- Michael Pettyt
HOW TO: Find Inspiration For Your Next Motion Design Project
Generating ideas for a motion design project can be one of the most difficult stages of the creative process. How you tackle this step can really make or break a project. We've spent years refining our process and developing tactics for finding inspiration for each project and now we're sharing our most useful learnings with our community.
Motion Design Inspiration: Tip 1 - Ask (the right) questions
Before you start working on a motion design project it's important you ask your client the right questions. This helps to direct you on a shared creative path and avoids wasted time on a great idea just to see it being rejected by your client further down the line, sending you back to square one.
Some example questions we like to ask at the start of projects:
What would you like the end product to look like? - This can really help to kickstart your creative thoughts and help to focus your ideas
What would you not like it to look like? - Again, this further helps to focus your ideas
Do you have any visual references to get us started? - Along with the first 2 questions this gives us a real accurate steer of our client's desires and expectations
Who is the intended audience for this project? - This will help to guide the overall tone of the piece and any considerations around accessibility, comprehension and possible inappropriate themes
Do you have any thoughts on sound design or music choices? - Any already chosen music or approach to the sound design could really impact the creative direction you chose to take
What sort of budget do you have available for this project? - this could impact your chosen execution (2D, 3D, simulation, frame-by-frame etc)
What are the deliverables for this project and their specifications and duration? - This will again help to dictate the scope and ambition of a project
What is your deadline? - Coupled with the budget and deliverables question this further helps solidify any thoughts regarding ambition and scope for the final project.
Feel free to expand and adapt these questions as we often do - every project and client is different and there will be specific things you need to ask for each alongside these more broad questions.
Motion Design Inspiration: Tip 2 - Give it time - if you have it!
If there is time in your busy schedule, it's always worth allowing time before jumping to the next stage for ideas to formulate and evolve. As a studio, we try to schedule our time so that new projects can be briefed in then allow at least a couple of days, the weekend or even our Fridays spent on Learn, Share, Recharge before we make a start on the next stage in the process.
Motion Design Inspiration: Tip 3 - Finding inspiration away from your desk
While we're on the subject of giving it time. One way to really help you to be inspired whilst working on a project is to make sure during any downtime that you are getting up and away from your desk. Getting out into the real world and experiencing things; travelling, exploring nature, visiting galleries and museums, going to the cinema, reading books, watching TV shows, playing video games, or taking up another creative hobby. By getting away from the desk and into your passions, you will be much more likely to stumble across something inspiring for that next creative project and you will bring more to the table in those initial mind map meetings.
Motion Design Inspiration: Tip 4 - Mind maps and getting in a room together
Armed with your (hopefully!) detailed responses to the above questions from your client, it's time to start exploring some thoughts that could potentially become seeds of ideas. We often start this process with a mind map. With the title or major theme of the project at the core, we begin riffing out ideas and words associated with the project, branching off at tangents when an idea feels like it has legs and highlighting anything we feel could be a potential seed of a good idea.
Anything goes here and we'd encourage you to try this with your team if you have one on the project as they can help expand ideas when you hit a brick wall and will bring different experiences and perspectives to the table that will greatly enhance the end result. Often we will put on a piece of music associated with the project or any visual references the client has provided on a big screen or whiteboard to help stimulate thoughts and ideas further.
If you've never created a mind map before and want to give it a go, you can give it a try in our preferred tool - ClickUp or try Figma, Miro or Mindnode if you are on a Mac.
Motion Design Inspiration: Tip 5 - Pinterest and other sites for inspiration
You've now hopefully got your idea and developed it from your mind map session - now it's time to start fleshing out the visuals for your project. We like to start by collating visual references that align with our chosen idea on a Pinterest board. Pinterest is great because it allows you to easily pin any visual reference from the web or even from your camera via the mobile app to a board. It even presents similar ideas once you've begun to populate your board (although, beware of the algorithm!). It's always worth collating a number of references from a broad set of sources first before digging into the ideas section as you can often end up down a rather homogenised path and your work may end up looking a lot like everyone else's! Another little tip if you use Pinterest on Google Chrome; add the extension - this allows you to pin content from anywhere on the web - further helping you to stay clear of the algorithm for as long as possible.
Here are some other great sites to visit for inspiration:
Motion Design Inspiration: Tip 6 - Colour Inspiration
Another huge decision for your next motion design project is the colour palette. Where do you even start? Luckily there are a number of great sites out there that can help you find the perfect palette inspiration for your next motion design project.
Adobe Color has a great toolset to help you create a palette from scratch using their intuitive colour wheel with options for analogous, monochromatic, triad, complementary and more. There are further options for extracting themes or gradients from an image (perhaps a key image you've pinned?) and even options to check whether your chosen palette is accessible. If you are stuck for where to start it also has an explore and trends tab that have tonnes of ready-made palettes that you can easily use or import to a creative cloud library if you have a subscription.
If you are looking for something a bit simpler but equally as powerful, Coolors has a clean and elegant approach to generating palettes, simply load the generator and hit the spacebar to cycle through palettes, and you can lock colours you like and the palette generator will find complementary colours to complete the rest of the palette. They also offer palettes from images, a library of palettes to explore and a new feature that can recolour SVG artwork!
As with all steps in this process, it's important to consider the answers provided by your client at the very beginning, one misstep with colour here could have a real knock-on effect on how smoothly the process goes and ultimately impact your end product.
Motion Design Inspiration: Tip 7 - Moodboards
You've narrowed down your key visual references and are happy with your chosen colour palette. Now it's time to create a mood board. The Oxford dictionary defines it as "an arrangement of images, materials, pieces of text, etc. intended to evoke or project a particular style or concept." - and that's exactly what it is, it's a chance to really capture your chosen style for the project, the core concept behind how it will be executed and the overall tone of the piece. We usually create our mood boards in Adobe Photoshop but you can also use online tools such as Canva or Milanote.
We like to balance each board with 1 or 2 key pieces of artwork, a colour palette swatch and complimentary images that might help to direct choices for things like typeface, texture, lighting or movement. We also like to experiment with colour by applying gradient maps to the overall image for some often interesting variations on our core concept. Here are some examples of recent mood boards we've created for projects.
A selection of recent mood boards created for client projects
Motion Design Inspiration: Tip 8 - Sketches, Storyboards and Styleframes
The next step for us before we get into full-on production mode is sketching out our idea, or if there is time and the project permits it; storyboarding. We find it useful to often sketch out ideas on a whiteboard as a team (either in person or remotely using ClickUp's great new Whiteboard tool), keeping things really fluid and rough, discussing our thoughts and making sweeping changes quickly and collaboratively.
Sketches and storyboards created for our Smart China animations
Once we're all happy with our rough sketches we can then work these up to more refined sketches or storyboards ready to present to our client. For many projects, we will also create a set of styleframes - key moments in our motion piece - developed to close to final production quality which will further help to cement our chosen idea and sell it to our client before moving on.
Styleframes created for our MOTDKA Title Sequence
Now it's your turn
If you're a motion designer or you run a studio like ours and have been struggling to find inspiration for your next motion design project, give these tips a try and hopefully, that next great idea will present itself much sooner for you. And if you are looking for a motion design studio for your next project why not try out answering some of our kick-off questions and using some of the tools we've mentioned to create your next brief for us?
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