design program.

October 22, 2015

  • Changed the post title to “6 challenges facing motion design education” instead of the slightly combative “6 problems with motion design education.”

Tags: , , ,

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.

Join Motionographer on Patreon!

For as little as 7 cents a day, join our Patreon community and shape Motionographer's future!

  • Come to Europe. Learn while travelling, learn languages. We do have specialized schools, and you can remove a 0 to your fees (for expensive schools).

    • Jens

      Could not agree more, maybe except the UK, if I’m not mistaken it’s now around 9k (pound sterling) per year. Which is absolutely ridiculous.

      In Germany, France, Scandinavian countries etc. it’s nowhere near that. And as Paul said in some cases the cost of a course will be close to 0

      People from The top European schools like Filmakademie, Supinfocom etc. get snapped up by the industry just as much as people from the big US universities do.

    • Hey, Paul, can you give us some examples of the European institutions you’re referring to?
      Are these general-education schools with a mograph department or are they schools specializing in design?
      Thanks, man.

    • Elzie

      It’s a great idea Paul, but I’ve looked into it, and all of the schools I looked into wanted quite a bit of cash from American students, despite offering free education to those who are apart of the EU. I spoke with some friends from these countries and they say it’s because they assume all Americans have money (HAHA).

      I attended SCAD for a few quarters, but I had to leave due to financial reasons. I definitely saw the lack of design elements in the motion design studies. The school is filled with many talented individuals though.

      I currently attend a private school (scholarship :D) but their graphic design department is really small and quite lacking in funding. But I get the opportunity to double major (computer science) and I can even get a certificate in project management easily, so I’m satisfied.

      • It’s not true. I’m at MoPA (Supinfocom) in France and my tuition is the same for international students and French students, about 7,000 euros. There is no motion design program since it’s a 3d film making school, but there are classes to learn motion design.

        • Sarah is right, same price for everybody. I went to Supinfocom (mopa) too 10 yrs ago, same price then.

          @juedbe in France great schools : supinfocom / Gobelins / Lisaa /Esag
          in europe St-Martins (uk) , filmakademie (germany) , Hyper Island (sweden)

          (sorry for answering late ! )

  • Step 3: Math is Important Too

    Knowing how to code, and other skills other than just motion design.

    • Nhat Lan

      Would you please suggest which programming language or programming skill that a motion designer should integrate into his education ? Thanks a great deal.

      • how about PROCESSING maybe..?

      • I would suggest Javascript and Python. After Effects expressions and scripting are based on Javascript and Flash Actionscript is influenced by it. On the other side you have all the 3D and compositing applications that primarily use Python.

        • deepak seeni

          If you are into 3D, python all the way. Maya, Nuke, C4d all use a python api. If you want to delve deeper into high performance plugin development, PyQt and Qt C++. But for an artist, like a rigger or even an animator I think python is plenty. That and I suppose Mel if needed.

  • salvame

    Lots to consider, and many fine points raised. So long as one is willing to learn, the road to achievements is not far off. But when it comes down to teaching, time is the largest factor.

  • I graduated from SCAD several years ago (around the time you became a professor) and value the education I received. Maybe things have changed now, but my only wish were to have been taught the business side of design. Maybe a topic for a future post?

    I agree with Jack Sabbath – knowing how to code is valuable too. You don’t need to know how to make the next iOS game, but knowing how interactivity works and the role animation / design plays in it is becoming important. Processing is a great place to start because it’s visual, playful, and encourages experimentation.

  • I agree with most of what you are saying in this article. I think the first points about being a good graphic designer resonates with me the most. With out a good sense of design, its hard to make a great animation. And going along with Jack Sabbath, coding is becoming more and more important too. I dont think its considered as traditional motion design by most schools, and they probably dont offer it), but the industry is demanding more of it.

  • I really appreciate how you called out the importance of good producers on projects and couldn’t agree more. The best projects I’ve worked on have always been under the supervision of a sharp producer with a keen understanding of the motion workflow and how scheduling, feedback rounds and client communication affects the process. They may not be doing the nitty gritty animation work themselves, but their own hard work and unwavering ability to stay on top of things is invaluable to a project.

    Since I’ve taught motion design I can offer you some insights into how I structured the course:

    Fundamentals in Graphic Design

    Many of my students were fresh out of high school, so they had no experience with graphic design. I made sure to spend time—up front—covering the basics of good layout, grid systems, typography and color theory. We spent several weeks on this (not nearly enough, I know) before we even opened After Effects, and while the students were a little miffed up front, most of them expressed to me afterwards how valuable this primer section of the course was in improving their skills.

    Motion Design vs. Traditional Animation

    I made it a point to emphasize, as you said, that motion design is “graphic design + motion.” Since I had a few students who wanted to be character animators and work on Pixar-ish 3D films, I felt it was important to call out this distinction. The term “animation” is often used as a general descriptor and can cause confusion, especially when artists specialize in one field but a job requires another. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with specialization, and I encouraged my students to pick an area they really felt comfortable with and hone their skills in that rather than trying to master all trades and techniques. It’s not necessary to know how to do everything, and my experience has been that agencies will always find and bring you in as a specialist if they know you’re exceptionally good at that particular skill.

    Lead the Eye

    This was a mantra of mine in the course and every single exercise and project we went through was weighed against it when it came time to review. If there’s one critical skill in motion design, I believe it’s this: the motion and movement of elements must always be drawing the viewer’s eye to the next important bit of information. This is as much a skill learned in traditional filmmaking as it is graphic design, and yet I felt I was seeing it undervalued in some of the other motion courses I took or observed. It’s one thing to make a sexy, fluid bit of animation that looks sweet as a standalone GIF, but a great motion designer must be able to seamlessly blend that with other moving parts over a period of time and never lose the viewer’s focus.

    Procedural Thinking

    While I love manual keyframing, it can be woefully inefficient in many cases, especially when deadlines are looming. This is why I set time aside to teach expressions and workflow practices that, while not super-deep (no major coding as this was a general course), still tuned students in to the idea of thinking five steps ahead in everything they do. It’s not enough to worry only about the frame in front of you, you have to be conscious of how elements can connect and drive each other as well as how smart project structuring will lead to faster, more efficient workflows.

    • I am also teaching motion graphic in as one small module of a graphic design degree course, I share your thoughts about the “Lead the Eye” part very much, this is what I have found important when doing motion graphic, rather than creating endless eye-candy style that make the audience feel overwhelming, this is especially true when we show our work to our clients, they prefer a very obvious “eye journey” than a bunch of flashy, fancy graphic flying here and there, but sure it depends on what the purpose of the piece is always. Anyway, great sharing!

