WORKING REMOTELY: A Quick Guide for Motion Designers


illustration by XAV for Tribann Productions

Some of you might have to work from home for the very first time. And for those who are already familiar with remote work you might still find some useful tips and tools in here.


First off, you need to create an adequate and comfortable environment to work. You might want to have an optimized work-space with a dedicated home office and a powerful Desktop Workstation for productivity and fast render times, or be cosy in your favorite place around the house with a good laptop and a nice cup of tea or hot brewed coffee. The first option is definitely one for the long run, for freelancers who are going full time and know they will need a dedicated place where they can emulate an office vibe that means “when I enter this room, I’m going to work”. But if remote work is something you have to do only from time to time or in extraordinary circumstances you’ll definitely be more in the second situation. It might take some time to find the right spot, but if you’re about to spend several days on a project you definitely want to be able to do that while being comfortable and not end up exhausted and with a back pain.


In both cases, when you’re a motion designer, you will need a computer that can run After Effects and other creative apps that go with it. This article is not about equipment so I will not go in detail about it but there are many options on the market and it evolves constantly. Right now you can find really powerful laptops to run After Effects such as the Razer gaming laptops, the Gigabyte Aero series , Dell and their gaming options with Alienware and of course, the Macbook pros by Apple if you’re willing to work in a mac environment. The reason why I recommend Laptops here is because when you work remotely on a regular basis you really want to have the ability to take your work in other places such as cafés and libraries to break the monotony of exclusively staying home all year long (especially when you are freelancing full time). And also because a powerful desktop can be twice as expensive when you really are looking for optimal performances. I am currently trying the Lenovo C940 15.6” which I love because it’s a 2 in 1 laptop with a lot of power under the hood at a competitive price and an astonishing finish. Because I do illustration as well I love the fact that I can switch to tablet mode and tweak my drawings on the fly with the pen. Now, if you want to know more about equipment in detail I recommend this article from Schoolofmotion.com that should answer your questions on what matters most to run After Effects smoothly concerning processor choice, Ram and all that nerdy stuff!


Back to our remote tips and tricks to get your project done while you stay home!

The golden rule is to make time to put yourself to work. That means having a routine that will set your mind to a working mode. I recommend you don’t start right away after you wake up. Take care of yourself first, get your things together, have a good breakfast, get yourself ready, put your clothes on just like if you were actually going to work because it will set your mind to it. A lot of people advertise the benefits of having morning routines and I cannot agree more with the positive impact it can have to be ready for a good day of work. This can start with reading your emails with a cup of coffee, opening up your calendar and checking a list of tasks you wrote down in your notebook (More about that later).


Be dedicated to work during big chunks of time, at least 90 minutes with a 15 minutes break before you start another 90 minutes bit of work. Some people also recommend the Pomodoro method from the italian Francesco Cirillo. Pomodoro means tomato in Italian and it comes from the popular kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato. You set it to 15 minutes, do what you have to do and when it rings set it to 5 minutes for a break and repeat each 15 and 5 minutes. This creates a sense of urgency that I’m personally not comfortable with, that’s why I prefer to do it with 90 minutes chunks of time followed by 15 minutes breaks. Especially when you know that it takes 23 minutes on average to go back to a fully focused mind on a task. In the end we are all different and it all comes down to your personality and which method you’re most comfortable with. Maybe you can focus easily already and you don’t need all that (and you are my hero).

When you break up your day in several time slots, you will realize that tasks that can seem boring or difficult to overcome will just make your day go by faster and you will be amazed by all the work you manage to accomplish.


During the process, you need to take real breaks. This means don’t just stay there opening your browser and surfing the web before you jump back in your project file. Stand up and leave the computer behind for a little while. Go to another room, have a walk, grab a cup of water (I don’t recommend snacking if you want to keep your beach body), play with your pet, clean the dishes or whatever other activity that can really take your brain away from the project. Fun fact, whenever you feel stuck on finding an idea or a solution to a problem, 90% of the time you’ll find the answer during these totally unrelated breaks. The other main reason is to stay physically active, otherwise you are just staying behind a computer all day and that can really have a negative impact on body and soul. Try to have a walk or even go for a run to get fresh air in your lungs once a day. Try to refrain from eating too many snacks and have an actual lunch break. And if your loved ones are home with you, that’s a great moment to share and it splits your day in two parts that can help with organization of tasks and productivity.


