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  • Lee McRae

Career of a Motion Designer


Hi, my name is Lee McRae and I am a Motion Graphic Designer. I work at Shop Direct, where I create videos for brands Very and Littlewoods. Wondar, if you’re wondering is my freelance website I set up a year or two ago.


I went to the University of Sunderland where I studied Animation and Design. I was a mediocre 2:2 student and while I don’t look back at the work I did with any real pride, it doesn’t offend me. The biggest problem I have with this work is that it was all created in Flash. The technical knowledge I gained in Flash would never serve me any purpose ever again.


Over the course of my degree I became increasing intimidated by animation, there was a lot of labour involved in creating animation and I wasn’t improving at the rate I had hoped. It got a point where I stopped believing I had what it took to work in the animation industry. This was partly because I was lacking self-belief but also because I didn’t know what jobs existed; aside from fantasy full careers at the likes of Disney and Pixar.


In this blog, I hope I am able to shed some light on potential avenues available when starting a career as a creative. And help steer you clear from making some of the mistakes I made. Spoiler, I eventually got over the apprehension towards creating animation.


When I was done with university, I moved back home with my parents and I applied for any job that could be considered creative within a 30-mile radius. In hindsight, this was probably a mistake.


I didn’t have to wait long before I got my first job at Crystal Clear (A company that has since been liquidated), where it was my job to sketch websites; however, I wasn’t even close to being qualified to design websites. There was no training, no one to learn from and I quickly realised I wasn’t currently technically capable of fulfilling any creative role.


After a few months of stress and sleepless nights I quit my job at Crystal Clear and was subsequently unemployed 6 months. It was during this time I learnt Adobe Illustrator, made a graphic portfolio and applied for graphic design roles. I also applied for jobs at Asda and for reception work but no one wanted me.


By the time I managed to get my next job as a Graphic Designer at Kukri Sports, I was technically decent at Illustrator. My job role involved creating graphics for sports kits and I dabbled in Photoshop; editing photos for header images and product pages.


The creative teams at Kukri were mostly made up of recent graduates and so there were opportunities to stand out and find a creative niche in which to provide expertise. It wasn’t long before I established myself as the go to guy for creating bespoke graphics and I provided technical support in illustrator.


There was a Motion Designer at Kukri and while I didn’t learn any technical knowledge from him, I did learn what software he was using. I had heard of After Effects while at University but I had assumed, it was for adding effects in post-production. I now realised that After Effects was capable of much more, and more importantly, it was mainstream and popular software, more commonly used then say, Flash was.


The Motion Designer at Kukri eventually left to work on exciting projects in Canada and when the opportunity to replace him arose, I put myself forward. I wasn’t really capable of replacing him as he was far superior at After Effects than I; however, on paper, I appeared like a decent option. I was creating decent graphics and I had a degree in animation. I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to fill the Motion Graphics role and I spent my evening learning After Effects via tutorials online.


My After Effects work was improving but I was aware that I didn’t really know what I was doing. I didn’t understand video formats, or the correct way to work in After Effects and Premiere. I knew that if I was going to become technically capable I would have to learn from others with more experience.


I created a Linkedin profile and as if by magic I was contacted by an entrepreneur who was 3 months into starting his own animation company. He was looking for animators and illustrators to create animated explainer videos. He offered me an illustrator/animation role at Wyzowl and while I was nervous about joining a start-up, I think It was the best career move I could have made. I learnt huge amounts and I learnt it quickly.


My role was to take pre written scripts and from them illustrate storyboards. After a few rounds of amendments I would animate the video using the illustrations I made for the storyboard. At Wyzowl there was a motion graphics designer who had a couple of years of agency experience. He showed me everything I needed to know and I improved significantly, I become technically confident in After Effects and Premiere and I learnt a lot about an explainer video industry I never knew existed.


Whilst working at Wyzowl was great and I enjoyed my time there, I eventually started looking for new opportunities. Creating explainer videos was becoming repetitive and quick turn arounds meant I wasn’t delivering the quality I thought I was capable of. I wasn’t desperate to leave but I started applying for what I considered would be dream roles. I wanted a varied job role, working on bigger profile projects and if I could get a better salary at the same time, that would be a bonus.


I applied for a few roles and didn’t hear much back. One job I applied for was as a ‘Video Editor’ at Shop Direct. I had no idea what Shop Direct was but I remember the job advert because I recall the job title being misleading. There was video editing involved, but there was also a need for motion graphics, animation, post production and the role was a senior position. I suspect that if all this was made clearer in the job title I may have faced stiffer competition for the role. After a couple of interviews and a test project It transpired I had unwittingly landed myself an ideal role at a huge business.


Whilst I am a senior member of staff, I am the only Motion Designer in the business and so I don’t manage anyone. I manage the animation projects that come into the video team and I offer support on video edits and post production when needed. I also have the fortunate opportunity to collaborate and work with creatives who are brilliant in their respective field. I have learnt a tremendous amount about video and design from creatives better than I and I am better for it.


This brings us to present day. Life is good, my job is good, I’m ticking all the boxes as far as my ambition is concerned; however, when you are the only employee providing the same role for over four years, you start to wonder if there will be any opportunity to progress. For this reason, I have started flirting with the idea of freelance as a potential means to progress.


I created a site modelled on the services Wyzowl provide and offered my services to ex-colleagues, some of which are now freelance themselves. This approach generated work and I am slowly but surely creating a loyal customer base.


'Wondar make bespoke animated explainer videos.

On brand, on budget & delivered in style.' wondar.co.uk

#careeradvice #animation #freelance #AfterEffects #agency #creativeindustry #animationadvice #leemcrae #wondar #motiongraphics

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