  • I attended one of the Art Institutes from 08-12′. At the time my program was both a visual effects and motion graphics degree. I can say that overall, I am happy I got a degree, but it was grossly overpaid for and I was definitely under educated. The problems I faced were teachers who were extremely under-qualified to even teach. Half the time we were pointed to digital-tutors or GGG to answer our questions. At the time, I had 3 specific motion design courses which only covered AE. The last half of the 3rd class covered an introduction to C4D, and the teacher just spouted out what he/she had learned from other tutorials. Then as we got into our portfolio classes, none of our teachers had C4D experience, so if a student wanted to go that route, the teacher could not provide any software specific guidance on the project. We pretty much had to use Maya, or we were on our own. As I look back on my education now, I see it as having been institute led education 50% of the time, and having to self-educate through DT, GGG, and cineversity the rest of the time. If I could redo my education, I would have gotten as much of my education out of the way at a community college to cut costs. You can request a class list from any 4 year degree college, so you know what you can get out of the way. Then I would have attended a state school that had a good design program and more access to scholarships, or I would have attended a school that was in a city that had a strong market and industry. I’m in Denver, and our Motion Design market is rather small. Attending a school in LA, SF, NY, Chicago, Atlanta, Vancouver would have guaranteed internship/work opportunities at studios with lots of work coming in. I really do value arts education. If It were done correctly with knowledgable teachers, strong internship/work placement opportunities, and at a lower cost then it might be worth it. Other wise why shouldn’t I just get a DT, FXPHD, Cineversity, membership and self-teach? At the end of the day to get noticed or reach our personal goals, every one has to do personal work, or a short film anyways. Self-guided learning, while working on a personal short film, seems like a cheaper way to go to me.

    • I have to say though, that we got a really solid visual effects education. Unfortunately, the Maya/Nuke workflow is virtually non-existent in the majority of the Denver work market.

    • Dan

      I too went to the Art Institute. I can second it that the Art Institute is way over priced for what you get. I did have a few good teachers that worked in the industry and were great teachers. I learned a lot from those few teachers. If I could do it over again I would of went to a local university that taught motion design.

  • hello440

    Really appreciate this post. As the founder of MoGraph Mentor, this is so much of what we struggled with in building the program.

    For us, we wanted to walk that line between full time instructors and self-paced. The more engaged your instructors, the higher the cost. And it’s been well documented by Pew Research that art & design degrees are now offering the worst return on investment.

    You pay Harvard prices, but it’s tough to make 300K salaries with a art & design degree.

    • “art & design degrees are now offering the worst return on investment.”

      Definitely. And I risk to say all over the world.

      • Rebecca Wright

        Same here in UK. There’s a lot of half hearted teaching going on, and a lot of the tutors simply don’t care about the students. It’s really hard to find any Motion graphics courses outside London, does anyone know of any?

  • Ash Heath

    I’m a grad from Full Sail and am currently working as a freelance motion designer. I feel that their program (I graduated in 2010) addressed many of the issues you have brought up in the best possible way – not to say motion design education is not still flawed, however. I did an Associates Degree in Graphic Design first, getting the design fundamentals you mentioned, and followed that up with a Bachelor’s Degree in Digital Art & Design, which covered film making/editing, motion graphics and 3D in the courses. While there’s always more to learn, I feel that I was given a very solid foundation from their program. Might be worth checking out as you move forward with this series.

    • Joshua Masters

      Great to hear! I am pursuing a similar course plan at USC. How have you found freelancing to be so far? Have you been able to support yourself?

      sorry if the question is too personal

  • Hey Justin,

    Great post,

    I feel that at a place like SCAD, things are working but could always be improved. I am super thankful for my education there but think a few things could really push it.

    Ideas:

    -Similar to what you said, stronger focus on graphic design, force motion designers to learn and practice design before attempting to absorb the animation software.

    -Split focus – commercial focus and experimental focus, commercial would be similar to the Motion Media track at SCAD and experimental would be like Cal Arts animation program.

    – What if teachers creating simulated “jobs” where class time was treated as a motion job, days were equal to day rates and producers were chosen to pick artists and create work. I think this might help motivate students by showing the direct industry standard value of their own time.

    Looking forward to more of your writing. I’m always down for interview/survey stuff whenever.

    Thanks!

    Chris

  • Tim King

    “What if teachers creating simulated “jobs” where class time was treated as a motion job, days were equal to day rates and producers were chosen to pick artists and create work. I think this might help motivate students by showing the direct industry standard value of their own time.”

    Chris – That is a great idea!

    I really appreciate the education I received at SCAD and felt the professors in our department were great at the time. While the education was great as far as animation/motion, I would have loved to have been trained more in graphic design. It wasn’t until I had a great boss later on who helped me refine my graphic design skills that my motion work started to come together.

    Maybe minor in graphic design and major in Motion….I hear the cash register again…

    Great article Justin!

    Tim

    • “What if teachers creating simulated “jobs” where class time was treated as a motion job, days were equal to day rates and producers were chosen to pick artists and create work. I think this might help motivate students by showing the direct industry standard value of their own time.”

      nice idea, maybe a little hard to put into practice in a class.

  • Dominique Elliott

    Thanks Justin. You always bring up great topics of discussion.
    I feel somewhat bashful in bringing this up but “it’s the content, stupid!”. I have thought about education my entire life. My grandmother, who lived through WWII, was a bit of a pedagogical genius and thought about ways in which to compensate for the gap that the war had created in children’s education. Though I haven’t inherited her talent, I do have her passion and interest.

    I have been around Higher Ed long enough to see the transformation that technology has had on students: from film splicing, to video production with control track, to A/B roll editing with control track, to random access non-linear editing, to After Effects. Software does transform the way students think about image-creation, and it’s not always an improvement. There is a difference, for example, between having to pre-visualize something in your head, and experimenting with software until you get it right. That being said, I think students do have a large level of visual sophistication today. What is lacking is something that is also lacking in the industry (I know it’s easy for me to generalize here!): it is the time to mature an idea, to let it evolve, and to see it through. How many times have I hear designers say how ‘cool’ something was, but then be entirely challenged to describe it the following day. If all that resonates is affect, the prettiness and execution of the thing, then why should it be otherwise?

    Perhaps, there lay the industry quandary: the client’s desire to go safe or be willing to experiment. Why should we want Higher Ed to emulate the industry’s model?? Those “first two years” that “cover liberal arts requirements (writing, humanities, sciences) and foundational artistic studies” you mention are the requirements that make students cultured and well rounded. They are those courses that introduce students to writers, poets, painters, scientists, that will inform the designers and artists of the future. Cinema 4D will pass. After Effects will pass. Lower thirds will pass (and are passing). But Bach, Mahler, Visconti, Chaplin, Picasso, Vertov, Rich, Roth, Duras, Marker, Godard, Arbus, Mary Ellen Mark, those will linger in the hearts and minds of future generations.

    Incidentally, grandma’s husband, my grandpa Paul, spent 5 years in a labor camp in East Prussia during the war. I asked him, when I was a teen, what had kept him alive in those years. And he said “Poetry. I just recited poems in my head, which I had learned in school.”

    Thank you again for your thoughtfulness as always.

    Dom

  • I studied graphic design (let´s consider it “classic” graphic design) in the Fine Arts School of UFRJ, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a public school (free) and the second/third best in my country, from 2006 to 2011. Initially I wanted to study animation, but there´s no undergraduate degree program fully dedicated to animation in Brazil that I know of.

    During my years in university I barely studied or practiced anything related to animation or motion graphics. In fact, I only came to discover that there was something in between graphic design and animation after I started making my final graduation project, and had already given up on becoming a character animator.

