Author: dan_hin

Review of Design Essentials for the Motion Media Artist by Angie Taylor

Design Essentials for the Motion Media Artist cover image

Angie Taylor is an artist, animator and author who has worked in the motion graphics industry for over 15 years. She also does a lot of work for Adobe and Apple evangelizing their products, if you’ve been to NAB or BVE then you’ve probably seen her presenting at the Adobe/FCP booth.

In a step away from standard textbook fare, Design Essentials for the Motion Media Artist is not a software manual, style guide or compendium of protips. Instead it’s a roadmap of the sort of things you need to know if you want to be a motion graphic designer. The principals of drawing, animation, composition, type and editing are all covered, as well as some shorter sections on planning, communication and technical stuff.

Some of the topics covered are lightly skimmed through and some get given the authors full attention but this is to be expected given the author’s background in fine art. For example I liked the attention to detail in the drawing section, but I was surprised that typographic grids were almost ignored in favour of Golden Section and rule-of-thirds. I’m sure everyone will find something to nitpick with this book, that’s the downside of writing about such a sprawling, labyrinthine subject – but I also think that many will agree about how important it is given the current glut of software tutorials which seduce vast swathes of users new to motion design.

There’s nothing wrong with this approach but it can leave designers light on deeper understanding and context. In opposition to this, Angie’s approach is designed to inspire further research and experimentation, as evidenced by the recommended-reading list on the companion site.

In fact it’s an odd compliment to this book that it focuses very much on substance over style. While Angie’s illustrations are something of an aquired taste, there’s no mistaking her authority when discussing the ins and outs of storyboarding or squash and stretch. Make no mistake, Design Essentials veers toward fine art, particularly the animation sections – there’s a mixed media feel to many examples which may sit uncomfortably with those used to the standard Vimeo fare. However, ringing endorsements from designers Mark Coleran and Rob Chiu (AKA TheRonin) should assure readers that Angie knows her stuff when it comes to commercial art too.

I would struggle to recommend this book to anyone above mid-weight mographers – you should know most of this already! However anyone looking to broaden their skillset – and those beginners unsure where to start – would be advised to take this book as their first port of call. Angie’s confident, inspiring and friendly tone will appeal to those put off by more didactic prose.

For more details about the book, check out Angie’s site.

Octane Render review

Octane render preview material

Octane Render preview material

Octane Render is a standalone, unbiased render engine which works with most modern 3D packages. It also uses your CUDA-enabled GPU for rendering.

That sounded like a lot of jargon, so let me make this simple – Octane is fast. Very, very fast. Some people will remember a CGTalk thread where the idea of rendering purely from the GPU was dismissed as fantasy. Well I’m happy to report that my opinion has changed completely – it’s fast, accurate and I never want to go back!

Like Maxwell Render, Luxrender and the new physical render in Cinema4D R13, Octane will render as long as it can until you tell it to stop. If you’ve never used an unbiased renderer this can take some getting used to, but it’s certainly an enjoyable way to work. What’s unique about Octane (at least to people who haven’t used the hardware acceleration in apps like 3DSMax) is that it renders every change you make directly to the viewport. What you see is literally what you get. All material changes, quality settings etc. are rendered progressively in real time, so there’s no need to sit around waiting for your GI to calculate before you can get feedback on a material.

Did I mention that Octane is fast? Let me give you an example. At work, I use a fairly old quad-core workstation with bags of RAM. A 1080p frame with AO, some reasonably complex geometry and soft shadows will take me around 3 and a half minutes to render in Cinema4D’s native renderer. In Octane I can get much higher quality (including, I might add, working AO) in about 1 and a half minutes. Better yet, this is all done on the GPU. All of it.

Another little gem hidden away here was the option to undertake a little instant post-work on the fly- as far as I can tell there is no render overhead for things like exposure changes or tonemapping.

I should mention at this point that my graphics card is very modest – a nVidia GTX470. It’s certainly not a high end workstation card, but it does a good job with both Octane and general viewport navigation. And this little sub-£180 card is better at rendering a complex 3D scene than my quad-core CPU.

So. Octane is fast, it’s interactive, it’s required hardware is relatively cheap. What’s the downside?

Well – for one thing it’s In Beta. Yes, a commercial engine in working beta, so sometimes you are left with decisions that feel like least-worse options. You can find examples of these all over the fairly obscure interface, and even to experiences like making a purchase and receiving a license.

Secondly, there is no official plug-in for Cinema4D (which I’m going to assume you use if you’re reading this post), “just” an exporter script. Its basic, but enough to get an .obj with material separations into Octane, ready to render. It’ll also send an animation over, too. A recent email from the developers assures me that they expect a C4D official plugin to be released as late as a years time – and it will cost extra.

Finally on the Cons side; there’s the realisation that your prior efforts at shading weren’t that great. With the current system, you might as well not bother shading in C4D at all, such is the difference between a material translated to Octane and its counterpart in C4D. I’ve also not managed to find a way to export a full scene including disparate objects from C4D; instead each component must be exported and imported as a discrete node.

Summing up: Incredible power, simply mindblowing for those with mid-range or slightly old machines and the right graphics cards. However there’s a big trade-off here in terms of living with quirks and a greatly changed workflow.

