Is It Pleasing to the Eye? 3 Guidelines I Use for Animation

Sometimes designers need a ruler or a guideline in their creative process. Ever since I started learning motion design (or design in general). When I’m unsure about something I made. I’ve always asked myself this simple question: “Is it pleasing to the eye?”.

What do I mean by that exactly? Well… let me give you an example. You know that feeling when you look at a perfectly organized desk? Maybe when you’re peeling off plastic from a new phone? It’s like that. Things that release dopamine to your brain and make you feel good and satisfied.

It’s the same thing with animation. Sometimes an animation can look clunky, unsatisfying, and not timed correctly. It can have non-harmonious colors and off-putting placement. It doesn’t feel natural.

Here are the three categories I pay attention to when making something pleasing to the eye.

1. Composition

The composition is like the layout of the design. The placement of every little shape matters.

One of my favorite ways to layout composition is to use grids. Most design programs have some form of grid or ruler that allows you to align objects to a grid.

A good rule is to try and follow something called “Rule of Thirds”. The idea is that any subject or object should be divided by thirds on a grid.

2. Aesthetics

The look of the animation matters. It can range from shapes, colors, lighting, tone, etc. All these things add up to make the style of an animation. If something doesn’t look right to me, I try and tinker around and experiment. You will discover a lot of things about your design if you experiment and play around with elements.

Color is very important in design. Pick harmonious colors that go well together and fit the theme you’re trying to aim for.

Heres what I like to do to find good color palettes. I look around my surroundings and see what colors go well together. For example, if it’s a sunny day outside, I would get inspired by the baby blue sky and the white clouds. So, in turn, I make my project color palette baby blue and white, since I know they go well together.

3. Timing

Timing is very important in animation. When a movement looks off, your subconscious notices it. It’s very important that your easing feels natural and fluid.

Your animation can feel natural or unnatural. How can you tell the difference? One guide I like to follow is to pretend the animation graph is a rollercoaster.

If the rails are janky and bumpy, the ride will be unenjoyable. But if the rails are built smooth, nice, and round. The ride will be enjoyable and fun. Same deal with F-Curves. When in doubt, I try and make my curves look like a fun rollercoaster.


I hope these tips help in your animating and design process! What guidelines do like to use when designing?

8 Super Handy After Effects Plugins for Motion Designers

All artists sometimes need helping hands in order to save time and efficiency in their workflow. So in order to help out, here is my list of 8 super handy plugins I use for After Effects!

1. Textify

Developed by motion design artist GeekyBrackets. Textify is my favorite tool for when I need to make a quick text animation. Think of it like Range Selectors turned up to 11.

It’s so easy that I pretty much use it anytime I’m animating text. It even has a “Randomize” button that lets you create a fancy looking animation in a pinch.

2. Motion 2

I know this plugin is mentioned in pretty much every article ever. But it’s one of those plugins that I can’t go without mentioning. Developed by popular educator Mt. Mograph, Motion 2 is an essential toolbox for motion designers.

Instead of fumbling around the Graph Editor. You can quickly change the velocity and easing of keyframes with just three sliders. Allowing you to fine-tune a keyframe animation in a pinch.

It has a bunch of useful tools like an anchor point tool, which lets you quickly center the anchor point to any corner in the object. It also has a naming tool that gives you the ability to quickly rename an assortment of layers.

There’s a new version called “Motion 3” that came out recently that adds even more features and a brand new look!

3. Rift

Rift is a godsend for when you need to sequence a bunch of layers at certain intervals with one click.

It lets you do things like choosing how many frames or seconds to shift the layers. It gives you the option to shift the whole layer or just the keyframes. You can even randomize how the layers are sequenced!

This plugin is very powerful and it saves a lot of time compared to shifting layers by hand.

4. EaseCopy

Don’t you wish you can just copy the ease of keyframes without messing up the property values? Well, now you can with EaseCopy!

This is a very simple plugin that lets you copy ease curves without having to go to the graph editor and re-do everything. It even adjusts the curve depending on how far apart your keyframes are. Very simple but very useful.

5. FX Console

FX Console is a plugin I can’t imagine working without.

It’s pretty much like a macOS Spotlight search but for After Effects. It’s a little search bar pop-up that lets you quickly lookup effects and presets and quickly applies it to the selected layer by hitting the enter key.

You can set shorthand keywords for your favorite effects. Let’s just say for example I want to quickly apply a Brightness & Contrast effect. I can make a shortcut with the label “bright” and assign it with that effect. Then when I search up “bright” it will quickly apply Brightness & Contrast to the selected layer. Isn’t that neat?

It also comes with a cool screenshot feature that lets you quickly save them as a .PNG. It also lets you drag and drop screenshots into the project without any long import times.

This plugin is awesome. I hope Adobe officially implements a feature like this one day.

6. ButtCapper

This a super simple plugin that lets you change the line cap with 1 click. No more twirling dropdown menus!