    At the time I can say the Graphic Design program was very focused on design and art theories, a lot of print and branding labs, and optional illustration and art classes. The digital labs practically didn’t exist, due to our general lack of infrastructure and good technician teachers, sometimes no teachers at all. (i.e: no computers or very outdated computers in labs, no water in the analogic photo lab, old 70s machinery for product design labs… welcome to public school!). We would do all our digital work at home in our own computers, of course.

    But I can say that I strongly value the art and design teaching I had there, the good teachers and students. They surpassed the bad teachers and structural problems of the school. I just wish I had done more optional art classes, and focused a bit less in book design and printing processes, things that are not so important for me right now.

    I also started doing internships in some graphic design studios since my second university year, basically print and book design. What I learned working in these places was esencially important in my formation as designer, though I´m sure If I had started on motion design studios It would help me much more now.

    So when I decided to get into Motion Graphics I was already done with college, and it´s been a little hard to learn what I need to work with so many softwares and to go deeper in things like cinematography, storytelling, lighting, traditional animation, 3d, etc. Generally, in Brazil, most people don´t specialize that much in one thing, since companies prefer to hire someone that can be versatile and do many things. Usually no one has enough budget to build big teams with many specialists in one or other thing.

    Unfortunately I won´t ever have the money for any graduate schools in motion or related fields (there’s almost none in my country), so I´m trying to balance some affordable online courses, like Mograph Mentor, and self-teach myself trough online tutorials and forums, all in between any temporary job or freelancing I can grab. The bad part is that this process is very slow, and hard.

    Summarizing it all, it´s GREAT to read an article like this. Even knowing that my reality in Brazil is very different, specially in terms of educational/specialization options. I hope in the future I can teach motion graphics, maybe even create a graduate program at a public school, and I totally agree with all the questions and concerns of this article.

    • Hi, Gabi. Im interested in take the MA course in design at PUC RIO. Do you know if the MA is focused into research or design skills?

  • I got two degrees from AIFL – I was initially in the Bachelors Graphic Design program and had a year left when the Motion Design Program started so I dropped down to an associates in Graphic Design graduated and went straight into the Bachelors Motion Design program. I now freelance at the top studios in LA and I think having that Graphic Design Program has helped me out tremendously

  • Beautiful motion begins with beautiful design.

  • 1. Skip art school and try to find a job as a P.A.
    2. Be the best damn P.A. on earth, soak everything in like a sponge, eventually get promoted to coordinator, or perhaps you might get a chance to become a production intern.
    3. Continue kicking ass for the next several years whilst raking in the cheddar.
    4. In exactly four years from when you became a P.A., take out a $200,000 loan, or however much your credit will allow, and buy yourself a house and an Audi.
    5. Wake up the next day in essentially the same spot you would be in had you chose to go to art school, but in a nice house with an Audi in the garage.

    Your thoughts?

    • Dominique Elliott

      John,
      If this is a replacement for a vocational degree/ trade school, then perhaps that may work for some students, depending on their level of motivation and eagerness. But a replacement for a legitimate Higher Education degree. Definitely not. Your model assumes a “Lynda.com” style of education.

    • xl

      Wake up two years later and realize you’re never be able to pay back that 200.000$…

  • Thank you very much for this article, Justin .

    I think that in France, we have a clearer vision of our job. We have graduates in motion design for over 10 years ( I am one of those graduates )
    Our definition of motion design is to find graphic solutions , through movement. The base is to flatten the problem and think about a solution. This is different from the motion graphics , because there is a very significant reflection phase. Our diplomas in motion design, are made on 3/5 years. That’s a lot of private schools , but the prices are not as important as the united states.
    Our main problem today is to find good teachers … this is hell. We do not speak much English, we can hardly pick them abroad :)

    • Where are you looking for Teachers? I am looking for a teaching job ..

  • I’m currently doing my Bachelor of Digital Media Design on Billy Blue College of Design in Sydney. I feel like I’m ahead of the education, seeing that I’m basically doing personal projects where I meet up in class once a week to get some quick feedback from the lecturer.

    So is it worth it? Sure, I get to make pretty much whatever I want, and stack my portfolio, but I’m paying twenty grand a year. I spoke to my program manager, and he said that you kinda need a degree to reach the top, and I’m aiming to become an Art Director/Creative Director one day.

    How essential is that degree if my work can speak for me?

  • Great post, Justin. Coming from an education at SCAD, on to a job at an ad agency as a motion designer with limited skills in graphic design, onwards to my new job as a producer, I feel like I connect to your points completely. I value my education at SCAD, of course, but I do feel like my time (and many many dollars) could have been better utilized by focusing on other disciplines. I’ve learned so much since graduating in terms of animation, I feel that if I had a stronger focus on the design aspect of things, I would have been better prepared. Software can be learned outside of the classroom (and for free, mostly) but the fundamental principles of design takes strong teachers and formal education, in my opinion. I’ve progressed to an extent since I got out of school, but I think I would have been better off with a major focus on graphic design while in school, and perhaps a minor in motion (or skipped it in school altogether and taught myself afterwards.) I feel like the reason I have learned what I have outside of school is because I had jobs that demanded it of me, so I had to learn, and learn quickly. It would have been nice to already have these skills in my tool belt right out of the gate.

  • Eric Snow

    A great article, and a lot of interesting comments from people who echo a lot of sentiments I’ve had over the years.

    I’ll give my two cents, having changed my opinion on this topic a few times over the years. I’ve felt the way many people have put in their comments, thinking my education was a waste, thinking I should have gone down a different path, etc. But in the end, the only real conclusion I’ve found that seems to be true is this:

    If you want to be a good motion graphics artist, visual effects artist, graphic designer, etc, etc. – you need to study fine art. Get a good, well-rounded fine art education, or do some kind or real-world training in that direction. For the last 20 years, I’ve worked with and learned from a lot of people from different disciplines. The most capable, long-lasting, and most highly rewarded people in the field are those who have a good ‘fine arts’ background.

    This is not what I did. I went to film school 20 years ago, and got very little of a ‘classical’ or ‘fine arts’ education. When I graduated, I bounced around in different fields of postproduction, doing a little of everything, but always feeling that I was missing something in my skills. I understood the technology, but not the theory and practice of visual art.

    I’ve done a ton of self-training and on-the-job training with every program out there. But the most useful things I’ve learned have been from the times that I’ve taken classes in fine arts from anywhere I can find them – local community colleges and small art schools are a great place to start, if you don’t have the money to go to a prestigious art school.

    The software will always be changing, the workflows will always be changing, the techniques will always be changing. Those tools can be learned from online classes like the ones mentioned in other people’s posts. Having a training in creating good, well-finished art is what separates the mediocre from the great. All the great artists I’ve worked with have some background in the fine arts.

    The only sad revelation I can say is that no matter if you’re a good artist, a mediocre artist, or a terrible hack, there is no ‘tried and true’ formula for success in art. Success is another beast entirely. But being a good artist helps.

    • Dominique Elliott

      Well said Eric!

    • I agree, Well said!

  • How about we call Motion Design “Live Action Gateway Drug” ?

