Do More Than Just Abstract

January 25, 2010 - By 

I came across this animation yesterday and love how he took unrelated, abstract shots and made them into an actual piece that feels somewhat whole and complete. It got me thinking about how everybody (including me) is getting so excited about what 3D software can do and are learning only a lot of great looking tricks with some abstract shapes. This stuff is fun for sure and we should definitely play. Mograph 2 makes it really easy to throw colored spheres across the room, or smash up a cube. But, we shouldn’t just stop there. How can we push this learning further and create more interesting work and learn other important skills like story telling and editing?

So, what should we do?
Let’s start by making spots or stories with our tests. Think about how they can all have the same theme, color scheme or look. In the spot above, the artist uses solid shapes of color and a strong edit to the choppy music track as a way to hold these random shots together thematically. As you can see, it doesn’t take much to make a series of random tests and make them feel like a real spot of finished animation.

Don’t forget, with all this new knowledge out there, more and more people are learning the same things you are. EVERYBODY is watching that same tutorial you just did. So, as you learn and make tests, think about ways to push forward from there. Go ahead and render out all your fun, abstract Mograph tests, think about your style, and try to make something special with them today.

  • I totally agree with this . Work on this for about one month now but i just can’t stop trying. Maybe it’s time now to bring all this thing to life. thanks for that point .

  • Great piece. The music is perfect and I love the colors.

    Great keyframes.

  • I think something has to be said on how intertwined sound and motion are in this piece. Almost each motion has a corresponding sound or music change that just fits.

  • I love this site! Really pushes me to not just do more, but think about there being some real artistry in my creations.

  • I’ve always believed that it’s one thing to make a beautiful piece that dazzles the mind, but if there isn’t a solid story that the viewer can take with them afterwards, then you’ve lost the connection you might have made during the piece.

    Even simple stories make a difference.

    Cool short!

  • I really liked it, the mix it created with animation and music.
    The thing that makes me frustated is that it’s some basic things but edited and animated with great sense of continuity and motion.

  • thaaaat is the reason i am looking forward for some design knowledge stuff 😀 (if you will put some on here)

    not a tutorial, but knowledge

  • Saw this on vimeo’s staff picks. I think with this kind of animations, sound design is key. From what I can see, they started with the music first and then animated to it (while giving it story). You should check out some of their other stuff.

    Sound design on all their animation is a major part. Check out their demoreel or their entry in Cut&Paste Tokyo
    Cubesato’s sound is perfect for this kind of stuff.

    Great post Nick.

  • Great thoughts Nick– I caught this clip in my inbox last week and was really entranced. It creates such a solid synesthesia between the image and sound; a great example of pulling even an abstracted narrative into an otherwise pure shape- and color-centric piece. Definitely one of my aspirations, to develop skills in making those connections between sound and motion! Thanks for sharing.

  • Saw this a couple days ago, blew my mind

  • Hey Nick, great video !
    It reminds me this one. Very simple, abstract but uniform and gorgeous :

    And your article is quite interesting. We always want to perform great looking animations, lot of VFXs and blah blah blah, but, like you say, the difference between a professional and an amateur is :

    The background, typography, semiology, CULTURE ( god ! Everybody should open his book of history of Art, three time per week ! ) the eye, the narration, story telling, rythme, color theory, and a thousand other things.

    Do you want a kick-ass video, pushing you to your limit ?
    John Lasseter is here 😉


  • I think this piece really proves how sound is 50%. That being said, as much as important as the images are. Something animators don´t take much into account sometimes.

  • Love that piece, really inspiring, and just brilliant in the way that it brings together so many abstract ideas into a seemless and neat package. Sometings just don’t need a story, its just fun. Reminded me off this… tho it far from simple its just great abstraction and just really really creative…

  • but what if everyone reads your post and everyone goes further o0 🙂

    great point! awesome site and tutorials dude!

  • As usual, great stuff!
    Can you apply to be the rep for C4D at the CTN expo this year? You have a great handle on what it can do and how you can be creative with it! (their reps were very much non creative, showing galleries from the content disc, etc.)

  • “Don’t forget, with all this new knowledge out there, more and more people are learning the same things you are. EVERYBODY is watching that same tutorial you just did. So, as you learn and make tests, think about ways to push forward from there.”

