All About the Speed

Why fast iteration is crucial in
motion graphics

By Jeff Sargeant

Producing concise, quality work takes time.

In animation and design it can take a lot of time. Sometimes a ridiculous amount of time. Almost everything we do forms out of the ether, is created from nothing, by hand, from scratch.

We spend hours laboring over amorphous, abstract ideas and the minutest details only to turn on them, trash them and start over, again and again—all in the pursuit of creating something completely original and amazing. And we do it on schedule, usually, an insanely tight one…for someone else.

I run a small creative studio working in the field of Visual Communications or, Motion Graphics if you prefer. I like to say Visual Communications because it's a little broader and sounds loftier, but I'll probably change my mind on that tomorrow.

Anyway, unlike the big studios, we typically don't have armies of specialists at our command or unlimited resources to throw at any given project. We work with a small pool of talented generalists wearing an endless array of hats and working on tight deadlines. So the need for speed is essential—not just so we can get the job over with and hang out at the pub, although let's face it, that's a pretty powerful motivator. More importantly, speed is important because it allows us to make things better.

Iterate fast, iterate often. The final quality of any production is directly proportional to the number of do-overs you can jam into the schedule. Fast iteration facilitates both exploration and progressive refinement. The faster you can move, the more options you can explore and the more refined those explorations can be. The faster you iterate, the faster you can hone in on the ultimate goal. Great work gets you lots of business and keeps the lights on.

One of the keys to moving fast is the tools you choose to work with. Here are four characteristics I look for in a motion graphics solution to help me speed up the iteration process:

Large, Diverse Toolset

Look for a motion graphics solution that allows you to drive the project in the direction you want to go. Don’t let your tool dictate your idea. I actually like to sketch out my ideas on paper and write out the concepts before I even touch my computer. This allows the ideas to drive the concept rather than having them dictated by the toolset. Once I do sit down to do rough animation, I pick the software that can do what I’m asking of it. By definition, motion graphic artists have to be generalists, so efficiency and a broad and flexible toolset is key to delivering the creative vision I want for a project.

Native Features

While you need a large, diverse toolset, the software you use needs to be streamlined and efficient. Plugins are great for expanding limited feature sets, but they can be a collaboration killer and add complexity that slows down the development process. Plugins need to be updated constantly, they cause all sorts of interoperability issues and you have to make sure everyone is using the same version. Stick to software with native features, so everyone contributing to the project is working seamlessly, allowing you to churn out more iterations and more good ideas.

Performance, Performance, Performance.

My mind races during the creative process, and I need tools that give me instant feedback as I bring my design to life. For me, nothing is worse than waiting for software to get me where I want to go. It’s important to view animation in real time, so I can see how shadowing and other effects look. Do I have to constantly render everything to know what it will look like—which can be excruciatingly slow—or can I get a good sense of how things will look by using OpenGL viewer tools?

Intuitive UI

Anything that takes you away from the creation process has the potential to block the idea that is going to get you to that great product. Make sure your software is easy to use and is engineered logically from the designer’s perspective. It’s going to keep the creative juices flowing and get you closer to that final product.