    • I’m actually working on a tongue in cheek post about the “progression” of motion designers throughout their careers. It seems that 95% of the motion designers I know eventually want to be “live action directors.” All air quotes very intentional.

      • I must fall into the 5% that doesn’t. I have fun doing live action but honestly, my heart is in illustration and design and love seeing stuff animated.

        Great post though Justin! Having taught myself for a few terms at Art Center I have to say it seemed really disjointed at the time (2008 – 2010). Why don’t you start up a school. I’d love to teach again : )

        • “I must fall into the 5% that doesn’t.”

          I love that about you, man.

          • And I love that you love me. *hugs the air, pretending it was Justin*

      • Gladman

        Ha Justin I was just thinking that a more appropriate name for Motion Media could be ‘Time-Based Art Direction’. This would also explain why so many Motion Media designers want to go live action; it’s another element to add to the recipe! I think the title would also psychologically distance students from a purely mechanical ‘Software Mastery’ bias.

      • big bold underline on the word ‘seems’ there, i reckon! Lots of peeps I have met, admired, and followed–aren’t interested in the slightest in live action. Perhaps because like Brian, my first concern is always about illustration, or rather, bringing illustrative-ness into motion projects.

    • Jason Ha

      Motion Design is a gateway drug from live action and editorial. Got a reel from director who had done Maryln Manson videos. He wrote me a letter explaining why he became a 3D generalist. Forgot his name but was an interesting letter. That trend will no doubt continue. People are getting pushed out of live action. And editorial requires ‘graphics’ in many cases.

  • Thank you for a great post.

    I used credits from public college towards a VFX and Motion Graphics degree at an Art Institute.
    I experienced most of what you mentioned in your post, but have to say that I dont regret going to school.

    I was fortunate to find a Motion Graphics/Video editing job while in school and some of my homeworks where actual projects I was working on.
    A month before graduating I was offered nearly a double salary increase to work at a local studio. My recruter and new boss was a fellow classmate.

    The best lessons I took with me from teachers were about being a problem solver and team player. I also learned from other students that where more advanced in certain areas. For example I met a professional Cuban artist that was validating his career. I picked his brain and learned a ton from him. Education is a not a straight forward, black and white endevour.

  • i couldn’t agree more with the foundation in graphic design and/or illustration. often the production teams i love working with the most are those who know what the true intention and feeling of a still image is, and know how to translate that in motion. That just requires knowing what the designer had in his head, and it’s not something that’s easily explained. Knowing how to digest a design or drawing into core details such as tone, composition, context, and history are really helpful tools when thinking about how to animate something. it’s funny that people from my generation for the most part weren’t even aware of motinon graphics and began to learn as we transitioned out of a print/design/illustration background. so no surpises there…great article justin!

    • excuse the typos and i should have said what the designer had in his/her head! :O

      • I agree with you here T-Schmidles. When I was in school (University of Houston) my graduating class (2000) was the motion design guinea pigs. They brought on a new instructor into the fold to teach us After Effects. This was around the time when Kyle Cooper was still with Imaginary Forces just to put it into perspective.

        It has come a long long way though, I have to say, and the more we open up the dialogue to discussion the faster we can improve upon it. I will also add that my experience with education outside of the schools mentioned in this post were amazing and just sheer determination to get into this industry combined with a solid design education is really all you need. And one year of what these schools cost is what I paid in full. I would love to say I am an example of just a little ol’ country boy from Texas making it all the way to the Big Apple and Hollyweird still cranking along in motion design 11 years later!

        • all hail the gossett!

        • “I would love to say I am an example of just a little ol’ country boy from Texas making it all the way to the Big Apple and Hollyweird still cranking along in motion design 11 years later!”

          This would make a great summer blockbuster!

          • Joe, I am actually optioning it with a little studio you may have heard of called MGM Pictures. That’s Motion Graphics…*exhales marijuana* maaaaaaaaaaaan pictures though. Just a coincidence they share the same acronym.

  • Eric Edwards

    Just a quick comment on the eventual progression of motion designers into live action directors; I’ve noticed that has become a popular thing to strive for over the last several years and I wonder why that has become the case. I love being involved with narrative live action and cool cinematography, but it was around when I started and I personally still enjoy the mixture of the mediums.

    Here are some debatable questions; If there was a perfect curriculum which created hundreds of new highly skilled motion designers every semester would the industry get flooded causing the kinds of unemployment problems that we see in more popular disciplines like law or medicine? Is it better to leave becoming a highly skilled motion designer to the smaller number of people who have the initiative to make a great education out of a mediocre one? or… Is that not an issue and we should make the education system as good as we can because we want to push what we do as far as we can?

  • Love this post……
    As a director, animator, and illustrator working in the field for years now, I’ve had a long winding path that took me through lots of school by choice, and while that put me in debt, I still don’t regret it ( at least not yet :) That said I have close friends here in NY that work in top shops and didn’t even go to college. I don’t think there is a right path but I know what was good and bad about my own and I think everyone ultimately needs to organically find what works for them.

    I went into my undergrad with clear aspirations of being a fine artist with years of training already in life drawing and painting. It wasn’t until I stumbled across the work of William Kentridge which sparked me to dabble in animation. I hit a realization that my drawings could move! A simple concept, I know, but one that I hadn’t thought about seriously before. At that moment after my 2 foundation years I chose the schools digital arts major over painting which then led me explore everything from 2D and 3D animation, to film and web design and ultimately to go to Calarts for grad school in Experimental Animation.

    I had never really responded too strongly to the animation of Disney, or Pixar or even to a lot of TV animation but through my education and search I fell in love with other filmmakers and entities like Kentridge, Yuri Norstein, Caroline Leaf, John Hubley of Studio UPA, Wendy Tilby, The Quay Brothers, and even contemporaries like Jamie Caliri and Studio AKA. While studying with a number of independent filmmakers at Calarts I was simultaneously taking 2D & 3D animation, modeling, rigging, and story classes with working professors from Dreamworks, Pixar, and Disney. This allowed me to see a huge range of what the medium of animation could do.

    This mix of studying fine art, history, and independent animation definitely pushed me to approach the commercial/ short form world from a very different perspective than that of a graphic designer. As the landscape continues to change and :30 to :60 sec spot structure is fading to a huge variety of time-lines, budgets, and DTC situations, I think equally important to a fundamental understanding of visual design, is a fundamental understanding of time based mediums and visual storytelling. After all our designs need to “move” and ultimately tell a visual and sequential story of sorts whether you’re selling a product or explaining an idea.

    ALSO I’m totally with Brian Gossett in that 5% :)

    • “As the landscape continues to change and :30 to :60 sec spot structure is fading to a huge variety of time-lines, budgets, and DTC situations…”

      My point here was simply that I find myself constantly in situations where I’m asked not only to design but also, concept, board and animate entire projects. Because I can do more I can exist in tighter budgets and then hire help should I need it and should the budget allow for it. But I’m often doing 80%-90% of the work on my videos. Hence a need for education in motion and time based storytelling.

