Stephen Minty on motion design, inspiration and freelancing

My thanks to Stephen Minty for agreeing to this interview. Stephen is a motion designer who lives and works in Bristol. He kindly agreed to answer my questions on his career, where he finds inspiration, and life as a freelancer.

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Q: For those who might not know, can you describe how a motion designer’s job varies from a character animator?

A: Defining "Motion Designer" is generally pretty difficult, as it's an umbrella terms that can cover a number of disciplines in various combinations. So, for example, I've worked on title sequences based around 3D text with flares and particles, 2D explainer videos, character animation for social media channels, live concert visuals, animation composited into footage, and logo animations. The best description I've heard is "Animation, but not cartoons". If someone still doesn't know what I mean, I tell them to watch an advert break on TV and look for anything that isn't shot footage - that's motion design.

Q: What advice can you give to other people, who are interested in a career in motion design?

A: Regarding skills, my main piece of advice would be to absolutely learn the technical side of things - getting familiar with After Effects, Cinema 4D, and Illustrator, and understanding what they can do - but appreciate that that's only one small part of it.

The best motion design work is a combination of a great idea, good storytelling, nice composition, a complimentary colour palette, smart design, and compelling animation. Learn the fundamentals of film-making, animation, design, drawing, storytelling, etc. and strive to always improve in these areas. Software competency should just be a means to applying these skills.

Regarding the business of motion design, whether you want to work in a studio or go it alone as a freelancer, the best thing you can do for your career is to build relationships. Get on Twitter and Instagram, find the studios you love, find the people you admire, as well as the lesser known freelancers and staff designers in the industry, and chat with them often. The aim is not to go in with the firm objective of getting hired, but just to appreciate that when studios are looking to hire staff or freelancers, they'll tend to go to people they know and trust first. Be nice, be visible, and post work fairly regularly, and you'll soon be on the radars of the people who can help your career progress.

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Q: Where do you find your inspiration?

A: Most of my inspiration comes from my Twitter feed. It's fairly well curated to mostly follow people who post good work often, so when I check in throughout the day, there's usually something cool that gets me excited. That said, I try not to rely too much on inspiration to motivate me. I love this quote from Octavia Butler, which encourages me to keep working on improving every day, even when I'm not inspired:

Forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won't. Habit is persistence in practice.

Q: What is your process for forming ideas, after being given a brief by a client?

A: I usually start by staring at the brief, re-reading it over and over, and waiting for an idea to hit me. That works 50% of the time! When that fails, I use Google image search, create a Pinterest board, and look for details and common themes that spark ideas.

Most of the time, once that initial idea hits, it snowballs and quickly turns into a larger idea. I then sometimes try to roughly sketch things down, but I'm honestly faster at throwing something together in Illustrator than I am at drawing, so I tend to get straight back on the computer! I'm trying to get better with drawing at the moment, though, as I'd like to be able to go from idea to competent rough sketch in a matter of seconds.

Q: What are the benefits of freelance work, rather than full time employment at a studio or video production company?

A: It's very subjective. For me, the draw of freelancing is that you never ever need to waste your time. If you have a slow day with nothing to do, you find something personal to work on, or do some admin that you've been meaning to get done. Whereas in a full time job, your time is paid for, so if you've wrapped up your project by 11am, all but the most forward-thinking employers will usually find something menial for you to do until home time.

I always hated doing something of little benefit to either myself or the company when I could have been doing a tutorial, or working on a personal project.

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Q: How did you “make the leap” - so to speak - and begin freelancing full time?

A: My first push came when my partner signed on to do a PhD in Bristol, meaning we had to move from London and start fresh. That prompted me to quit my non-design job and finally make a go of motion design, despite not having another job to go to. I freelanced with one client for three months, before being offered a full time motion designer job. It was exciting to finally be hired to do the job I wanted, but the studio's focus was on a very specific kind of low-budget work, and I quickly felt like I'd outgrown the role.

Within six months, I felt like my career was being limited by the lack of variety or creative input, and with some encouragement from other local freelancers, I got my head down to prepare myself for full time freelancing. By the time I'd left, I had a showreel, a website, and a few clients I'd worked for on evenings and weekends. It was a steep learning curve, and a little over one year on I still feel a bit like I'm making it up as I go, but my work/life balance and creative fulfilment are both infinitely better.

Q: Do you have any tips for people looking for freelance projects?

A: As I said before, build relationships. This can be informal, by interacting regularly with the community on Twitter, and more formal, by e-mailing the studios you like and saying "Hey, I'm here and I'd love to work with you". My clients are pretty evenly split between work referred to me by freelancer friends from Twitter who are fully booked, and studios that I've asked to meet for a coffee and a chat.

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Q: Thanks for taking time out of your day for this interview. Where can we go to see your work?

Thanks for having me!

My showreel and portfolio are on my website (http://www.itsminty.co.uk ), but I post more of my silly personal work on Dribbble (http://www.dribbble.com/MintyMoGraph ) and Twitter (https://www.twitter.com/MintyMoGraph )