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Mograph: Everything looks better in my head

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So, I have a confession to make. I struggle with mograph.

 

I have spent many years dabbling (started using AE at version 3) and attempting to develop myself in motion graphics and have found that I don't quite 'get it'. I am a graphic designer so, I understand principles of design. I know how to setup a shot (photographer and videographer). I just find that I hit a wall with putting an idea in motion. I have had a number of clients come to me for intros or other pieces and I feel like my ideas and the results are limited. A large part of it is translating what's in my head into reality. I may go too quickly from sketching to the computer but, even then, I feel like I struggle to use the digital tools to make what I see in my head.

 

Has anyone hit this wall? What did you do to overcome it? I really want to get past this and bridge this gap. Any ideas would be appreciated.

 

-gl

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You might want to put up some of your mograph work so people can get a sense of what you're skill level is.

Your site only seems to have a couple of websites and a poster.

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So I'm not sure exactly what the issue is. Is it that you have a hard time executing ideas? Meaning to me that your issue is primarily technical, or is it that you have a hard time finding the right inspiration for a given piece? I'm willing to bet that everyone here has either or both issues on a regular basis. Both are frustrating but the technical end of things is ultimately easier as it's really just a matter of solving a maze, you already know where you are going so it's just a matter of getting there. This site and a variety of others are fantastic resources.

 

For the inspiration side of things it is more difficult. I put a lot of stock into my ability to realize a clients vision and when I fall flat in that regard it is a major blow to my ego and I hate letting down clients, but it happens. It's tough to hit home runs every time you are up to bat, we all strike out sometimes. That said, a big part of this is inspiration. The best thing to do is to look for inspiration away from your machine and studio. Which is easier said that done sometimes but it really is true.

 

There was a nice video of a motion designer I saw a few months ago, I can't seem to find it right now but maybe somebody else remembers it. The designer drew a lot of his inspiration from his incredible flower garden. It was a nice little piece on a consistant and focused way to seek inspiration outside of the four walls of your studio.

 

Best.

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Many pedants will break design down into 2 stages: concept and execution, where "concept" is a term describing a nebulous set of ideas about what you were trying to do, and "execution" is the term describing what you ended up with. In reality, the stages are intertwined and ill-defined, and what you're really dealing with is an infinite loop of questions and answers and questions about those answers.

 

In the beginning, you're looking to understand as much as you can about the project/problem at hand. This is where you're sorting out what the goal of the project is. The better you understand the goal, the easier it is to figure out whether this or that approach is working to achieve the goal, or predict how well this or that WILL work. This whole period of trying to understand the goals better and better and honing your ideas to suit them as you discover more is a period full of "why" and "how" questions.

 

Client: "Make a 30s commercial for us"

You: "Why do you want to make a commercial?"

Client: "We think these shoes are better than other shoes."

You: "Why are they better?"

Client: "They help runners battle fatigue."

You: "How do they do that?"

Client: "Magic gel packets massage their feet when they step."

You: "How does the magic work?"

Client: "It's not magic, it's science, but it seems like magic because it's a result of submicroscopic processes."

You: "Submicroscopic? Do tell..."

 

This process can go on and on, with your understanding of the issues becoming deeper and more robust. You could have stopped asking questions after "these shoes are better" and made something whizzy with mograph cloned shoes dancing to a beat with flashing light streaks and paint drips. But you probed just a bit deeper along just a single line of questioning and already you have clear reasons to do a million things less generic, more appropriate, and probably more compelling to the audience. And that's the absolute tip of a HUGE iceberg. There's a monumental amount of understanding and rationale behind Nike's decision to market in the ways they do, as opposed to having 30 second commercials that are single locked-off shots of a shoe with a voiceover that says "These shoes are better than other shoes."

 

Now, that question and answer process doesn't really end before your brain starts spitting out ideas. Your brain immediately goes "Oh fuck, submicroscopic? I'm totally thinking particles floating around in the dark with...." BRAIN! BRAIN, SHUT THE FUCK UP! Why would we want to do that? "Wait, OK I'm thinking slides on a microscope and everything's blurry..." And that's kind of how it goes with your brain. You get more info about the project, and your mind gets to conjuring a bunch of stupid shit it's already been exposed to. What you have to do is hold those ideas up against the goal. Force yourself to answer questions about whether those ideas are getting you closer to the goal or not. Ask those questions in finer and finer detail, and as you generate more detailed ideas to suit those questions, ask yet again finer questions of those details, always looking to push the ideas closer to the goal. The goal may still be evolving because of your relentless questioning. But you're always asking and answering.