If you find it really difficult to focus try to play some nice music in the background and unless you expect important calls put your phone on plane mode and switch off all distracting apps on your computer to be fully immersed in your project.

Here is a website I highly recommend to play in the background if you’re uncomfortable with silence and if music is a bit too much distracting for you:

a Soft Murmur

If you really cannot control yourself and are addicted to social media, you can try some blocking apps like Cold Turkey, Freedom or Stayfocusd. These are at the top of the list but you can find many more online with different features. I love the fact that you can create blocking schedules with Cold Turkey or set up a timer.


Once you’re all set with your environment, here come the productivity and collaborative apps you need to have in your tool set.

The first one is an app that has been around for a very long time. One that was working even before computers were invented. Wait, what? Yep. A notebook and a pen guys!

That might sound silly but I highly recommend that you start with writing down a list of things you know you need to do by the end of the day. It stays written here, super accessible, and the ritual of opening a notebook and writing something down puts you in that “starting to work” mode. If you’re not familiar with writing efficient lists here’s my advice: just take it easy and go day by day. Don’t put a tremendous pressure on yourself to complete all the items on your list for one simple reason: we always overestimate what can be done in one day. As a consequence, you will prioritize and that is the key to productivity. On the other hand if you feel like you don’t have much to put in your list aside from “Completing the motion design project” well, try to break it down in smaller pieces. Maybe first you need to prepare your assets and make sure you have all the elements you need to work. If not, then you know what your first email of the day will be about. Then you might need to prep a rough layout to block your timing with the audio and so on and so on. You can always break down a project in smaller bits and focus on one task at a time. For each item of your list, draw a little checkbox next to it. When you finish a task, you will feel so good when you’re going to check that box and see that s*** is getting done. If you want to become an expert at productivity and making lists, here is the book you need to read: Eat that Frog.

And if you're wondering where to find good notebooks at a good price go for fieldnotes made by a designer for designers, the renowned Don Draplin himself.

Now for collaborative tools online, you definitely want to consider the Google G Suite with the top 3: Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets and Google slides. Use them however you’d like but they are very powerful with the ability for your team or clients to leave comments in a very collaborative way. Dropbox offers similar tools with Paper and there are other apps dedicated to teamwork such as monday.com, Slack, Trello, Microsoft Teams and more.

When it comes to creative documents such as moodboards, presentations or just notes for a project I like to use Milanote. I love their very clean design and intuitive approach to creating documents that I can easily share or export as pdf. There is no Fluff and it’s all about the content and the note taking. EC Abrams made a great video serie on how he uses it in his motion design Workflow. If you’re on a Mac, Keynote is a great tool to prepare clean presentations in no time.

You can also take advantage of Google Hangout that allows you to have conference calls with the ability to share your screen. Of course this works perfectly fine with Skype too. But when it comes to video sharing on a project, I definitely recommend that you look into Frame.io and Syncsketch. Frame.io comes with a trial period and Syncsketch is free with premium features. I personally love Syncsketch that feels really easy to use especially for the clients. When I send them a Syncsketch review they immediately understand where to click and what to do and I get their feedback directly on the video timeline making the review process really straightforward and way less tedious than sharing a sheet with timecodes and descriptions that are not always clear to follow (I know, we’ve all been there). Also if you work with touch screens you can draw on the frame when you pause the video to make even more accurate feedbacks. Vimeo also has sharing and review features if you subscribe to Vimeo Pro. That looks really interesting and powerful as well but I didn’t try it personally.


So with a combination of good routines to help you focus and the right tools to make your work and collaborative process easier you should be able to overcome pretty much any situation while working from home on a motion design project.

When your project is complete, well, congratulations! Reward yourself with whatever makes you happy! It’s important that you feel rewarded and do something totally non work related so you can refill your batteries with motivation for the next project!


Now please, everybody stay safe and take care of each other.


XAV

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