  • Leslie Howard

    I read this article and comments with interest. My daughter wants to go to SCAD for motion media with a minor in painting. She has excelled and loved art all her life and gotten into editing with Sony Vegas, mmd, and After Effects in recent years. SCAD has offered some good scholarships but it will still require another 20,000 or so a year for everything. So I’m trying to understand if she may be able to get employment after graduating and be able to pay this loan. I think they have pretty good job placement but I don’t know what this industry actually pays. She also is interested in working with Chinese or Japanese companies but I don’t know how practical that is to break into. She is really working on her Mandarin right now. Any input is appreciated!

    • Saylor Twift

      Tell her to work for a year or so before even considering art school. Believe me it can wait.

      I’ve seen too many students run the gauntlet of higher education only to squander the first few years, and tens of thousands on daddy’s credit card, developing a solid work ethic that they can fall back on when things get real. Things like interpersonal communication, task and time management, and a general sense of humility that only a 9 to 5 can pacify you with.

      High school is in no way shape or form a good preparation for art school, especially top tier art schools like Art Center, SCAD, or Otis. This is particularly important if she plans on being remotely competitive after graduating. And that’s just to find a decent internship. Being competitive in the professional motion graphics environment is a different mountain to climb altogether.

      If you want to make a decent ROI, ease her into the furnace, don’t just throw her in. Let her earn it.

      • Leslie Howard

        Thanks for the comment. I thought about it and an feeling more confident about choosing SCAD for the fall after reading everything here. For one it sounds like nearly all the graduates here are working in their field. Concerning my daughter, she’s homeschooled and voluntarily takes courses at the high school with a great work ethic albeit not great time management yet. There practically are no work opportunities in our rural area and the scholarships are for starting this fall. I think her familiarity with software will be helpful and we’ve been discussing the importance of design. She also paints and has a great artistic eye in general so I think she has good potential to do this. Fingers crossed, we’re throwing her in!

        • Dominique Elliott

          Leslie,
          I am a faculty member at SCAD and I understand your concerns. I do have some advice I would like to share about saving money, and what the expectations are. Do feel free to contact me at delliott@scad.edu. I won’t give you a sales pitch. SCAD is not for everyone. I can also put your daughter in touch with current students and alumni.
          Warm regards,
          Dominique

  • I saw a great comment yesterday:
    Can we build our own international school of motion design, online ? With Justin as leader ?
    Vote ? ;)

    • Ha! In all seriousness, working in education is hugely important to me. It’s why I went back to school to get my MFA. LET’S DO THIS.

      ;-)

      • Dominique Elliott

        and we loved every minute of it;)

    • Pure Sheeple

      This is actually attainable. No one has done it yet. If we put all our syllabii and books in there and streamlined only the best… That would no doubt win.

      No grades. People could choose to finish at thier own pace. Kind of like sean wes’ Learn Lettering. But for motion.

      There are plenty of quality mentors on the net. Or we could start a private forum of our own for critiques. Forum software is free nowadays. Somewhere a coder is grumbling…

      I might launch this just to spite naysayers.

      Along with promoting Adobe Voice to the world at no cost to Adobe. Just because. ;)

      • Justin, I’d totally teach at your school. So long it gives me free access to every other instructor’s classes as well!

  • Justin, I appreciate your acknowledgement of the lack of diversity in the industry. While I can’t speak on the lack of ethnic diversity, I can speak to the lack of diversity in nationality. Speaking as a person from the Caribbean and a recent graduate of SCAD, I can say that the diversity issue is the combination of US Immigration restrictions and the freelance culture of the Motion Graphics industry.

    After graduating, internationals are allowed one year on an OPT visa where they can be employed, while looking for full time positions. This employment has to be within their field of study and the days where they are unemployed can not reach 90 days, or they can face early deportation.

    The industry has adopted a freelance culture where there are at times, more freelancers than staff at a company. Internships no longer lead to potential staff positions, they lead to the potential to be added to the company’s freelance roster. While this works for some, international graduates depend on full time positions to secure work visa sponsorship so freelancing is not possible.

    The truth is, even if sponsorship is found by the deadline to apply for a working visa (usually around April 1st), there is still no guarantee that it will be successful due to the vast number of cases filed every year. As bleak as this sounds, there is still hope. Provided we have not reached the 90 days of unemployment, we can apply for an additional 17 months of OPT. There is of course a catch; the companies we work with have to be enrolled in an E-verify program. E-Verify is an Internet-based system which allows companies to determine whether their employees are eligible to work in the United States. E-Verify is fast, free and easy to use. Yet, hardly any motion design companies are enrolled in this program. International graduates are then forced to return home with skills and knowledge, that are at times, not appreciated in their countries.

    If the Motion Graphics industry wants to have a more diversified culture, it starts with making it a standard to be enrolled in the E-verify program. To find out more please visit http://www.uscis.gov/e-verify.

  • Larry

    I’d say the main problem is the Johnny in the photo is riding a scouter.

  • Larry

    scooter

  • I teach a nine week Motion Graphics course to second year students at the SAE school in South Africa.

    It’s obviously a massive challenge, but what I think is great about it, as far as the learning outcomes are concerned, is that they don’t try to teach the software extensively, even though there is so little time, but rather an understanding of the purposes of motion graphics and an appreciation for it.

    For a group of students that are there to learn how to shoot, edit, write, direct etc, it’s an invaluable addition to their training. I believe all film courses should have an element of this in their programs.

  • JLeta

    Thank you for this article. I can definitely relate with the questions you raise. Having attended a public university, which was Virginia Commonwealth University for me I can say without a doubt it has been worth while. My path to a degree was kinda all over the place, but in the end I am happy with most of the knowledge I earned.

    It’s interesting you bring up the comparison between public schools and private schools. Before I ended up at VCU I was interested in attending SCAD, but quickly realized there was no way I could afford it, nor did I want to take on that kind of debt for the rest of my life. I am financially thankful for that decision now after graduating 10 years ago. I still had to take on some student loans to attend VCU, but within another year and a half from now I will be completely done paying off my loans.

    At the time VCU had a “Art Foundations” program for the first year that was very rigorous for all art majors. At the end of the year you had to assemble a portfolio together and then had to actually “try-out” with your work to get into the major you wanted to be accepted into. The programs were very selective on who they wanted and who they didn’t. Each major program only had a small number of people they would allow in as well. This used to leave people in quite a bind when they didn’t make it as they ended up having to choose between another major for their 2nd or 3rd choice to attend for the following year.

    I actually didn’t make it into my desired major the first time applying (again this was after I was already in the university). I didn’t quite know what to do so I applied to the Sculpture department and was accepted fortunately. I was in this major for a year and it ended up being a fantastic experience. I thought “well at least I will get my general classes out of the way” at the same time. I learned so much just by being in a studio environment all the time and constantly having critiques in a group setting.

    We quickly learned how to critically look at the pieces, break them down, and talk about what was working and what was not working objectively. The person’s work whom we were discussing was not allowed to speak or defend the work, but only allowed to listen to everyone’s critique until we were finished. This approach made everyone realize the impact their work was actually having on people without knowing firsthand the original concept or intent of the piece. Developing this skill of critiquing work critically and being able to talk about aesthetics objectively has become immensely important in my day to day work now. I also developed a lot of problem solving skills creating pieces for sculpture critiques especially when working in so many mediums. These skills along with being able to think about pieces in space and time I believe for me really helped create a solid foundation.

