Career Advice: Working as a Motion Designer

Career Advice: Working as a Motion Designer

Holly Stevens, a full-time Motion Designer based in Sydney, Australia, shares her journey into her first role out of University, along with some tips for fellow budding designers looking for an exciting career like her own.

Holly Stevens, a recent JMC Academy graduate, is Full-Time Junior Motion Designer and Illustrator based in Sydney, Australia. She sits down with us to share her journey and advice to aspiring artists looking for an exciting and challenging career like her own.

The Journey

What's your current role and what does it involve?

My current role is a Junior Motion Designer!

Due to my less experienced position, I mostly do more minor aesthetic-based work before passing it onto another more senior member of my team.

However, my job entails far more than simple motion design. Due to my drawing and animating abilities, I also create and bring my own assets to life for specific projects. I would say I’m about as much of a 2D Graphics Artist as I am a Junior Motion Designer.  

Where do you work, and what type of projects are they involved with?

I work at an events company within Glebe. It is mainly focused on sport presentation but has also dabbled in things like musical theatre production.

When did you first realise you wanted to work in this industry?

The moment I realised I wanted to work in this industry was when I noticed that I not only had a knack for drawing, aesthetics and colour theory, but also organisation and coordination. I thought this kind of job would be a good mix of all of it.

How did you get your first big break?

My first big break came after around three months of relentlessly applying for jobs online. After several unsuccessful interviews and a lot of frustration, I, rather hilariously, got offered three jobs all within the same week!  

Describe the journey you took into your current role?

Before University, I had never even known of the existence of this career path. Thankfully, after taking a motion design class in one of my earlier trimesters, I soon came to realise that this was a very viable job I could see myself having in the future.

As someone that had never had a full-time job before, I knew I was in for a vast schedule adjustment. It took a lot of getting used to. Thankfully, this job’s working conditions are really fantastic - I have an excellent team and a very wonderful boss.

Why did you choose to study at JMC?

I chose to study at JMC because the coursework seemed to be more in line with what I was interested in, in comparison to other universities offering animation degrees. It also offered early entry and was non-atar based, which I found much more refreshing as opposed to other establishments.

How does your education complement your work?

My education allowed me to further my knowledge and artistic ability, whilst also giving me access to industry standard programs that would otherwise be inaccessible to me. Not only this, but there was a wide range of classes in the curriculum that I otherwise would not have taken on my own, including those that have steered me into the current career path I am on. Essentially, my education not only complimented my work, but provided me with the opportunity to work as well.

It also allowed me to better my time management and organisational skills which is just as, if not more important than any type of creative ability.

Day in the life

Describe a typical day for you and your team?

A typical day for me and my team changes every week. The fast-paced atmosphere, alongside our ever-changing projects allows for a lot of fresh perspectives and ideas. Usually, my team of six have a meeting at the beginning of the week to discuss what needs to be done by Friday and then we hop on to it!

For example, this week I have been working on an animated backdrop for an upcoming musical production. This involved me illustrating all of the assets and then animating them in after effects. Last week, however, I was photoshopping jersey numbers off of soccer players. The week before that I was drawing a dolphin!

What third-party and proprietary tools do you use on a daily basis?

Typically I use a lot of the Adobe Creative Suite programs alongside Clip Studio Paint and Procreate.

What does your workflow look like?

Receive the brief > Work on a draft > Send over draft for approval > Receive critiques on the draft > Amend any mistakes, and repeat until it is perfect!

Which departments and key people do you work closely with?

My department is called the ‘Vision’ department. We are in charge of making everything look good. I would say we work closest with each other to make sure things look correct before sending it off to be approved by the higher-ups and the clientele.

What tasks would you be typically asked to do as a junior artist?

Junior artists are typically saddled with the jobs that no one else wants to do. It’s a hard truth to swallow but that really is the way of the world. Nobody wants to give a twenty-year-old creative freedom on a million dollar project. My ‘odd-jobs’ typically involve grunt work like changing the colours and words on After Effects projects, removing backgrounds and retouching photos, reformatting projects to fit certain aspect ratios…It isn’t always fun but it is methodical and, at times, relaxing.  

I like to use this to my advantage and attempt to learn something valuable from it anyway. I have my seniors teach me how they did something. I politely say my input without overstepping and I take the hint when it is not wanted.

If you play your cards right, you’ll get there soon enough.

I would say that typical corporate/ industry art styles change what the client expects from us. Whatever is in right now is typically what we end up doing. This is a little unfortunate because there are so many other ideas to explore.  

One thing you’d never change about your job?

My job allows me to work from home three days a week and head into the office for two. I think this is a perfect balance that I would never want to change. It has had a beneficial impact on my mental health and overall happiness.

But one thing you wouldn’t mind seeing changed is?