 

Initial ideas are like notepad scratchings and your goal is like a finished novel. The novel needs 12 million details, all carefully honed and developed to create the whole. What you start off with is "There's this girl", and what you end up with is more like "There's this dirtied seamstress, lost somewhere between her 13th and 17th year, in a patched and re-patched handmaid's frock and not much else but a tin locket with a rusted clasp hung on a frayed bit of twine around her habitually sunburned neck. She's folded over a cobwebbed table with a creaky bench in the dirt, her weathered hands gripping at a bolt of inexpertly dyed wool..." and hopefully you'll have gone on to describe not just her bony knuckles, but the very shape of them, and the tiny bits of clean skin marking the folds on those knuckles. And these details will be apparent to you, and necessary, because they are all part of this exact story.

 

At some point, you realize that your understanding of the goal is so robust, and your ideas so precise in their detail, that the whole thing just comes pouring out of you like it was obvious from the beginning this was clearly how it needed to be.

 

There are all kinds of tactics for idea generation, brainstorming, etc, but holding yourself accountable for knowing what you're trying to accomplish, in all of its infinitesimal details, seems to really be key. Get good at asking and answering your own questions. The reasons for doing this vs. that will be pretty apparent.

 

That was a lot of words and I'm not even sure I said anything useful.

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I do think there is a combination of both issues. Yes, my technical execution skills need development in terms of realizing the ideas in my head. Mograph can require a broader toolset compared to print or even web. This is most likely just a time issue. Putting the time in with the tools. I spend a lot of time in all worlds of design so, that makes it difficult.

 

Binky's post is representative of my biggest issue. Mograph requires more details associated with the concept. I often find myself not spending enough time identifying all those details and go to execution too quickly because the picture in my head is exciting. I then find myself knee deep in the work wondering why it's not looking like that cool mental idea. I just need to identify more of the "bony knuckles" before I go to the computer.

 

So, what do you do to ensure you have all the details?

 

Thanks for working with me on this. I really appreciate it.

 

-gl

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I think Binky hit the nail on the head with the extensive Q&A session with a client. In a perfect senario I get to spend a bunch of time working just in email and in conversation with clients before anything gets made, that way I have the best understanding possible about a given project. That said though as a freelancer I'm typically called in during a crunch time and have to produce quickly, which is part of the art too.

 

I wish there were a way to know fully that you have all the details, but I think that giving your best effort into learning as much about a project before doing any design work is always the best option. Ask a lot of questions of your client, push them to think about their project. Then synthesize your new understanding with research you do on your own. Inevitably you'll end up with some new questions after doing some solo research. Go back to the client with the new questions. Be clear in your communications, not only for your client but for yourself. Keep it simple but aim for precision and focus on the details.

 

Once you have all of that sorted out the actual design process should be fairly straightforward as both you and the client will have a clear understanding of the project and will be on the same page regarding its execution.

 

But that's all perfect world stuff too. It happens sometimes but a lot of the time it's a few short emails and a ten minute conversation, it's Wednesday morning and they need something for a pitch on Friday.....! So be flexible too!

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As soon as I read your post I thought of this article, which is sort-of-but-not-quite in the same vein.

 

I think there's the issue of simply being able to synthesise a sensible brief, but also that us "creative" types tend to always be unhappy with our last project. We need that dissatisfaction, that hunger to improve in order to drive us on to better things.

 

Also, what Binky said.

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I like to think that I'm savvy on the technical side. I also have a ton of ideas that are constantly floating around. I also have decent design skills, and everything I do is solid, and clients are happy - and I really do try to push myself on every project. What I lack is the extremely artistic side of things. Maybe it's because most of what I have done is design and info-motion graphics with generally conservative clients (corporations) or maybe I just don't have an eye for it (I really don't "get" a lot of art, as a matter of fact I hate a lot of art - but also love a lot of art as well, but only stuff that makes sense to me). I grew up equally good at math and logic, as at art and science. So I guess I'm not a "right-brainer". My difficult time is bringing artistic brilliance to my work. Stuff that just makes yours eyes have orgasms - while keeping actual original and clear messaging.

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I feel your pain _gl. I've adhd, whatever that means.

 

Some things I feel have helped me focus my efforts (to increase understanding, speed, etc...)

1. a.brainstorm as per Binky, get deep with that $hit:

history, experience, meaning, it's parameters in the world... list like mad

b. paraphrase (to grasp essence)

c. now mix up these descriptor words, use puns, play with phrases, opposites,...

2. storyboard it

3. now consider your timeframe/budget & what methods of execution best suit those needs.

4. I understand motion to consist of these options (more or less)

- planes in space to fully realized high matte paintings.

