Jake’s World in Motion
A still from motion graphics work by Jake in Motion.
by Malcolm Thorndike Nicholson
posted on 03-11-2020
The ubiquity of motion graphics makes it an almost invisible part of our day-to-day lives. From the moment we wake up and check our phones, to the almost inevitable computer screens at work, to Netflix in the evening, our lives are saturated with animated bits of text, color, and shape. Your favorite Instagram filter probably has motion graphics, as do nearly every news clip on Twitter or Facebook, and so does the loading screen for your favorite video game.
But being everywhere has a way of limiting our appreciation for certain kinds of creative work, especially design. When was the last time you stopped to appreciate a playful twist of text that breathes life into navigating the web? Maybe you’ve noticed its absence in some stale corner of the internet. Yet motion graphics and design are part of a long, rich history of animation bringing life to what would otherwise be inert.
“I grew up watching cartoons and Disney movies, and I’ve always enjoyed the animation,” says Jake, but early on in his career he never would have considered his own work adding hops and wiggles to graphics as part of the same practice. “Eventually I started seeing other artists who were making animations, things that I associated with a higher level of artistic quality, and they were using After Effects to make those animations! That realization was a pivotal point in my career.”
As Jake looked closer at his favorite motion-graphic artists, like Jr.canest, he noticed how similar they were to cartoons. “It was just simple circles and squares,” he recalls, “but the way they moved looked like a Looney Tunes cartoon.” Admiring this precision about how and when to impart motion into 2D objects, Jake took classes at School of Motion’s Animation Bootcamp and devoured tutorials on as much animation detail as he could find.
The hidden strength of being a generalist
Long before teaching and creating motion graphics, Jake used design software to enhance and enliven moving images. His older brother, who studied 3D graphics, introduced him to After Effects and Premiere before he was in high school.
Learning about motion graphics through accessible, targeted, community-generated tutorials would prove to be central to Jake’s success and fondness for the world of motion graphics. It allowed him to pick up and play around with new features as they came out. It also meant that he was able to unify his love of motion design with his work as an editor through programs like Premiere.
After graduating with a degree in digital media, Jake put together two reels: one for editing and another for motion design. “I ended up getting a job as a motion designer,” says Jake. “It was just what was needed at the time. And fortunately, my editing knowledge transferred over. I was working at a small production company, and I kind of became a generalist.”
Jake’s generalist approach helped him see a larger scale of production, looking at design templates from the eyes of an editor and thinking about editing with motion design as the destination.
Jake’s creative process
“My process is usually using After Effects kind of like a sketchbook, where I’m playing around with designs inside of it and seeing how I can style them,” Jake says. “Sometimes I’ll be in Illustrator first, just because I enjoy building vector artwork and it’s very easy to transfer to After Effects. Once I have a pretty solid idea of how the design is going to look, then I’ll animate it as if it wasn’t a template, just something that I was making as a graphic. That’s probably the bulk of the process, once the animation is there, figuring out how to preserve that animation in a templated format.”
Next, he considers how someone else might use what he’s created, putting himself into the mind of the eventual buyer for the work.
“I think simplicity is something that customers respond to because I imagine that a lot of the time, somebody needs a template to do a specific thing,” he says. “So, for example, one of my top sellers is a radial graph, in a nice little infographic. As an editor using this template, they are probably going to have stats to use that on, and it’s probably going to be more than one. I tried to think of how to make this template as versatile as possible. So the design is very simple, but then I give you lots of controls: Do you want dash lines or do you want solid lines? Do you want to change the color? I try to make it as straightforward as possible and then the controls as useful and intuitive as possible. ”
The power of community
Jake remained connected to the communities online that shared tutorials and experiences creating new motion design templates. Eventually, he started sharing his own experiences.
“When I started, I thought, ‘Nobody’s going to listen to me. Why would they? I’m a generalist at a production company,’” Jake tells us. But once he saw how enthusiastic people were and how they reacted to his own teaching, he was hooked. “It lit a fire for me. Being able to just share that knowledge and get it out there and see how people are learning from it has been fantastic.”
The creative ecosystem of motion graphics and design thrives on user-generated, free-flowing, and constantly evolving networks of information. While older creative forms like sculpture or painting have a more stable and rigid structure of learning, motion graphics is constantly changing. Each update to Adobe brings with it hundreds of new possibilities, putting everyone from experienced veterans to teenage lightsaber enthusiasts on a closer playing field.
For Jake, this ecosystem has proven financially as well as creatively supportive. “I’ve found that teaching is profitable,” says Jake. “It really boils down to that as to why I’m not doing freelance work full time.” While client work is always a possibility given the growing need for motion designers, Jake’s love of teaching makes it a rewarding career path. “I absolutely love it. I’m reaching tens of thousands of people all across the world. It’s just incredibly rewarding.”
Don’t be afraid to try something new
There’s often a temptation, in almost any creative field, to keep certain methods or tricks secret. Jake clearly feels little of this temptation. He started his YouTube channel to give a free supplement to the knowledge and skills he was getting paid to teach at places like Skillshare and School of Motion: “It was kind of like a catchall for those little ideas that I thought were worth sharing but didn’t fill out an entire course.”
One of the little ideas Jake is most enthusiastic about has to do with expressions: those little bits of code you can apply to MoGRTS in After Effects. “I think the biggest advice I can give potential MoGRT artists is don’t be afraid of expressions. If you spend, you know, a week just exploring expressions, you can take that pretty far.”
For just one example, Jake shows in his tutorials on YouTube how mastering simple expressions like wiggle() opens up the ways artists can motion to objects and the incredible control it gives them.
The constantly changing landscape of motion graphics is a source of optimism for Jake. As new ways of viewing digital media are invented, the need for motion graphics grows. One promising avenue is virtual reality and augmented reality. “I’ve seen a lot more breakdowns of how things have been built in 3D using VR,” says Jake, “so that you can be active in the environment that you’re creating and work with it a lot more like painting. That really excites me.”
This “pick up and play around” mentality at the core of Jake’s approach is rooted in his belief that we all have something to teach each other. Motion graphics is a mixture of coding, craft, and art, none of which will ever be exhausted or comprehensively known by one person. If you’ve found something you like in After Effects, chances are there will be people who want to learn from you.
To anyone out there worried they might not have the credentials to teach yet, Jake has one response:
“Go for it. Absolutely go for it.”
Topics: Creative Inspiration & Trends