    Man, I agree. And this is precisely why I’d stay away from the likes of Crowdspring too. (If follow GSG on twitter and saw Ross K. popping up) Don’t get me wrong – Ross & co. sure are swell chums, but their strategy is “schmooze-and-defuse” and their service scoops-up a lot of small business folks who have a common but serious ignorance of what design is and what it can do for them, especially in a branding context and especially in terms of achieving true differentiation and better core positioning.

    I don’t know if it’s because clients in this kind of system are positioned as some kind of crowd-sourcing art director, or if it’s the kind of people who “design” on spec for these guys – but damn if it doesn’t churn out a huge pile of visual mediocrity…and seems to be a big part of the blanding and crapification and stylistic copy-monotony of their niche’s visual landscape.

    Not to mention (since I’m on a roll) it usually doesn’t do the client any good in terms of articulating or strengthening or differentiating their core brand either. They just pick from the pretty pictures, and will never know what design, and a professional design relationship and project process, actually could have done for their needs.

    I just don’t want the mograph world to also be infected by this system – where newbies scurry to crank out quick basic quick crap facsimiles of recent stylistic trends (and sometimes stealing others’ work flat out) in a random splatter approach, never making big creative leaps. And with the low return high risk structure, never able to put the time and concentration required to really evolve as creatives…all for a chance at peanuts….it seems wrong. And a place where rapport and trust cannot be developed with a client, and where hopes of being picked by a small business owner so often depend on copying safe, familiar, driven-into-the-ground recent stylistic trends that the client (who generally knows / cares nothing for the visual communications industry) might happen to be aware of…this is bottom-feeder stuff.

    I just don’t want this kind of crowdspringification to happen to motion graphics!

    Please, I beg, let’s do what we can not to let it!

    A few rare good samples aside (hard work often NOT picked by clients) it’s a pit of lowest-common denominator copy-copy-crap-copy-steal-copy-crap. Please don’t support bringing this race to the bottom to our mograph community!

    (I personally also think this kind of company also takes full and nasty advantage of general freelance newbie cluelessness about intellectual property law for creatives, too, in its draconian contracts entered into upon participation….)

    Can you tell I’m anti-crowdspringification? I believe it’ll hurt the industry deeply in the long run, and contrary to arguments about such places giving newbies a place to practice and learn, it’s an economic model and environment that makes it extremely hard for participants to meaningfully evolve or and develop a valuable unique visual voice…

    …whew! Thanks for listening! Any thoughts?

    • Thanks for the great comment, danno. But, if you think by ignoring this trend, that you will stop it or make it go away, you are wrong. Rest assured, there will be a “Crowdspring” of motion graphics sooner than later. Will it produce the BEST work? Probably not, Will it close current businesses? Probably. But, cheaper tools ALWAYS kill other, more expensive business and push prices down. How do you think flame artists felt when After Effects came out? They probably think the same way about all us learning how to make animation on our laptops as you do about Crowdspring.

      Here is what you CAN do. Be better!. Be better than the people wiling to work for less. Look at the photography business. EVERYONE has a digital camera nowadays, so why hire a professional photographer? You hire a pro, because they are better. They will get the once in a life time shot.

      As the tools become cheaper, there will be more and more crap work. I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Spend your energy trying to be better then the average kid with a laptop. Make great work on time and on budget. Do that and you will stay in business.

  • Man, sorry for the rant…I guess it just bugs me when folks like the crowdspringers says they’re “democratizing the industry” when they’re actually just commoditizing it.

    I think, even more so than a bunch of folks learning an industry and copying stylistic tutorials or software recipes for recent trends, crowdspringification is the sort of thing that contributes to a bland, crappy environment.

    I just don’t want them ever to try to do to mograph what they did to graphic / web / logo design. What greyscalegorilla does is help broaden and democratize an industry -I just fear these crowdspring spec guys could be right behind, ready to try to commoditize everything and make a quick buck off it all.

    • Danno – I’m wondering what you see as the difference between democratizing an industry and commoditizing it. Also wondering whether you feel that industries reachable via the Internet are immune from commoditization.