- footage (shot for compositing)

- keying (sometimes not one click :))))

- roto ( :blink: )

- tracking/matchmoving (love that motion blur, eh?)

- simulations (from ae particles to reaflow fluid simulations)

- generators (for use with filters to ...well make shit up)

- 3D land oh boy (now you've modeling, texturing, rendering)

- compositing (this can be an artform)

- camera animations

- sequencing (editing, with all it's cinematographic language)

- sound design

 

Each of these can go into making a piece,based on your time, budget, & understanding, You should use what you can to pop out the most "creative" expression of --some message for some audience--.

 

Also, I think it's best to ask "what am I having trouble with?", or "where do I get stuck in the execution process?".

I often have to ask myself, "what sucks?" Then I go about addressing that issue, iteratively till the deadline moment.

Edited by xllr8

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Many pedants will break design down into 2 stages: concept and execution, where "concept" is a term describing a nebulous set of ideas about what you were trying to do, and "execution" is the term describing what you ended up with. In reality, the stages are intertwined and ill-defined, and what you're really dealing with is an infinite loop of questions and answers and questions about those answers.

 

In the beginning, you're looking to understand as much as you can about the project/problem at hand. This is where you're sorting out what the goal of the project is. The better you understand the goal, the easier it is to figure out whether this or that approach is working to achieve the goal, or predict how well this or that WILL work. This whole period of trying to understand the goals better and better and honing your ideas to suit them as you discover more is a period full of "why" and "how" questions.

 

Client: "Make a 30s commercial for us"

You: "Why do you want to make a commercial?"

Client: "We think these shoes are better than other shoes."

You: "Why are they better?"

Client: "They help runners battle fatigue."

You: "How do they do that?"

Client: "Magic gel packets massage their feet when they step."

You: "How does the magic work?"

Client: "It's not magic, it's science, but it seems like magic because it's a result of submicroscopic processes."

You: "Submicroscopic? Do tell..."

 

This process can go on and on, with your understanding of the issues becoming deeper and more robust. You could have stopped asking questions after "these shoes are better" and made something whizzy with mograph cloned shoes dancing to a beat with flashing light streaks and paint drips. But you probed just a bit deeper along just a single line of questioning and already you have clear reasons to do a million things less generic, more appropriate, and probably more compelling to the audience. And that's the absolute tip of a HUGE iceberg. There's a monumental amount of understanding and rationale behind Nike's decision to market in the ways they do, as opposed to having 30 second commercials that are single locked-off shots of a shoe with a voiceover that says "These shoes are better than other shoes."

 

Now, that question and answer process doesn't really end before your brain starts spitting out ideas. Your brain immediately goes "Oh fuck, submicroscopic? I'm totally thinking particles floating around in the dark with...." BRAIN! BRAIN, SHUT THE FUCK UP! Why would we want to do that? "Wait, OK I'm thinking slides on a microscope and everything's blurry..." And that's kind of how it goes with your brain. You get more info about the project, and your mind gets to conjuring a bunch of stupid shit it's already been exposed to. What you have to do is hold those ideas up against the goal. Force yourself to answer questions about whether those ideas are getting you closer to the goal or not. Ask those questions in finer and finer detail, and as you generate more detailed ideas to suit those questions, ask yet again finer questions of those details, always looking to push the ideas closer to the goal. The goal may still be evolving because of your relentless questioning. But you're always asking and answering.

 

Initial ideas are like notepad scratchings and your goal is like a finished novel. The novel needs 12 million details, all carefully honed and developed to create the whole. What you start off with is "There's this girl", and what you end up with is more like "There's this dirtied seamstress, lost somewhere between her 13th and 17th year, in a patched and re-patched handmaid's frock and not much else but a tin locket with a rusted clasp hung on a frayed bit of twine around her habitually sunburned neck. She's folded over a cobwebbed table with a creaky bench in the dirt, her weathered hands gripping at a bolt of inexpertly dyed wool..." and hopefully you'll have gone on to describe not just her bony knuckles, but the very shape of them, and the tiny bits of clean skin marking the folds on those knuckles. And these details will be apparent to you, and necessary, because they are all part of this exact story.

 

At some point, you realize that your understanding of the goal is so robust, and your ideas so precise in their detail, that the whole thing just comes pouring out of you like it was obvious from the beginning this was clearly how it needed to be.

 

There are all kinds of tactics for idea generation, brainstorming, etc, but holding yourself accountable for knowing what you're trying to accomplish, in all of its infinitesimal details, seems to really be key. Get good at asking and answering your own questions. The reasons for doing this vs. that will be pretty apparent.