If you have any questions regarding Octane, I’ll try my best to answer them in the comments or via Twitter. Alternatively, you could head over to Refractive Software and give the demo a try for yourself.

Country Music Styleframe by Paul Crandall

Conceptualisation and the creative process


Peter Crandall - abc styleframes

abc styleframes by Peter Crandall

I’ve started to work on slightly larger projects recently, and as with a lot of things in this business I’ve suddenly realised why people need things like storyboards and styleframes. They’re essential on larger and/or more complicated jobs. If you need to see examples of great styleframes, have a look at Nate Howe’s work, Peter Crandall’s site  or the artists featured on – Read More –

a tangled mess of wires
Avoid communication issues like this

Workflow and delivery

I felt compelled to write this piece because of an experience I had recently.

Chastening doesn’t come close. It had all the classic ingredients of failure: spec creep, bad communication, unfamiliar equipment, poor decision-making and software crashes. Hopefully the following tips can help you avoid the same issues I had.

a tangled mess of wires

  • Spec creep: get everything in writing and make sure that you communicate as swiftly and reasonably as possible; by email. Cover Your Arse.
  • Bad communication : be vocal in meetings, listen and ask questions if things are unclear. If the shit hits the fan 2 weeks down the line it’s no good referring to a half-remembered conversation.
  • Unfamiliar equipment: generally other people should take care of this for you, but if you want to be ahead of the game, you need to know how your work is going to be delivered. If it’s live playback; how is the video ingested? What codecs won’t break? Will you have time to render and ingest 20gb per uncompressed file?
  • Poor decision-making: Make sure you’re on the ball. Keep a clear head and get decent sleep. Don’t overdo the coffee!
  • Software crashes: Work sensibly. Don’t run source files over the network. Just because you CAN render C4D, After Effects and AME at the same time doesn’t mean you should. Keep your drives as clean as you can.

And finally some general tips:

  • Never assume – there’s no such thing as a stupid question, especially at the start of a project. Classic questions like “Who is the project lead” and “what’s the final delivery format” are overlooked suprisingly often. There’s nothing worse than trying to cajole someone who has no previous experience with the project into signing it off.
  • Test, test and test again: So you’ve got a broadcast monitor and you’re RAM previewing the whole comp at the end of each day. Fine if you’re delivering to tape, but if it’s for a live event, you need to test as early and accurately as possible. If this means finding a projector and screen to run the styleframes on then so be it.
  • Scalability: how smart are you working right now? There’s often a lot of talk about how it’s only the end result that matters, but if you don’t plan for at least some flexibility in your pipeline then you may not get there.
  • Know your hardware: if you’re delivering files over a network, know how long it takes to get 100mb over the slowest connection, because due to Sod’s Law that’s the best you’ll get when you need it the most. If you’re outputting to tape you’ve got ingest plus playback. With larger projects these extra factors can break a deadline unless you factor them in.

Have you got any nightmare experiences to share? How did you overcome them?


Grids for motion design

grids in motion
Meticulous craftspeople
As motion graphic designers, we’re often expected to be genius animators; software gurus and instinctive, meticulous craftspeople. If – like me -you’ve never had any formal design training, then the last part might well elude you. Fortunately help is at hand, and has been for a long time.
The grid system has been in place for as long as people have been laying out and setting type. It was used to help the designer communicate with the typesetter and printer  in order to prevent costly, time consuming errors. A parallel outcome of this was that the grid system helped to introduce a rhythmic, elegant approach to graphic design that spilled over into other areas.
So the grid is a useful system for organising typographic material. Classically, it’s dependant on the amount of text, font size and family used; these all affect legibility in print and to some extent the screen.


Grids in motion
Why should you use a grid to help your design? As forum member Novus4D points out:
“Little things like objects lining up cleanly on a hang-line are the subtle details that take a project from being good to great.”
Like all design standards, your usage of the grid should come somewhere on a sliding scale between utter chaos and complete rigidity, depending on the end use and the effect you want to create.


There are a number of resources that are specific to designing to a grid: Raster Systeme goes into extreme detail and also takes it’s own advice. is a brilliant site that touches on all aspects of grid-based design and includes loads of templates which you can modify.


I tend to make use of a grid most when I’m making a DVD menu; laying out a UI; designing lower thirds or title sequences. It’s a real help when you’ve got any amount of information to order. You can take it further – it’s great for laying out your first/final frame. I tend to keep a library of comps in an example project in After Effects for different resolutions, these are great as a starting point.


What are your thoughts? Do you use any standard grid systems, or is everything done from scratch?


Cinema 4D Timeline/Camera Animation Tips

I recently picked up on an excellent thread over at CGtalk regarding pro tips for the Cinema 4D timeline window. It’s jam-packed full of very handy snippets to make working with complex scenes a little easier.

I had two “why didn’t I think of that!” moments whilst reading:

1. Add a tracer object to a camera in order to permanently display the motion path

2. Modify the fcurves in pairs – x/h, y/p and z/b – assuming you’re not undertaking any massive twisting moves.


Both these tips are handy for avoiding annoying bumps in your camera animation and syncing your move with  other objects in the scene.

Now – go check out the rest!

— Thanks to Chris Cousins and Derya Ozturk who contributed the featured tips.