    • Ross – I must have set off one of those “negative comment on the internet” alarms pretty fast!

      But good question; I suppose I feel an industry (or profession) is democratized when professional barriers to entry become negligible. Like with acting, or athletics. (Unlike your profession in law, for example, where specialized knowledge is heavily regulated and licensed).

      And really, I guess I think of a discipline like design as “democratic” wherever access to its historical /theoretical / practical knowledge base (and professional toolset) is broadly accessible – and is not some kind of jealously-guarded secret regulated by a 15th century monastic guild brimming with deadly martial arts masters…

      When I say Crowdspring reenforces the perception that visual communications is a commodity, I’m talking not about more people having access to standard industry tools or anything, but this:

      “Commoditization (early 1990s, origins Business theory) is the process by which goods that have economic value and are distinguishable in terms of attributes (uniqueness or brand) end up becoming simple commodities in the eyes of the market or consumers.” In other words, the race to bottom-end pricing becomes what matters.

      Things like carrots or soybeans are largely a commodity —to the trading market, beans are beans and price is auctioned per metric ton. Different brands sometimes even fill their bags from the same big storage vats. And I don’t much care which bag my soybeans come in. I guess I see crowdspring somewhat as selling undifferentiated ‘design’ as a commodity largely by quantity.

      There’s often a broad ignorance about the purpose, process, nature and core value of visual communications (especially in helping authentically define and differentiate a business) among new and smaller potential clients who might only have a fuzzy idea of what branding and positioning strategies can really do for them.

      Working to help lower-end groups understand this value is made even more difficult, I believe, through environments where design is understood as a commodity – for example, where one anonymous ‘creative’ is largely interchangeable from the next, a service is pitched and sold through guarantees of quantity, where proper process and a professional relationship dynamic is just not possible, and where everything ends with a “buyer” (not a client or collaborator) selecting from a menu of pretty pictures.

    • Danno – that’s an outstanding answer! (I regularly engage in discussions on blogs – and love the work that Nick is doing here – he mentioned that people were talking about crowdSPRING and I was curious). Thanks for taking the time and sharing your perspective. You might be surprised that there are many things about your answer with which I agree. For a large group of buyers (mainly small businesses), design has historically been a commodity and will continue to be a commodity. There is indeed much more to branding than the logo (I wrote about this in crowdSPRING’s blog today if you’re interested) and many businesses don’t understand that.

      In a way – it’s the same struggle with motion graphics. Consumers (including businesses) of more sophisticated creative services simply don’t fully understand those services and don’t appreciate the effort involved in delivering outstanding results.

      It’s something we work on every day, in finding new ways to communicate with clients on crowdSPRING – to educate them about the value of design and to help them understand that design is not just a pretty picture.

  • Awesome job. I’ve been using FL8 to produce music for my projects, but now I’m considering going another route. The audio in this piece is sick.

  • I’m not to worried about it, or at least, didn’t get affected as much as danno z. but I do agree with him. I actually tried out the crowdspring thing and worked on a couple of projects through it. I noticed that when doing what I usually do for a logo project, going through the sketches and concepts and finalizing and all the steps I usually go through, I have limited personal interaction with the client. (Some are better than others). It just seemed too manufactured and not enough thought or interaction from the client really made me think that the clients brand or image he wanted his business to be personified by wasn’t that important. I quit after trying it out for about a month interacting with 4 maybe 5 different jobs. I noticed by the last couple I was actually dumbing myself down cause I think since it seemed like it wasn’t important enough for the client, why should I really try to evoke a deep clear message to identify his brand when I could quickly come up with a popular web 2.0 look that could get me paid in less time. As a designer, thats no good mentally and I split from it. Just wanted to contribute and say I do agree with danno z. but it is what it is and I moved on without even letting it bother me but just to push harder in the direction I want to carry myself as a designer.

    • Dan – thanks for giving crowdSPRING a try. We’ve always said that crowdSPRING is not for everyone, and in your case, you clearly found that it wasn’t for you. You’re absolutely right about the more limited interaction with the client – that’s something that we constantly strive to improve. I imagine that creative-client interaction would be even more complicated with motion graphics.