 

That was a lot of words and I'm not even sure I said anything useful.

Binky, you should start a blog or write a book, like Seth Godin but for mograph. As always, great post.

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+1 for what Binky said here too. Great stuff. Research, research, research.

 

Then sit down with your sketchbook and pencil and get down as many ideas as you can, regardless of whether they're good or not. Then make a brew, take a break, come back and carry on, refine and try variations*. Then make.

 

Don't get hung up on the technical aspects, if your heart is in it you will learn all the techniques you need as you go along (it's a lifetime's work). They're just tools. This isn't about technical ability, it's about you.

 

Now go do it!

 

 

*Never throw your old sketchbooks away; these are valuable repositories of your ideas, a journal of your inner creative life and they will serve you for years.

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*Never throw your old sketchbooks away; these are valuable repositories of your ideas, a journal of your inner creative life and they will serve you for years.

 

Cameron said he's used almost every idea he's ever written down in his life. Avatar came from sketches of skinny alien people and black light glow poster inspired art he made in the 70's.

 

I'll say, in general mograph or not, I at least try and find the "angle" of a script just like the angle of a news story and I abuse that in my head trying to find a different way of looking or expressing that angle over and over until something new pops out. I think at the end of the day what impresses people is just to show them some little point of view that is different than they instinctually expect or have seen before. I know when I watch spots on the air sometimes I will be taken back how a director picked a really unique way to shoot something and I get a twinge of envy as I'm like, now THAT was a unique way to tell the story. But almost every time I think that, it is soon revealed , the script actually defined why that happened. Not that the shot was in the script, but that the concept itself was unique enough that the director had to sit and really skew things around to fit the story and that ended up with a brand new and interesting viewpoint. But point is, without having that unique angle, every one, even great artists have a hard time really getting way outside the norm. You have to create your framework that walks you toward a unique solution.

 

The feeling I hate is when you are just reaching in the dark for *something* cool to do. When I get on a conference call to pitch my ideas to the agency about their script, even if their script is something fairly typical, I try and not get on the call without that something different to set this commercial or me apart form the others. Sometimes it's how I express the "Angle" of their script, or sometimes (many times), it's me creating the angle for their script that didn't have one and also showing how we can express that in the medium we're talking about.

 

This has been talked about ad infinitum on this board, but if you're walking around with a tool in your hand wondering what to bang with it, it often ends in tears. Soon, the guilt that you haven't really designed a house but instead beat some rocks with your hammer will catch up. When you start touching your computer or even THINK about what software you will use, you should damn well have an idea so cemented in your head and one that is unique enough, you are pushed into doing it by it's force. Then you may find that the gizmos you then use in the digital world may be fairly typical , just done well and with a unique point of view. I DO think that's why it's important to have either the writers be separate from the executors or if you are doing both you need to get the fuck away from your computer and anything you know about technology and ONLY think about the idea. When you mix the two, you are spending most of your brain energy being sucked back into your tools and not the idea.

 

There's something refreshing about an absolutely techno-ignorant writer dropping an idea on you that is so beautifully virginal of knowing anything about how your medium works and it is often full of things that make you really think differently about how you will execute it - and that's where ideas start blossoming.

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Chris,

 

This is why I generally lean towards directing because I think like this - What is the concept and how do I reinforce it. This is at the essence of my struggle because I get the ideas and the overall visuals in my head but, once I start sketching and executing the idea seems to lose it's impact and power. I do appreciate the overall sentiment in this thread about the details. Taking the time to deliberate on those I think will help a lot. I either just have to spend more time with my sketching skills or figuring out how to surgically place a usb port in my head :)

 

-gl

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I made a real mess of my first post, so I'll say this:

 

If you think you have something awesome in your head, but it doesn't seem to come out very well... unfortunately, it almost always wasn't awesome to begin with. You can have a half-baked idea, but believe that it's fully realized. This is something the mind does very capably. The same way that you can be in a dream state thinking that you're naked at school, despite the fact that school looks exactly like your grandparents' house, you can think "this idea is gonna be so cool when I make it" and yet there's not much of an idea there at all. Your mind is fully able to hold these two apparently contradictory thoughts at once.

