6 steps every motion graphics project should follow (before animation)

Follow this step-by-step guide to learn the modern process of planning a motion graphics project in Milanote, a free tool used by top creatives.

Great motion design doesn't spring fully formed from a designer's mind, there are many steps to the pre-production process. Yet so many people jump straight into animating things, only to run into issues that could be avoided by better planning. Whether you're making a TV commercial, music video, animation, or online video, a solid pre-production plan will set your project up for success.

1. Project plan

Set up a place to plan your project

Traditionally, a project plan might be scattered across various emails, to-do lists, spreadsheets, and documents, making it hard to keep track of everything. A central project plan combines these artifacts into one easy-to-access place. It will evolve over the lifespan of your project but usually includes:

  • The script
  • Your ideas
  • Inspiration and moodboards
  • Storyboards
  • Workflow checklist
  • Style frames
How to do this in Milanote
  1. Create a new board for your film project plan

    Create a new board

    Drag a board out from the toolbar. Give it a name, then double-click to open it.

  2. Choose the Motion Design Plan template

    Choose a template 

    Each new board gives you the options to start with a beautiful template.

2. Brief

Define the concept and goals

It’s crucial to set a strong foundation from the start. A clear, inspiring, and informative brief provides the structure and direction for designers to do their best work. Motion graphics briefs typically include background information, goals, deliverables, visual and animation references, creative direction, and a style guide.

First, open the Brief board

You’ll find the board to create your brief on the Motion Design Plan board. Double-click the Brief to open it and start adding the goals, concept and defining the audience.

How to do this in Milanote
  1. Double-click the Brief board to open it.

Define the project

What do you want your animation or video to communicate? Is there a specific message or concept you have in mind? What do you want the viewer to feel when they see it? Use emotive words to communicate the brand style and tone of voice you want to express within the project.

How to do this in Milanote
  1. Add a note to outline the key messages.

    Drag a note card onto your board

    Start typing then use the formatting tools in the left-hand toolbar.

List the deliverables

What are the specific outputs you require? Is it a TV spot, an animation for a game, or a video for Youtube? Try and provide as much detail as possible. The technical constraints will help inform the design and production process, costs, and timeframe for the project.

How to do this in Milanote
  1. Add a note to describe the deliverables.

    Drag a note card onto your board

    Start typing then use the formatting tools in the left-hand toolbar.

Describe the target audience

This is where you describe a specific type of audience and detail what’s important to them. What do they care about? What inspires them? Include any relevant research or stats you have. All this helps the designer choose a mood or animation style that speaks to your audience.

How to do this in Milanote
  1. Add a note to describe your audience.

    Drag a note card onto your board

    Start typing then use the formatting tools in the left hand toolbar.

Share the finished brief with your team

Once you’ve made any final tweaks, it’s time to share the completed brief with your team, organize a kickoff meeting, and get started. If you want to learn more about writing a motion design brief, check out our in-depth Motion Design Brief guide.

How to do this in Milanote
  1. Publish and share the brief with your team.

    Add a welcome message to your board.

    Write a welcome message under the "Publish & share" menu. This will display the first time someone views your board.

3. Brainstorming

Generate ideas for your project

When a new motion design project kicks off, your starting point is often just a rough concept or idea. So how do you transform that idea into something bigger? Brainstorming!

Brainstorming is a classic creative technique for generating new ideas quickly. You can use it to explore animation styles, dream up new characters, locations, or even the visual style you're after. It’s best thought of as a way to light up our imagination.

First, open the Ideas board

You’ll find the board for brainstorming on your Motion Design Plan board. Double-click the Ideas board to open it and start brainstorming.

How to do this in Milanote
  1. Double-click the Ideas board to open it.

Start with your central topic

What's the key message or idea your want to communicate through your project? This is your starting point. It might be just a rough idea at the moment or a topic that you want to explore, but this process will help you see how far you can take it. Add a note that describes your topic in 1 to 2 sentences to get started.

How to do this in Milanote
  1. Add a note to describe the topic of your project.

    Drag a note card onto your board

    Start typing then use the formatting tools in the left hand toolbar.

Pro tip:

Your initial idea doesn't need to be something groundbreaking, you'll transform it over time. As Steven Spielberg says "All good ideas start out as bad ideas, that's why it takes so long."

Add as many ideas as you can

Now it's time to get creative. Start adding any ideas that relate to your main topic. Think about different ways to communicate your message, animation styles you could use, characters, or even the history of your topic. Explore every thread until you fill the board.

Don't worry about evaluating your ideas yet, that will come later. Just add as many as you can. Setting a timer for 5 minutes is a great way to create a sense of urgency and prevent people from judging their thoughts.