  • Personally, speaking as a graduate of an arts degree, and coming into motion graphics by the back door of music so to speak, but never really tried crowdspring, elance, or any other similar site. I’m constantly looking to improve myself, my skills, and my output through learning as much as possible about techniques, artistry, design, and technology.

    I have a part-time freelance motion graphics and editors position at a local media company, they’re small, and they like to choose who they hire in for work depending on their budget for their work, for their employers. I know they will gladly spend good money on established and experienced designers, if they have the funds to do so. And they do. But at other times when they are only doing a short promo for a another local company, for a small budget, they want something cheap and cheerful.

    I went to university as a mature student, and during my time there discovered that although I’d only really dabbled in motion graphics before, and now that I had access to the knowledge and equipment, I had a real passion for it, and made in my career, so in order to continue improving myself and make a living, I pitch myself to those junior positions I know I can do well. In the meantime I’m on every site, every blog, book and seminar, and making my own experiments to go forward and learn.

    My point is that there are so many more outlets for motion graphics and digital designers as a whole than there was 10 years ago, the web for instance must have increased the demand for all types of digital creatives enormously, that there’s more work available accross the board. All that’s happened is the industry has stretched out a little more creating new junior positions in paralel with the more experienced, mid-level and senior positions. The ladder to the top just got a little longer, and I’ve taken a few steps, but I’m not going to get there without knowledge and practice.

    I’ve always believed that in this industry, good design isn’t necesarily obvious at first sight, but bad design is, so just believe in yourself and your work if it’s good enough.

  • I think that what Nick said is the truth, making tools more acessible makes tons of crap work come out, but it also makes some talents bloom.
    And you can’t be affraid of that, because it will make your life easier, imagine if we were to do motion graphic’s work with Flame or all this systems that can be WAY more expensive that our macs with adobe and apple suites? And it would take years for us just to learn techniques, the creative part, would eventualy start decaying because of the lack of usage. Or we would have to make the concept and leave all the animation part for other people, which can be a real trip to hell sometimes.

    This things like crowdspring (which i’ve just known) will never get to affect people who are not just “button pushers” or “mouse clickers”. Look at this people’s reels and you’ll see, their work is crappy copied stuff for crappy clients, amateur reward for amateur demand. Professionals would never leave the work to their fifteen year old relatives that do funny videos for youtube. At least, i’ve never seen a good book been designed in photoshop by a guy who signs with his youtube username or a good movie edited in windows movie maker.

    We have to stop being afraid of things like that and focus on beeing good, being DAMN GOOD. I like to watch Bill Cahan speaking on Cahan and Associates’ website ( to motivate me and remember just to seek greatness and do things that matter, and just not losing my time with things that won’t make me go further. You may think “oh! but i’ve got bills to pay and so on…” but think carefully abaout what is going further, sometimes, doing simple things that you’ve never done is already a step, making relations and friendship instead of contacts, trying something new and finding a way to make some work that could just be a regular piece into some real cool shit, is stepping further.

    ps: sorry for the long post also! I know i have made long pauseless (can that be a word?) but it’s 2 AM and i still have a lot of work to do! And sorry for the rusty english i’ve been just reading and listening and almost never writing or speaking for some time.

    • i’d like to share my experience with all that. after 12 years in the broadcast industry and 7 as a 2D compositor on after effect i recently decided to work by my own as a freelance motion designer to improve my carrier and the fun i have to do it. i am definitly not the best but at least experienced.
      i also move from paris . this led me to try elance, crowspring, freelancer and so on. after a few month trying, i do feel like a don quixotte fighting against windmill but i keep trying because i also think that as professionnals of our profession we must teach our clients how to make the difference between what’s good or not, whats fair or not. and i believe it will pay some day, recently a client from my bid tells me, “good work, i like your test but you are twice expensive than the others, low your price!” i answered that if it was only a matter of money i cant do a thing for him, that i was talking about improving his company image that my prices were fixed fairly considering his project and not considering the others prices. (we were talking about 100$ for a 1 minute movie…) and he agreed with the fact that quality and experience were having a price that neede to be recognized. anyway!

      these web tools are pretty new in the production process and all these web new stuff have one common-denominator, wildness and excess, everything is allowed, no market rules, no culture. thats why i really think that we must teach our clients, we need to fix these rules, and find out how to use better these tools (who are also crowded by clients) by keeping a high level at a fair trade rate.

      can you help me define what his a fair trade in motion graphics?

