Six things you need to know about software for motion design

Team Created

There’s a hell of a lot more to being a motion designer than your technical ability alone. But we can’t deny that the journey does start here.

So the wait is over kids. In this post, we give you the skinny on the software you should be mastering if you’ve got your heart set on a career in motion design.

Since this is such a hot topic, there’s definitely a lot of info already out there. So, we’ve cut through the fat and asked industry directly what they’re working with, as well as their pro tips on how to get to grips with all the tools mentioned.  

Software logos

1. After Effects is your start point

After Effects is the motion designer’s staple. Known for its speed and flexibility, AE allows you to design and animate in 2D and 3D. And with the sheer amount of built-in and third-party plug-ins available, you’re only limited by your imagination in terms of what you can make. It’s also handy to know, that AE comes with a free, ‘light’ version of Cinema 4D, so when you’re ready, you’ll have the chance to play around with that.

After Effects Overview

After Effects allows for all sorts of integrations with other Adobe Creative Cloud (CC) applications such as Photoshop and Illustrator. You can start working on a project in Illustrator and animate it in After Effects, or design and animate from start to finish directly in AE.

There isn’t a right or wrong here, but undoubtedly the more confident you are with the CC package, the better footing you’ll have with employers – if you want a career in motion design, employers will expect you to know AE, so if you’re new to the game, make this your start point.

George Dyson

It's robust, diverse, expandable and quick. I can design and animate GUI in 2D/3D, create VFX for live action and composite all in the same program. I aim to make everything procedural, which is a fun challenge in AE.

George Dyson
Motion Designer, ETC

2. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to 3D

For motion design AE is non-negotiable, but for 3D specialists its partner in crime is Maxon’s Cinema 4DThis mega bit of kit is essential if you want to make 3D your niche. Its features span 3D modelling, sculpting and 3D painting.

But there’s a lot more to the world of 3D. It really won’t hurt you to brush up on Maya and Houdini, and of course third-party 3D renders such as Octane, Arnold and Redshift – rendering software is just as important to the job at hand.

If you’re into character animation, you should look at DUIK and Rubberhose (plug-ins for AE) for rigging and animation. You can also consider Animate CC for 2D character design and animation.

If VFX is your vibe, Nuke is the go-to for compositing, editing and finishing, which can also come in handy if you’re into 3D motion design.

3. Motion design meets UX & UI

These days, there’s also major overlap between motion design and UX and UI. In fact it’s become a category in its own right. There are motion designers who purely animate for interfaces. If this is a niche you want to explore, be sure to immerse yourself in Photoshop and Illustrator, but also prototyping applications like Sketch.

4. Accept that you’ll always be learning

The majority of the motion designers we spoke to said they were 100% self-taught when it came to the software they use. And that self-teaching never ends. To stay ahead of the game in this job, you need to keep your finger on the pulse in terms of software developments and the latest bit of kit that will make your work easier and better. The key here is to explore and experiment until you’ve got it nailed.

Steven Kelly

If you know what you want to make, or know what processes you need to learn to do it, you'll probably find someone who's already made a tutorial, or something relatable. That's always my start point.

Steven Kelly
Motion Designer, Framestore

In short, ask the internet. Here are some of the recommended learning resources when it comes to software, both free and paid for…

  • Video Copilot – High quality After Effects Video Tutorials for motion graphics and visual effects presented by Andrew Kramer
  • Greyscale Gorilla – Motion design software tools and training
  • Cineversity – Vimeo tutorials which explore the new features in Cinema 4D Release 20
  • EyeDesyn – Cinema 4D Tutorials and Products for the 3D Artist
  • HelluLuxx – Free Cinema 4D Tutorials, Cinema 4D Training
  • LesterBanks – A suite of helpful resources covering Cinema 4D, After Effects and Maya
  • Entagma – Great CG resources that have you covered for Houdini
  • Creative Cow Forum – Whole suite of forums for motion designers and more, so you can get involved in your community
  • Vimeo – no shortage of motion design tutorials here! A simple start point
  • Youtube (creators such as Mt. Mograph, ECAbrams, Ian Waters)
  • Pluralsight – A range of paid, technical courses
  • School of Motion – As well as a tonne of paid technical courses, you’ll find free tutorials which include free project files
  • LearnSquared – Off-the-shelf online courses will help you brush up on 2D, 3D and animation
  • – LinkedIn’s subscription-based learning platform, with a range of technical courses for motion designers

As incredible as online resources are, don’t overlook the fact you may have access to a wealth of knowledge from those around you. George from ETC says: “peer learning and critique is very important, so find an interested like-minded group to help and be helped by – online or IRL”.

5. The motion design community is your new best friend

We can’t labour this point enough. Given the evolving nature of motion design, you need to make sure you’re keeping up with software updates, new features and releases and getting actively involved in the community is a great way to do this.

Resources that can help you stay in the loop are littered all over the internet. Follow motion design accounts on Instagram, visit official blogs such as Adobe, Maxon and community forums like Creative Cow, subscribe to motion design channels on Youtube, and be active in your own motion design community, in person and online. You need to put the effort in staying ahead of the curb.

6. Don’t think, just make

You master your technical skills by practising. It’s all about getting stuck into the doing, experimenting and testing. You don’t become great or even good by chance or overnight.

In their own words, here are some tips from the pros to get you going….


Nicola Gastaldi

Start doing it, with no excuses. It takes time, of course. Set manageable targets and aim to achieve those every day.

Nicola Gastaldi
Freelance Motion Designer
George Dyson

Set yourself a simple project, such as designing and animating your own logo monogram. This will take you through the concepts of design, iteration, typographic layout within AI and PS and then progress onto simple animation within AE. Don't be afraid to make mistakes, we can always ctrl+z, and don't be afraid to aimlessly click on buttons within programs to see what they do.

George Dyson
Motion Designer, ETC
Steven Kelly

Gather references you like and attempt to make something along the lines of that inspiration. Break it down and try to work out how it's made. Then look for tutorials that focus on those skills (e.g. how to create a glitch effect or how to make 3D bubble text). Even if you don't make a piece of work you're happy with, the process of researching, testing and combining different techniques and tutorials will lay the groundwork for what to improve on for the next project.

Steven Kelly
Motion Designer, Framestore
Rich Ferrell

Consume as much content and inspiration as you can and then get into the software and get stuck in. Try and replicate the style of some of your favourite motion inspiration. Check out all the great free resources you can find on Youtube to get comfortable with After Effects.

Rich Ferrell
Motion Designer and Creative Content Developer, Created

Feel inspired, overwhelmed or both?

Don’t sweat it. There’s a lot of info here, just take things one step at a time. Want a more strategic approach that’ll have you crack your career in 2020? Feel like it’s more than software training you need? Ask Kim how our Created In Motion Design course will get you hired.

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