It’s just three buttons that let you change a line cap to butt cap, round cap, or projecting cap. If you Alt-click them you can also change the line join type too.

7. True Comp Duplicator

Do you ever get into a situation where you need to copy an entire composition, including its sub compositions? True Comp Duplicator makes that task way easier.

Select the composition, type in a new name, change around a few options to fit your needs, then click “Duplicate Selected”, and you’re done! A Cumbersome task turned easy.

8. DecomposeText

Very useful for when you want to animate text individually without having to type each separate character by hand. It splits up each character into its own text layer and it aligns them perfectly as if it was one layer. A super simple tool but highly useful!


Welp, that’s it! I hope at least one of these tools can help you out in your future projects!

How To Create a Basic Cube Animation In After Effects

I’m going to show you the steps it takes to make a basic cube animation. For this example, we’re going to make a cube slide in from the bottom, spin around, and then expand to fill the screen. This simple animation will teach you about setting up a project, adding shapes, and basic keyframe animation.

The download for the finished project file is at the end of the article!

Setting up the project

Let’s start by creating the project file. When you create a new project file you will be greeted by an empty canvas with 2 buttons. Start by clicking the New Composition button in the empty canvas.

A new window will pop-up with a bunch of settings for the composition. This may look overwhelming at first, but there are only 5 things we need to focus on: Name, Width, Height, Frame Rate, and Duration.

I’m going to name the composition “Simple Animation” but feel free to name it whatever you want. Make the width 1920px and height 1080px, change the Frame Rate to 60 frames per second, and make the duration 6 seconds. Then click OK.

It should look something like this.

Adding objects

Now that we set up our project, we can add in the objects. Let’s start by adding in the background.

Go to the title bar at the very top of the window and go to Layer > New > Solid… You will see a new pop-up that looks very similar to the new composition screen. Let’s change the Color to orange (#DE885A). Then click OK.

Next, we’re going to create the cube. Look for the toolbar at the top of the window and select the Rectangle Tool. Change the Fill to white. Then click and drag anywhere on the canvas to create a cube. In order to create a perfect cube, hold down Shift+Ctrl (Shift+Cmd on Mac) on your keyboard to keep the cube proportionate.

Now that we created the cube, we need to center it on the canvas. Right-click on the cube and go to Transform > Center Anchor Point in Layer Content to center the anchor point. Then right-click again and do Transform > Center In View to center the cube.

Your composition should look like this.

Animating the cube

To animate the cube we need to create keyframes. Think of keyframes like destinations on a GPS. When you want to go somewhere, you set a starting position of where you are and your destination of where you want to go. Then the GPS will calculate how to take you there.

When you set a keyframe at frame 0, that’s like your starting position. Then when you create another keyframe on frame 60, that’s like your destination. When you play the animation, the computer will calculate what will happen in between the starting and destination keyframes.

We want the cube to slide from the bottom of the canvas. So let’s start with the position.

Make sure you’re at the beginning frame of your animation. Select the cube in your timeline and press ‘P’ on your keyboard to show the Position property. Click the stopwatch icon next to Position to create your first keyframe.

Next, go one second forward in the timeline and click the diamond icon in between the arrows to create your second keyframe.

Go back to the first frame and click and drag on the cube while holding ‘Shift’ to move the cube up and down in place. Then drag the cube below the canvas.

With the cube still selected, go to the 2-second mark in the timeline and press ‘R’ on your keyboard to show the Rotation property, then add a new keyframe. Go to the 3-second mark and change the rotation to “+180”. This will animate the cube to do a 180-degree spin.

Lastly, go to the 4-second mark and press ‘S’ on your keyboard to show the Scale property, then add a new keyframe. Go to the 5-second mark and click and drag the Scale property until the cube fills up the entire canvas.

The key animation is done! Press ‘U’ on the keyboard to see all your active keyframes, then press ‘Spacebar’ to preview the animation to make sure everything is correct.

Easing the animation

Now that we have the key animation completed. We’re going to use the Graph Editor to adjust the ease in and ease out of the keyframes to make the animation smooth.

Click and drag in the timeline to select all the keyframes, and Easy Ease them by pressing ‘F9’ on your keyboard. This will smooth out your animation.

With the keyframes still selected, let’s go to the Graph Editor. Click the little graph icon next to the search bar and you will see the new graph view pop up in the timeline.

Next, right-click anywhere on the Graph Editor to change the view from Value Graph to Speed Graph.

Finally, click and drag the handles under the curves to adjust the easing of the keyframes. These curves represent the speed and velocity of the keyframes.

We’re going to make the Position slow down towards the end of the keyframes (Ease Out).

Then, make the Rotation start slow, then speed up, and then slow down again.

And lastly, make the Scale speed up towards the end of the keyframes (Ease In).

Make the graph look like this.

Done!

Congratulations! You did it! Preview the animation and be proud of your work!

Download the finished cube animation here!