How Do You Know?


Aharon Rabinowitz @ABAOProductions and I received an excellent question from @mattbrushinski on Twitter this morning asking “How do you guys know what to add or not add to your projects to give it that extra push into awesome?” My short Twitter response was to say that it takes time and experience to know what to add or remove, but I felt that the question deserved more consideration.

I’ve found over the years that the more I create, the less I have to think about what something needs to look “right” and the more I sense it.  And by right I don’t necessarily mean finished, as there are many times where a project could continue indefinitely if I didn’t have a deadline, simply because I could go on tweaking forever!

With experience, knowing what tools and techniques to use becomes more fluid, with less guess work involved. Like any skilled craftsperson, the tools move in and out of your hands without over thinking and the creative process flows more easily. But what if you don’t have as much experience? One of the best things you can do is ask other’s their opinion. Get feedback from others, especially from those whose work you like, and don’t be precious if the response isn’t overly positive.

With experience, knowing what tools and techniques to use becomes more fluid, with less guess work involved.

Even if you are experienced that shouldn’t stop you, I’m pretty confident I know what looks good and often ask others for suggestions. When you’re up close to a project for an extended period you can lose site of what isn’t working or might be missing – things that could make a good spot look great –  and that’s where a fresh eye really helps. It may need a colour grade, some more contrast, a slight ease or perhaps a bounce at the end of a move. It’s these small refinements that can give spots that little extra so be sure to ask your colleagues “what else do you think this needs?”.

As far as actual techniques go, when I have the bulk of a look created I’ll often throw on a bunch of Adjustment Layers with Curves, glows, blurs and various stylising effects depending on the look I’m after.  It’s also a good time to try experimenting with effects see what it gives you. This stage, when the project is basically done, is a great time to play with new things.

Often I’ll overcook the look and have to strip things back again, so be sure to save loads over versions. And on the topic of stripping back, what are some of the things you may want to remove from your spots? It depends on the project but basically anything that doesn’t have a reason for being there and that doesn’t assist the message. Don’t drop things in just for the sake of it or because it’s the latest flavour. Ask yourself does it really need a lens flare? Does it really need 3D type or would 2D work better? Am I using this just because I think it’s cool? Ask yourself if you’re being true to the message and be prepared to strip things back, often less is more.

Aharon also offered the following thoughts on Twitter:

“I think everyone should have someone who’s opinion they trust and whom they can forgive (for harsh criticism). It’s important to be able to hear that your work needs improvement. Most people can’t or don’t process it. But it really helps to surround yourself with other creative people, and to seek their thoughts. I always ask myself: Would I be impressed by this work if it were not mine? Would I think it was special?”

How about you? How do you know what to add or take away to give your projects that little extra?

  1. Matt Brushinski

    Thanks again for posting this John. I’ve noticed in the past couple years, there’s been a lot of falling back on the what seems to be the trinity of motion graphics. That’s lens-flares, depth of field, and particles. Add a little wiggle to the camera and you can pretty much put anything in that composition and it’ll look great. I’ve tried to steer clear but I end up using those crutches. I did venture away from those and tried using vector/2D animation to use a separate part of the brain for a while but that has essentially put me in a category of corporate motion graphics which leaves little room for experimentation or creativity. I’m blessed to have had steady work coming in, but I see so many artists that produce such AMAZING work with nearly a quarter of the time that I’ve put into motion graphics. Maybe it’s because I didn’t go to the art school that a lot of people have and I’m missing a small yet integral part of the equation. I digress. Thank you again for writing this up and I hope to see some comments from others that may have some of my same experiences. Cheers.

    • John Dickinson

      Hi Matt,
      I didn’t go to art school either and often used to wonder if there was something I was missing because of that! Not these days though.

  2. Oliver

    Regarding 3D renders and compositing the answer is quite simple: You know what to add through experience and practice. A lot of trial and error. I think the best requirement for getting better in this field is when you FEEL that your current design is not looking (esthetically) right yet. Then you start tweaking around and find out by yourselves whats missing. And this is the actual process where you getting better.

    Also it might help to recreate styles from different Artists for yourselves to find out how they did it. Later you can implement these tools and techniques to your own work.

    When it comes down to compositing i use levels to bring the color values to an appropriate level. After that hue/saturation and S-Curve. Then of course DOF, Motionblur, Glow, Grain, Vignette. At the end secondary grading with giant color suite. One nice method for Glows is to apply them on your specular pass. Then you only effecting the highlights, which is more natural and looking right.

    Btw. Rob Redman wrote an good article about compositing:

  3. Gerson Bradford

    For me, simplicity is the key. Most of the times I create successful work. Nevertheless, sometimes, I lose my creativity simply because a negative emotion or emotions playback in my mind and block that wonderful creative intuition. So, I actually don’t judge those negative feelings and they evaporate very quickly. When I’m under this intuition or “in the now”, I always find that extra push! It works every time! No matter what.
    Also, I find a lot of creativity by visiting this website! This website is one of my biggest inspirations.

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