If you’re interested in motion design or lettering animation, this article is for you.
— Austin Saylor (@ItsAustinSaylor) August 5, 2016
Austin is creating content to teach others motion design through Adobe After Effects. Specifically through teaching lettering animation and more recently sharing an After Effects tip of the week that make his motion design workflow more efficient.
I decided it would a great opportunity to ask him about his journey through motion design so that others, including myself can learn from anything he has to share.
Onward to the interview!
Can you please tell us who you are and what you do for a living?
Animation by Austin Saylor.
I’m Austin Saylor and I am a freelance motion designer with a focus on lettering animation, working from my home in Boone, NC. I live here with my wife and our fur baby (a french bulldog named Mr. Willoughby who until recently had more Instagram followers than me). When I’m not animating, I’m typically connecting with people through Twitter or other various online communities. My wife is good about getting me out of the house to go on hikes and enjoy the beautiful mountains we live in. I always love being out in nature, but it takes a lot to pry me from what I enjoy doing the most.
Where did you grow up?
As a child growing up in Raleigh, NC, I was super active. My life revolved around running and playing and pretending. I’ve always had an active imagination. Looking back on it all, my childhood probably played a big roll in setting up my creative career. I got into sports and played everything my school had to offer, which was basically every major sport but football. Skateboarding and music became my next obsession… which transitioned nicely to art and design. I graduated from Appalachian State with a degree in graphic design in 2008.
When did you begin your path to becoming a motion designer? Why motion design?
My path to motion design was not exactly a big decision moment. I was experimenting with a lot of creative outlets after college. I was doing graphic design professionally and started making videos for the company I worked for. I taught myself how to animated a logo and lower thirds by watching tutorials. And it was really fun!
Animation by Austin Saylor.
Eventually, I got more serious about figuring out the complex and amazing tool that After Effects is. I took some online courses for motion design that really shaped my understanding of animation principles, how to achieve the in After Effects, the creative process and creative thinking as well as how the motion design industry works. Those classes were Mograph Mentor and Animation Bootcamp.
Two things that really stuck with me from my courses was the idea that you should do the work you want to get paid for. Don’t wait for someone to hire you for an awesome project. Do it yourself. You get hired for what’s in your portfolio.
The second big thing for me was hearing that you are responsible for every frame of an animation. This doesn’t mean every animation needs to be drawn frame-by-frame. It means that just because you animate with keyframes that automatically interpolate acceleration, you have to look at every frame and make sure it’s working. I had never thought of it that way. It gave me permission to see the software as a tool, as opposed to just trusting it to make things look great.
How did that path change over time? Was there a moment that really had an impact on you and your work?
The first animated video I ever made was heavily inspired by the A-Ha music video “Take On Me.” The animation was for a series of self checkout kiosks that the company I worked for makes. Here’s a link to my animation. I shot footage with my iPhone, editing the video, exported every other frame, printed each one, and traced the image over a light box. I ended up with about 1,000 pencil sketches that I scanned back into the computer and put the video back together with those images.
Click the image to learn more about Austin’s project.
I’m super proud of that piece. I spent about a month on it and it turned out better than I ever could have expected.
What was the most difficult part of your motion design journey? Who or what helped you overcome that?
There are a lot of difficult hurdles with motion design. It’s really a combination of three distinct skill sets.
2) Film making
For me, there were a lot of technical hurdles I had to get over. When I started doing video production and then animation, render settings and codex were super confusing.
After a few years of animating, my biggest struggle was feeling like an imposter. I was deathly afraid of getting hired for a job that I wouldn’t be able to execute. I’ve gotten a lot less scared of that this past year, but it still creeps up every once and a while. But like I said before, you get hired for the work in your portfolio. So I haven’t had extremely tricky, complex briefs come my way.
And I’ve gotten over the steep learning curve with After Effects. I still feel like I know 5% of what After Effects can do. Networking with other motion designers has helped me so much. The industry is very camaraderie driven. So many smart people out there are super willing to help.
As a motion designer, how do you help clients understand concepts before they become animated?
Designed by Austin Saylor.
It all starts before the project starts. It’s important to build trust. I usually have several back and forth emails and a Skype call or two to make sure I understand the problem they want to solve with animation. The only way to ensure the client gets what they really want, whether that’s more sales, better on boarding experience, email sign ups, etc. is to dig in and ask lots of questions.
Most request emails sound like a variation of this… “We want an animation that looks like X and Y. It will be about 2 minutes long. Can you do that? How much will that cost?”
That’s an ok starting point, but I want to know why they want an animation. What’s the business goal behind it? I could just make the video they ask for, but it will be far more impactful to achieve strategic business and vision goals.
I also present my animations to a client with a case study page. This page states their goals and details how design, animation, and audio decisions help achieve those goals.
Learn more about Austin’s Process here.
Who are your biggest influences as a motion designer and why?
Influence. That’s a interesting thing. We’re influenced by every experience we have, every conversation, every movie, every book. Some things influence us more than others. I guess to answer your question more directly, I intentionally seek influence, not just from the best animators out there, but from great minds in general. I work hard to surround myself with people who are pushing themselves in all areas of life. They want to get better at their craft. They set big goals and take action on them. They want to bring others up with them. Those are the people I have influencing me.
On your blog, you have some great educational materials for people interested in motion design. What inspired you start doing that?
I have always loved talking about what I’m learning. So blogging really made sense for me. It was also a great way to discover my voice. I didn’t start a blog because I had a ton of things to say, but because I wanted to force myself to think critically about the direction I was heading and help others along the way.
I didn’t have a lot of focus when I started blogging. I’ve started to slow down the pace of the blog so I can put more effort into delivering content that’s both inspiring and practical… specifically around lettering animation.
My most visited blog posts are very practical. So I want to make more of that.
Here are some helpful articles Austin created on getting started in motion design.
What is the most fulfilling part of being a motion designer for you?
I love bring things to live with motion. It’s so fulfilling to animate something that feels just right. Animation is an interesting art form because it exists in time. The best animations are usually not the most realistic looking. They just feel the best. So it’s super fun to figure out new ways to make things feel right. It’s difficult to describe, but there’s something really special about it.
If there was one piece of advice you could give to an aspiring motion designer, what would you tell them?
I have three pieces of advice for aspiring motion designers.
- Don’t try to learn everything all at once.
- There is value in free tutorials, but invest money in learning from the best and invest time in getting to know your peers. The motion design industry is friendly, don’t be afraid to reach out to people (Twitter, or even email, is a great place for this).
- Aim to be prolific, not perfect. It is in doing a lot of animations that you will get better. Remember, you don’t have to publish everything.
Some fun questions:
What’s your favorite ’90s jam?
Creep by Radiohead comes to mind, but there are just so many great 90’s songs. I was in high school at the end of the 90’s so that was all very formative for me.
I’ve never had a favorite superhero so much as if I had to be one, I would want to be Superman. Mostly for the ability to fly.
What was your first job?
I was a bus boy at an assisted living home when I was 15.
What were you like in high school?
I was a mix of somewhat contradicting things. I was very shy, a jock, a skater, and really into hard core metal. At the core of me, I enjoyed being weird and not following mainstream things.
If you were crayon, what color would you be?
If there was a movie made about you, who would you want to portray you?
I made this funny image of my face morphing into Orlando Bloom’s face. So I think it’d would be funny to then have him play me in a movie about me.
Do you believe in Bigfoot? If no, do you want to believe?
No and yes. 😜
You can learn more about Austin and his work over at his website.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions Austin. And for putting in the time and effort to help teach others to become better motion designers. You rock. Stay brave my friend!