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Quick Tips for Creating Useful Motion Graphics Templates

For some time, I've wanted to sit down and write a bit about my process of creating motion graphics templates. It's something I've done several times for shows like Eons, Mental Floss, and 100 Days. I've most recently completed a template for Origin of Everything, and figured now was as good of a time as any to walk through my process. Hopefully there are a few things that can help you save time. If you see something I could be doing better, please let me know!

1. Nulls are amazing

Nulls are crazy powerful as they allow for easy access to variables that need to be adjusted. This saves a ton of time and I use them primarily in two ways:

a) Being a parent of an image so that it can manipulate variables regardless of whatever size its child is. In this case it is a slow zoom in on the image.

b) Containing sliders or other data I want to have quick access to. In this case I'm using a null with a slider so that I can manipulate the size of the text box without digging through a Buch of shape layer attributes. This also allows me to adjust the size of the shadow easily too.

2. Placeholders are wonderful

I've gotten in the habit of creating a bright colored solid layers for as an image placeholder. This allows me to alt-drag an image over top. It also helps keep the file size of the project down. Oh, hey, that brings me to my next point.

3. Be as light as possible

Because these templates are being duplicated every week, it is important to keep the projects as small as possible.

a) As I'm designing, I have a master file that I'm using. This allows me to pull elements from the intro, for example, without importing a project. When I'm ready to hand the template off to an editor, I create a light version; one that only contains the assets needed for day to day production. That means selecting only the needed folders, and pressing reduce (after triple checking to make sure that I'm not saving over my master).

b) During the creation phase, I'm not too worried about all the large photoshop files I'm referencing. But, as we get close to launch, I make sure to export only the layers I need as png's, so that I don't need to import a giant photoshop file each time.

4. Label and color everything

Part of this is just to fulfill some obsessive compulsion, but it also really really helps when you're coming back into a project you haven't touched in a long time. So, for example, I've colored all the textbox layers in orange, and all the image layers in brown. I've also made sure to, as much as possible, keep all the layers together in a chunk.

I also like to leave notes about what each layer is doing and what I need to do to manipulate variables. This has saved me many time from hunting and twirling down attributes.

5. Know what to create

Here's a picture of the folder structure of my light After Effects project for Origin of Everything. I've found it most useful to make:

  • An intro

  • Fullscreen Image options (including versions where there is more than one image on screen).

  • Picture-in-Picture options

  • Transition variations (not alpha/luma mattes, but transitions with assets)

  • Lower third text

  • Quote template

  • Endscreen