    I also spent a year at a community college to earn more general credits towards my degree. Community colleges are fantastic places that people should not discount. I had some excellent professors there as well. Not to mention the cost of courses is about half that of a regular university in the US.

    After this eventually I made it into the major that was my first choice at VCU which was called “Kinetic Imaging”. The program was at the time, a hybrid mix of experimental video, animation, and sound, with a basis of graphic design and fine arts leanings. The major was aimed mostly at creating art work and not as much design. That being as it may, we still were required to take courses in traditional illustration, graphic design history, and graphic design theory. The major was based on a Bauhaus-type approach to learning. The school did place a very distinct line between what was considered “art” and what is design though.

    This mix of theory, history, and experimental I feel turned out to be a good foundation for me in motion graphics & visual effects. Our program was also set up so we could take classes in some of the other majors of design and fine arts if we wanted along with traditional university classes. We also had courses available to us in coding for web or procedural code for things like “processing” as well. For instance had I never taken classes in American literature I would never have known how much I really enjoyed it nor would have ever known the work of so many wonderful authors and poets.

    Although at the time I didn’t feel like a lot of this stuff was going to land me a job, I now have come to understand that the things I learned now get applied day to day. I can’t say this is the path for everyone and it’s not the only way. I still had to get up to speed in learning some software after I graduated which was a steep learning curve. At first I felt this was a big downfall of my major and thought maybe they should have had more training in software. Over the years though I have realized as long as I understood the fundamental processes of some software these processes can always be applied to learning whatever new software I need to know. To me the theory, history, and understanding of design has been more important in my day to day work in motion graphics and I imagine it will help in whatever new industry “motion design” splinters into….it never hurt me being able to sketch things out either…

  • I couldn’t agree more with the idea of demoting tutorial style education. I think that learning software is something that you’re going to have to do throughout your career. Knowing what you want something to do is more important than having a limited understanding of what it can do. That want sparks creativity and innovation.

    From what I saw at SVA, the people with exceptional talent (whom I admired) were finding out how to do what they wanted with the software from the internet and not the instructors. Learning how to find information and apply it is more valuable than being handed that information. Again, as the Schmid put it, a basis in design or illustration is key – more specifically I think design. Design gives us a language to discuss how something appears within space-time. With that language we can interface with animators, directors and clients conceptually.

  • Pure Sheeple

    I wonder…

    Architecture schools are often 5+ year programs. The salaries are lame. Not exactly comparing apples to apples, but architecture is a multidisciplanary field as well.

    Motion Design salaries might end up lowered to their level. Maybe or not. We shall see. However, I certainly don’t see a good long-term career in motion design past 40 or 50. Not at this rate.

    Most I see are getting burnt out in their 30s but are forced to rationalize this motion design martyr way of thinking.

    Seemingly to impress peers, justify to mom and dad and simply to keep their jobs. Maybe it is a rationalization.

    They say publicly how great it is. Then privately gripe about how fed up they are.

    Doesn’t seem healthy career for a myriad of reasons. For starters look at motion designers in the room. Headphone wearing monkeys with no private offices. They get yelled at and blamed for the slightest mistakes in many environments. And i’ve worked in many.

    Motion designers suck at business or basic negotiating, on average.

    Plus add the pitting of designers against each other in competition.

    Where is the return on investment?

    A motion designer no longer needs 4 years of art school to get a job.

    Plus many many jobs don’t require top designers. They just want it fast. Or they want fast and good.

    Or expectations of epic, rock star boards due in 1-3 days. It’s intense.

    There are many fine art courses and books and even mentors available on the internet. I went to an art school, but found most of it was learning myself. Or they were photocopying books as pamphlets.

    You’ve gotta be kidding me.

    People have been falsely under the impression that there is magic voodoo taught in schools. Really all the foundation stuff is out there already.

    I’ve worked with designers from art center who were crustier than sin.

    Not to take swipes, but it is the objective truth. I’ve worked with other grads who were good or decent. They were alums of the same school. It’s about the person now, not the school.

    People are still resting on laurels. Even 5 years ago it mattered. But today we are having this discussion for a reason.

    I can name a ton of people off the top of my head that did not get art degrees. They self-taught design and illustration. I can no longer count.

    Art school nepotism in motion design has been a thing. That’s dying out completely in the fast pace of motion design hiring.

    People with art + design degrees are getting a little butthurt about ‘non-designers’ invading their space.

    There’s a certain ‘who moved my cheese’ thinking that will continue to get decimated over the next 5 years.

    I’ve often not been impressed by motion portfolios coming out of schools. And even graphic design programs for that matter.

    Many of the good ones I see had started the path before school. Hence why they got accepted in the first place.

  • Pure Sheeple

    And when I say books, i’m not talking about technical manuals. I’m referring to books on form and such. From Le Corbusier and beyond, etc.

  • Ryan Luse

    So I studied graphic design at a private design school, graduated 2 years ago and now working as a freelance motion designer. I learned motion early in school while interning at this ad agency in town (that I was really lucky to get a connection at through my mother).

    What I found in school was that when students were finally eligible to take the introduction mograph class, they just didn’t have the patience. By this point in the program they’re used to knowing how to make something look good with good feedback, and taking a motion class was always so frustrating for many because they don’t feel like they can make anything look good (in motion). So why would they want to learn this complicated program and make work in a field they know very little about, when they already have this momentum going in another field of graphic design? Only a few kids I know from my program are actually working in motion now, and they mostly had already been messing around with flash or after effects prior to design school.

    That said, my education in design felt like a f$^#&ng bargain and it cost $100k over three years. I couldn’t have learned what I did on my own. My program had a heavy focus on concept and communication, you just can’t get that through a few hours of tutorials, it takes so much practice and critique. But you can start using a program after a few hours of tutorials. And I did, I learned how to use after effects and c4d was all messing around on my own, tutorials, one fabulous teacher for my single motion class, and some very nice people I worked with. I’m still constantly learning tricks I wish I knew a few years ago. If I were able to go back and sort of re-choose my path by deciding to major in motion or design, I would pick graphic design again and again without any hesitation, then work towards working in motion. Cause I seriously can’t see myself doing anything else!

  • Nicolas Dehaut

    Hello,

    Great post, really interesting to see that problems are mainly the sames everywhere.

    Here in Europe (i’m from Belgium), as said earlier, we don’t have the cost problem, since most of the formations available are free or almost free if you are in certain conditions (job seeker, student, etc…)
    But it also means that most of the formations are very different in term of quality… depending of the funding source.
    The best animation school are still private school like the Gobelins or Supinfocom in France, with annual fees between 5k € – 10k € per year,. And not a lot of them provide course in motion design.

    I had here an experience with teaching motion design course, so here my 2cent:

    We had the opportunity to actually give a motion design course for 6 months with pretty good results, and with so less time, we had to make some choices.

    As said before, graphic design need space, time, culture, practice…it’s almost impossible to get good at it in 6 month if you start from nothing, and even in few years.

    So we choose here to make an entry exam to be sure that every candidate is already a good graphic designer, and then we proceed to the formation witch is mainly to learn them how to animate the stuff they produce as graphic designer.