 

So, I hate to break it to you, but if it's not as cool in execution as it was in your head, it was likely never fully there to begin with. It was a shadow of an idea. And usually that's fine. You have a murky idea begging for development? Well, spend the time to develop it. Don't assume that it's fully formed and ready to go. Poke at it with a stick. Figure out where it's just vapor, and where it's substantial. Put it to paper and see where it fails. Maybe you write a treatment. Maybe you do sketches. Maybe some other kind of test. But explore it in some way so that you can start filling in the massive gaps that your brain has waved hands over and said "nothing to see here, trust me it's gonna be fiiiiiiine." You may have to fold this process into the actual production most of the time, considering deadlines. Because it's a rare and lucky person who can incubate an idea in their mind until it's so polished and fully formed that they finally just dump it out like it was always meant to be that way. So don't berate yourself for your initially half-assed ideas. Berate yourself for not maturing them to your satisfaction.

 

When all is said and done, and your work goes out into the world, all it is is details. Your audience has no prep, no side commentary, no explanatory placard to refer to in order to digest your imagery. They have the images themselves, a collection of details all telling them things which hopefully mean something together. If you go into a project with a mushy idea and never work out the details, you leave the audience with very little to glean. And it doesn't matter whether you're directing or designing or animating or what have you. You can't pass the responsibility of figuring out your own ideas to someone else. We've all probably worked with someone who failed that responsibility. "I'm thinking we should make it sort of techno, with like particles and lights and awesome shit," says the obnoxiously untalented art/creative director of nightmares past. You can collaborate, but an artist without his/her own vision is not much of an artist at all. So yes, get out that sketchbook if that's what you prefer. Start with a rough sketch and work it back and forth into solidity. Work it until you can see each stroke sitting in its right place.

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Your honesty and insight is very helpful, Binky. When a new idea comes into my head, I always question how much of it seems awesome because of some subconscious information I am informing the idea with and it would not read the same out in the wild. So, yes, the idea has no measurement until it is out and being experienced by others. So, back full circle to process and building details.

 

I am still curious what others do to explore those ideas. Sketching, writing, or ...? Depends? Sketching seems to be the most effective :)

 

-gl

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"If you think you have something awesome in your head, but it doesn't seem to come out very well... unfortunately, it almost always wasn't awesome to begin with." Yes. Very true

But conversely sometimes the idea can be awesome but just requires a lot more work than you thought. That's where passion/obsessive behaviour comes in. If you really believe in the idea you'll keep going and pushing it until it's what you imagined.

 

There could be a lot of reasons why you're hitting a wall. Maybe the whole process doesn't excite you that much.

If you don't have the passion for it then learning all the tools and devoting yourself to, what is often a pretty technical discipline, won't be fun.

 

I'm not saying this is the case with you but it maybe worth considering. In an ideal world what would you be doing?

I don't mean to be harsh and only mention it because no-one else has.

 

As to exploring ideas. Personally I sketch, write notes and gather images. The core to it of course is thinking. Of ideas, but using notes, sketches and images to record them gets them out of your head and allows you to explore, reflect on and develop them.

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For me is always about how easy and clear it is to execute. If there is not a clear path it's probably going to be a pain in the ass, which leads to my level of enthusiasm quickly declining as I move forward.

 

There is always going to be some problem solving as you make progress and it never turns out to be "easy" anyways but the greater feeling that it will be the better results in the end.

Edited by este.eri

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Simon,

 

Your point about passion is well taken. I have asked myself this several times. My ultimate passion is storytelling. I have chosen visual arts as the medium. I am the first to admit, however, that the technical aspects of it are only interesting to me as a means to move the story forward. I do believe in a well-crafted product and I enjoy creating that. I just get frustrated when I struggle to get the results. It sounds like I am not alone in that.

 

I am allergic to spending a lot of time sitting at the computer however. I like to do my research away from the desk at libraries, bookstores, taking photos and sketching - usually listening to music.

 

-gl

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It could be that your answer is to get help in the areas you're not passionate about, so you can focus on what you are passionate about. I love both the creative and technical parts of this job, and would probably be frustrated if I only did one or the other, but I know lots of people who simply opt out of the parts that don't excite them, or where they feel they are not as effective. There's lots of successful creative teams that work this way. Perhaps there's an animator out there who is a technical wizard but isn't really into the conceptual/ storytelling side of things that you could team up with?

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Yes, Scott. Hence my general leanings toward direction. I am generally in love with the process, the end results and the audience reaction more than anything.

 

However, I still have to communicate the ideas well so the summary of this discussion for me is really about that getting the ideas out and developed. I also don't hate production if it means I get to realize my ideas. I am just not as passionate about it.

 

-gl

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interesting reads here.

 

I do a lot of super-tiny super-messy storyboards. I don't ever make just one and head straight to my machine. I learned some really tough lessons on iterations not too long ago, and I let myself really internalize the fact that there will almost always be many many many versions of my ideas, and in order to make the best piece in the end, there will be many many ideas overall as well.

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