I’d love the opportunity for some more artistic input. As a junior I usually just do what I am told, which I totally think is fair…but being in charge of a project would be super fun.

Career Advice

Is formal education essential for someone aspiring to do your job?

I think some level of specified education is needed. There are a number of programs and knowledge that can only really be achieved by having someone teach it to you. I wouldn’t say it was essential, but I would say it was important. I could have learned certain things on my own, but having an imposed deadline and someone to refer to made it a lot easier.

Why would you recommend your school to others?

I would recommend my school to others because I know their influence was, in part, the reason why I have a job in the industry today. Alongside this, is the social aspect, which allowed me to gain a lot of new and true friends that I just don’t think would have been achievable at a bigger school.  

What do you wish you knew about the industry before you started?

It’s going to take a very long time to get your foot in the door. I think a lot of young people like myself get it in their heads that they aren’t good enough if they don’t get an instantaneous job offer in their exact field of interest. I know now that that isn’t the case at all.  

If you could give one piece of advice to artists trying to get a job, what would it be?

It’s cliche but don’t give up. I think that’s the most important part. Keep applying for jobs. Even if you aren’t sure if you meet all the qualifications.

And, expand your horizons during your job search! It’s easy to set your mind to one or two jobs but in this industry it won’t get you very far early on. I think the most important thing is to get something close to what you want so you can get some experience.

What skills do you think recruiters look for when hiring an artist

Well, if I was hiring an artist I would be looking for someone that was very willing to take criticism. Clients aren’t always going to like what you send them and it’s important to not be discouraged by it.

I would also be looking for someone that was a fast worker. It’s all well and good to be an amazing artist but if it takes a month to complete then there really is no point. Especially in a fast-paced industry such as this.

What skills seem to be missing all too often?

Time management! It’s one of the most important ones and it is so easily forgotten.

In the real world  it’s so vital to not arrive to work late, to submit things on their deadline and make changes at a moment’s notice.

As juniors especially, we are pretty expendable. It’s important to show them that you show up, you do your work, you fix whatever needs to be fixed and you do it quickly.

Describe your attitude towards your job?

I love my job. In truth, it was not something I had initially planned on doing when I graduated. As I mentioned, I had taken a motion design class at university and enjoyed it - but I had my heart set on character design and concept art.

Imagine my surprise when I got to do that at this job too!

This job provides me with a good amount of busy work and artistic fulfilment. It’s a good combination of both that allows me to prevent artblock and burnout, while also keeping my mind creatively focused.

Where do you get your inspiration from and how do you implement it into your work?

Like most art kids, I get my inspiration from cartoons and anime. This should not come as a surprise. Implementing it into a more ‘corporate’ and ‘general’ atmosphere was actually easier than expected. I think it is just important to branch out with art styles and never put yourself into a box. The things I create for work are not things I would create in my own free time, but they are things that I see myself in. It’s just important to make that differentiation and create that balance.

Describe a project brief that you’d recommend artists create for their portfolio?

Separate your portfolios into categories. It makes it easier for the company to access what they’re looking for and also makes you diversify what you create.

For example, when I was looking for jobs, I used six different folders. ‘Characters,’ ‘Environments,’ ‘Objects,’ ‘Graphic Design,’ ‘Finished Pieces,’ and ‘Patterns.’ These things basically set you up for any number of different jobs. I would say if you’re capable in all of these fields- definitely group them this way. You never know who will be looking!

What mistakes do you see artists making when applying for jobs?

I would say removing certain aspects of their cover letter/ resume for specific positions. When I was applying for jobs, I had an art station profile linked within my resume - even when the job description did not mention illustration skills at all, I still kept it there. It wasn’t anything obtrusive, in case it was not appreciated, but it was there just in case.

Every interview I received commented on it in some way, and each time it was complimentary. Adding it there as a side thought upped my chances of receiving an offer.

If I hadn't added it to my application for this current job, I guarantee I wouldn’t be doing half of the illustration work that I’m currently doing. So definitely make sure to put yourself out there!

If you could give one piece of advice to artists starting out, what would it be?

Keep applying for jobs. Don’t get discouraged. It’s very easy to want to, but a foot in the door will make all the more difference on the path to your dream job. It’s important to remember that most people aren’t going to get to their goal straight out of university- and if they did, they would be stuck in place. Growth and new experiences are so important- especially when you’re starting out.

If you could go back in time to when you first started out, what advice would you give yourself?

Comparing myself to other people has always been a problem of mine. I think it is important to appreciate talent that is not yours, but not place it in competition with your own. I always think of this two panel comic when I start thinking this way...I think it says exactly what it has to and always refreshes my perspective.

You can find more of Holly's work on ArtStation, and connect with her via LinkedIn.