    So here, we more considerate motion design as a post-degree/extra formation for artistic cursus in graphic design.

    This way, we can focus on animation, workflow, project management, softwares, etc…, wich are a lot easier and faster to teach than purely artistic matters.
    For animation, we choose to make a good understanding of the basics, we don’t have the time to learn them character animation. With 2-3 months only of animation courses, we can only be sure they don’t take bad habits, and give them the keys to continue to enhance their animations skills properly after the formation.

    We can make them work like we do in the field, by project with deadlines, falses client feedbacks (super fun to do :-) ), simulating the production environment and its constraints….witch means they have to learn to manage sides of productions, and learn to learn by themselves how to solves problems, technical issues, etc… And make them practise almost all the time, witch is the most important.

    And it works really well, but absolutely needs than we talk to almost professionals graphic designers…

    Even if we had a one year or two year long course, i don’t think we should change a lot the program, we would maybe spend more time on animation.

    It’s not possible to effectively learn motion design without solid bases in graphic design.
    It’s absolutely possible to learn motion design by yourself, it’s still a matter witch can be learn alone by practising at home.
    Graphic design is the only requirement (with maybe some additional pure animation courses) .
    Learn how things works in After Effect or in a 3d Software don’t need a specific course, it’s just time and practising. A course can speed things up, but no need to spend more than 40k $ a year for it.

    Finally, for job seeking, only the quality of your work will get you an interview, the school you’ve be didn’t matter that much (at least, here in Europe).

  • Tom

    Really interesting article, thanks!

    I studied and live in the UK, so it’s interesting to see the similarities and differences here. I did a 4 year Masters Degree in ‘Computer Animation’ graduating in 2011, believing it would give me the best base to get into the industry. I found that the course was basically a pick’n’mix from lots of other more established courses – a quick dip into film-making here, a little bit of art history there, which ended in a full year producing a self-briefed 3 minute film with no collaboration (i.e. go and do what you want on your own).

    For this I paid around £12,000 in tuition fees, thankfully it was before the government raised them – now it would cost around £40,000 for the same course. The only useful education I have taken with me is a 3 month module in the theory of animation (basically the 12 principles). It might also be interesting to note that in this time I spent about a month in AE, and they never even mentioned C4D – both of which I now use almost everyday.

    Fortunately I was willing to put in the hours learning on my own and found myself a bit of an intern position in the summer months, which I carried on through my last 2 years and taught me so much more than the degree ever did. I’ve had 4 job interviews since – 2 positions I took, 1 was offered which I rejected, and 1 was not offered, none of these asked anything about my degree, education or the institute I got it from. It was like I had never been, they were only interested in the work I’d done with agencies and my portfolio.

    In terms of not having a design background – I feel this has never really halted my career so far, I work with designers everyday, we plan and product motion projects together, and I like this way of working. I suppose this may restrict my opportunities to freelance should I want to later on, but I think had my education been up to scratch, it would have been a significant advantage to be a talented animator in an industry saturated with designers. I’m now lead motion designer in one of the top 3 agencies in the UK (according to The Drum) – my education has nothing to do with it.

  • Thanks for this post! I think that what you put into your education dictates what you get out of it, and this is even more true for motion design than most other disciplines because of the fluid nature of the work. I went to SCAD and I feel that the connections that I made and the work that I did were a great starting point for my career. I love my job as well as the freelance work that I have on the side, and I would not have either if I dedicated myself to one specific category of motion design. I have found that the more versatile your skillset is, i.e., knowing how to code in multiple languages, being able to do cell animation, having camera equipment and being able to put it to good use, etc., provides you with so much more work than simply knowing After Effects or C4D, which is basic knowledge that everyone in this business should have. Expanding your horizons on your own time is an essential part of any program. I found that the best professors I had dedicated their class time to design fundamentals, exploring good experimental and commercial work, and showing how motion can be used across many different fields as a storytelling medium instead of trying to walk students through tutorials on software that will most likely be obsolete in a few years.

  • Motion design might always be a moving target if you only associate it in terms of software, trends, or technology. Good storytelling and fine arts skills is always a huge plus as these are timeless. However, because of the nature of the beast, it is essential that students learn conceptual thinking, problem solving, and ultimately good business practices within motion design. These skills will also produce longevity in one’s motion career. Any institution that focuses on these are on the right path.

  • I think Motion Design could be defined as visual expressions in motion applied to identity and communication. Then, there are fields in Motion Design that have different needs and specifications that define a specialization: TV Branding, Broadcast Design, Film Title Design, Advertising (Commercials), Animated Short Film, ect. For starters, I think that education should be very clear about these concepts.
    Thanks for this post and these kind of reflexions, something great will come out of it.

  • Hello EducationMotionDesigners!
    My name is Daniel Jenett, I am a Designer and Animator, working in Germany primarily, but also in the US or for clients all over EU from time to time (www.jenett.com). Mostly in my projects I do Design and Animation, but I would consider myself a Graphic Designer.
    I have also been teaching Motion Design in Germany for the last 3 years at btk-fh.de (in German: FH Level, which is basically University) and have made a couple of interesting observations that I would like to share with you.
    Since the department Motion Design is really just taking of, the students I had in my classes were mostly in their first and second term. This is at the same time very interesting, one gets to explain a lot about the social and business role of the profession, but at the same time pretty limiting, since the students really need to learn so much more in terms of their abilities, from the simple procedures of all Design (Idea > Layout > Production) to Presenting and Critizising and much more. Software in my class I avoided for 2 reason, first of all, it was not meant to be an (After Effects / C4D) training but a Design Course, and secondly, there simply was not enough common graphics software knowledge to get started with more advanced software. Not to mention to bring it into a meaningful and directed context.
    So, with this in mind, I would strongly argue for two things. First of all every Motion Designer is an advanced graphic designer, otherwise he should be looking for a role in the Animation or Film business. That is where many talented folks in Motion Design truly are at home already. And secondly, Motion Design as seen as an extension of Graphic Design curriculum, where it plays a part in the original intentions of the assignment.
    Teaching Motion Design should in my view be part of the Graphic Design field, and it should happen in groups that exchange information and learn and critizise together (a.k.a. in classes). But that is only my personal pov, I am sure I could also take another position .. :)

    Cheers
    dj

  • Great insight Justin! Being a visual storyteller is not a trade, it is an infinitely complex puzzle and requires a lifetime of solving.

  • xl

    One big Problem with motion design education ist to much focus on software and technical skills. Students are often taught After Effects before they even understand the principles of animation. I studied in the late nineties and most of the software i learned back then doesn’t even exist anymore (Softimage 3D, Softimage Eddie, Eclipse or Freehand for example). Though the stuff that will stick for life are the principles of design, colour, composition, typography, drawing, thinking in concepts, photography, lighting, dramaturgy, storytelling, editing, keyframing, a sense for pace & rhythm and so on.

    Yes, motion design requires a lot of technical- and software knowledge – but good motion designers should be able to create decent animations with flip books, cel animation, live action shooting, stop motion or any piece of animation software besides AE & C4D. Not because they know the specific technique but because they know motion & design.