  • You can learn the “simple” abstract shapes by a tutorial. But I think you can’t learn from a tutorial how to choose the right music and edit all the pieces together in a great looking video(clip). You need at least some talent or want to learn and edit over and over again. To make a edit like this, that’s what I think, can’t be learned from a tutorial. So work hard, learn everyday and be kind ;-).
    I think (hope at least) people can see the difference. It’s the men behind the camera that’s making great photo’s not the camera itself.

    ps: sorry for my bad english. I do the best I can. 😉

  • Sound design is really important.

    I had the opportunity to help Tim Clapham (HelloLuxx)with his latest MILG 7 series teasers for Motionworks. It was an amazing experience.

    I dont understand when designers use stock music/effects. They work so hard to improve their skills, create original pieces and stand out from the crowd, then they add a random stock music that anyone can find anywhere. This automatically downregulates the overall quality.

    Ask musicians around you! There are people willing to help!

  • Hallelujah Gorilla.
    I have thought about this soo long. I’m kind of tired of simple mograph renders, and this is awesome info for loads of people. Me included.

  • Just AN IDEA?!

    What about kind of project
    When you make something out of this colored shapes and stuff – you put out in the post your project files and everyone should continue or upgrade or remake or change your thing and make it in a new piece?! something more finished, that will take some time? Just a phace? /something like the 5sec project but this time based on one thing, not word, but image, to make something different- that how anyone can show their own style, idea etc/
    Or the other thing? Thay can make it by scratch /more time/ and do the same as above…

  • really digging the transitions in this piece and how well the animation fits with the music

  • Really great comments and conversation here touched off by the challenge to be better. I want to see how the next gen of talent makes a go of the business as well as what they produce.

    I’ve been using AE since it needed a COSA dongle. Most of the learning I’ve done with the button mashing aspect is now available to a new user as a tutorial for free. This really has exploded in the last few years.

    Artists have been very open about sharing the knowledge and the distribution of this has been leveraged by the mass adoption of the web.

    Lots of eyeballs and places to show your work out there but with that the premium that was once payed by sponsors to create and display the work has lessened.

    Were at a very interesting point in the creative industries. The old ways are changing or broken and the new ways not yet fully formed.

  • Hi there everyone. Really interesting posts here. I thought I might share this with you in case you hadn’t seen it yet. It gives a very interesting look into our industry and where it is and may be heading.

    This was posted on Wired a while back and mentioned an issue or two ago in Videography. It’s catered more towards the video industry but it came to mind while reading these posts.

    Just to put it out there, I don’t think this is the end of producing media at a high quality or that everything will one day be produced by one man crews. Just an interesting perspective on things as the consumption of media is skyrocketing.

  • As a student i’m a bit scared. Because on one hand i am the one following al those tutorials, scattering the webs for info and more info. On the other hand , i want to be ‘unique’ and make and find inspiration where others do not. So when other students ask me where do you get your stuff i at first was a bit like: no , that’s my source (oh my god , how sad:)).
    But i do share it afterall because as nick says : it’s the why, the creativeness that makes you jump out and that will not change in the industry ( i hope).

  • Great video. Good point Nick! Been following this site for so long eventhough I’m not into Cinema for my 3d tool(I used Softimage). I stick around because this site very interesting and inspiring to be creative in so many ways. Really helps me get better the creative field and push myself to move forward!

    Cheer and keep up the good work!

  • Agree with your post. The video I linked below is something I put together with everything I learned from Greyscalegorilla in the past two months. I decided to learn Cinema 4D to widen my skill set to say the least.

  • Just one more thing to add to this good discussion :
    Tools will be always tools… The creative process is the adventure AND the thing that will make your work unique

  • saw this a couple of weeks ago and loved every second (almost). I think there is a fine line between having your morale crushed (cus there are people that are so good at what theyr doing) and getting inspired and wanting to learn more. Luckily I mostly feel the latter 🙂

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.