  • I had a great motion graphics teacher, Dae In Chung at the school I attended (Santa Fe University of Art and Design) and I feel that in an emerging program he really took my class to interesting places both in terms of design thinking and integrating animation. He has a lot of thoughts on design and digital art education and I think you should interview him.

  • jmcintosh

    Education is a great topic and obviously generates much discussion regardless area of study. Most of all everyone is an expert about education.

    I would like to make just a couple of observations about Motion Graphics at SVA here in NYC.

    First, while motion graphics was an area of concentration in the Computer Art department 15 years ago SVA has steadily migrated and that area to the Design program. This would seem to be an obvious progression of the study as we are able to move away from the technical challenges to an appropriate more formal design aesthetics.

    My personal interest in Motion Graphics (as the department chair of Computer Art) dates back my work with Harry Marks at the American Film Institute. When I came to SVA we promoted Motion Graphics and Broadcast Design since the then core of the work was complex enough that AE and FormZ simply could not be addressed outside of a technical program (that was 1998).

    I think the SVA Design program is becoming a great advocate and provides strong programming for Motion Graphics (many of their instructors are SVA Computer Art graduates). This has seemed like a logical progression from my perspective. And it reflects the growth of both the media and less complex nature of the technology.

    I should add that SVA Computer Art continues to focus on the most complex production tools as well as the driving aesthetics which include animation, lighting, rendering, texturing… et.al. I will say we have been very successful in this approach and when I say WE I mean our students have been very successful in achieving their goals both in the short term to their current mid-careers. You may see the work of our students for the past sixteen years at svacomputerart.net

    Just a couple more comments…

    The notion of undergraduate studies being too short is undermined by the escalating cost of education. A fifth year is not feasible under the constraints of cost not to mention the time invested by the students. Another approach is to modify or eliminate summer vacations.

    The idea that teaching yourself or online education is more valuable than of going to a college has the same merit as the notion that everyone must go to college. One system does not apply to all. Personally the best artists I know do or have done all options, throughout their careers.

    The only glass ceiling in education is when you stop learning.

    There is one truth about formal education which seems of merit to this discussion; when you choose a school you are NOT just choosing where you will study – you are choosing who you will study with. That you learn as much or more from working – collaborating with your classmates then the actual classes can only be true if your classmates are as motivated and talented as you.

    Best to you and thank you for the thought-provoking article.

    John McIntosh, Chair
    SVA Computer Art, Computer Animation and Visual Effects
    School of Visual Arts

    • Thank you so much for chiming in here, John! I really appreciate it.

      “There is one truth about formal education which seems of merit to this discussion; when you choose a school you are NOT just choosing where you will study – you are choosing who you will study with.”

      Amen to that. What I failed to mention in the article is that despite my $80k of debt from my MFA at SCAD, I don’t regret it. The people I met there and the way I used my time — well, it simply wouldn’t have happened on my own. It’s also unlikely it would have happened at many other institutions. SCAD attracted a set of people with whom I “gelled” instantly. Consequently, we became fast friends and have since helped each other out over and over.

      I see that happening a lot with SVA grads as well. At Psyop, we hired more SVA grads than any other school — by far. There’s no doubt SVA is doing many things right — that’s why it’s included in the very short list of schools I bring up in the article.

      My criticisms are, I hope, received with the warmth I had in my heart when making them.

      • jmcintosh

        I enjoyed your comments, actually I appreciated all the comments. I love education and a good school is an amazing place to grow. I am always pleased to see SVA on the same list as SCAD, Ringling and of course Harvard even in a cost analysis. :)

        The issue I have in all these is the notion that there is a measurable ROI completing a formal education. I believe there is and but that the ROI is not always measurable in the short term. The relevance ceiling really does not exist if you pursue your interests in school with the same passion you pursue your career. Hopefully your college experience challenged you to do exactly that (I know SCAD did that for you).

        I graduated from college almost forty years ago. Two years ago I decided to attend an MBA program in Berlin. I had to submit my transcripts from my undergraduate school. Can you imagine that forty years later I still rely the fact that I have a BA degree? Without the degree the MBA door was shut.

        But of all the returns I could mention the one I value most are the artists I studied with and by similar connection the artists I now am responsible for educating.

        Best,

        John Mc

  • Undon

    Ringling College of Art and Design’s Motion Design department especially wears the creativity out of their students and steers them down a narrow direction

  • First, a full disclaimer: I am a media historian and have written extensively on the history of motion graphics, media theory, and critical theory. I have also been teaching at the college level for around twenty years, and worked with Justin Cone in 2009-2010 when he was teaching undergraduate classes. I currently teach a variety of courses concerned with “motion graphics/design” at both graduate and undergraduate levels.

    I seem to be the only one saying this: this article is sententious. The thinking is sloppy and internally contradictory.

    There is a consistent confusion of vocational training (you can always recognize it by the concern for doing something for industry) and an academic discipline. There will always be a vocational training component in any field where students might be directly employed in what they study; it is as true of being an accountant as being a lawyer. It does not mean that job training is irrelevant or that it is everything to a program, only that different programs will have different levels of emphasis on such training. This type of plurality is healthy and normal–to complain that it happens is to be grossly misinformed about how education works and what colleges do.

    “Motion design” or “motion graphics” is in much the same place that film study was in the 1970s: taking shape as a field and, in consequence, responding to a variety of different demands coming on distinct ‘fronts.’ This development is normal: it is part of how the academy works through the priorities and necessities of a new field. Again, to complain that it is different from your personal idea is quite revealing–of your own lack of expertise as an educator.

    What established fields all have (minimally) is three fold:

    1. A variety of academically precise historical texts addressing both the broad, general history and particular focused histories. These have been appearing over the past 5-10 years. Horak’s “Saul Bass: Anatomy of Film Design” is a prime example of such well researched, rigorous books.

    2. Critical discussion that does more than just register superficial affects. This type of critical engagement is largely missing; it exists for other fields, notably both graphic design and motion pictures, but this close critical engagement is visibly absent for “motion graphics/design.”

    3. Peer-reviewed journals devoted to the critical and rigorous examination of the field.

    Note that nowhere in this group of observables are the concerns of industry. Neither is there a necessity for a uniform or consistent definition of what constitutes the field. “Film” is as diverse (if not more so) than “motion graphics/design” once you engage with the critical literature, often in ways that seem irrelevant to outsiders. Demands for a singular, unitary definition reflect the insecurities of a fledgling field, not an established one. (Look at the history of both film and video art and you will see similar demands for ideological purity in the early days of the fields.)

    These issues are of concern to graduate-level training, not undergraduate training. The demand for students to be prepared to enter industry is only appropriate if we are talking about vocational training for undergraduates, and are much less of concern for graduate students. The issues of a field of academic study versus the educational needs of individual students are entirely different things–but are clearly muddled in Justin Cone’s post.

    • Hi Michael! Thanks for your comments. I appreciate your consistency in everything you say and do.

  • OOOOOOR Just keep doing it and learn that way.

  • motionprojects

    Is motion graphics a career only for the young? I’m thinking of getting into it now at age 45. I have a background in design and computer animation, but am giving it some consideration as a way to meld two of my passions. Are there any older people in the motion design masters programs?