How to do this in Milanote
  1. Invite others to add their ideas.

    Invite editors to your board

    Open the "Editors" menu from the title bar of your board. Add email addresses of the people you'd like to collaborate with—they'll receive an invitation via email.

  2. Add a note for each idea.

    Drag a note card onto your board

    Start typing then use the formatting tools in the left hand toolbar.

Add inspiring imagery, motion & sound

Sometimes it's easier to communicate an idea with an image or video, especially if it's a mood or style you're trying to express. Gather reference imagery, videos and sound and add them into the mix. These can become the foundation for a moodboard as your project evolves.

How to do this in Milanote
  1. Use the built-in image library.

    Use the built-in image library

    Search over 500,000 beautiful photos powered by Unsplash then drag images straight onto your board.

  2. Drag images from your computer onto the board.

    Upload a image or document  

    Click the "Upload file" button or just drag a file onto your board. You can add images, logos, documents, videos, audio and much more.

Finally, group your ideas into themes

Once you've explore tangents and shared feedback, the next step is to make connections. This is where you see the magic of brainstorming.

Start by grouping similar ideas to uncover patterns in your thinking. Add a title to each group so it's easy to scan. You might find your ideas fall into groups like characters, key messages, styles or aesthetics but there are no rules about how you do it. Now you should start to see your initial concept coming to life.

You're done brainstorming

Now that your brainstorming session is complete, you have a strong foundation for your motion design project! Remember, just as creativity and inspiration are constantly evolving, so are ideas. Come back and add to the brainstorm when inspiration strikes.

4. Moodboard

Organize inspiration & references

During brainstorming, you imagined the different parts of your project. It's time to start exploring some visual directions with a moodboard. Moodboards can help you visualize any aspect of your project. You could focus on how you want the finished design to look. Or they could be centered around collecting references for animation styles. You can create a moodboard for each of these separately or mix them all into one board. There are no strict rules.

Your moodboard will also be a fantastic reference for your team—from the client to the animators—it helps everyone visualize the end result.

First, open the Moodboard

You’ll find the board to make your moodboard on the Motion Design Plan board. Double-click on the Moodboard to open it and start adding your inspiration.

How to do this in Milanote
  1. Double-click the Moodboard to open it.

Collect existing material

Start by adding any existing material you have—this could include examples from previous projects, client references or images you've saved as inspiration. These might not make it into the final moodboard, but they're still a great place to start.

How to do this in Milanote
  1. Drag files from your computer.

    Upload a file or document  

    Click the "Upload file" button or just drag a file onto your board. You can add images, logos, documents, videos, audio and much more.

Add inspiring imagery and video

The imagery you bring into your moodboard is what helps you express the look and feel of your project. Images can define things like character style, font choices, colors, scenes, and more.

You can start by saving visual references from around the web. There are lots of fantastic sites where you can find great visual inspiration for free, like Dribbble, Behance, and Designspiration.

How to do this in Milanote
  1. Use the built-in image library.

    Use the built-in image library

    Search over 500,000 beautiful photos powered by Unsplash then drag images straight onto your board.

  2. Install the Milanote Web Clipper

  3. Save images from other websites straight to your board.

    Save content from the web

    Roll over an image (or highlight text), click Save, then choose the destination in Milanote. Return to your board and find the content in the "Unsorted" column on the right.

Transform your board from messy to organized

Once you have all your inspiration in one place, the next step is to arrange your ideas to create the perfect layout. Start by exploring composition and introducing hierarchy. Place a key element to anchor your board, and change the size and position of the remaining elements to indicate their importance and relationships to one another.

How to do this in Milanote
  1. Resize your images to add hierarchy.

    Resize images

    Drag the corner of an image to resize it. Double-click the corner to return it to its original size.

  2. Crop images.

    Crop images

    Double-click an image and press edit to crop or rotate it.

You’ve finished the moodboard!

Now that your moodboard is complete, you have a powerful visual reference for the style and animation of your project. Remember, you can create multiple moodboards to explore different directions at any time.

Next, we'll create a storyboard to map out the sequence of your animation.

5. Storyboard

Visualize the sequence of your animation

Storyboards are a powerful way to visually organize the composition, action and look of a project before you start bringing it to life. As director, producer and screenwriter Martin Scorsese said, “The storyboard is the way to visualize the entire movie in advance.”

Many people devote their entire careers to storyboarding as it combines disciplines and techniques such as illustration, writing and production. Traditionally, a storyboard would be created with analog sketches, but with a modern digital tool you can use photography, animation, color and notes to highlight key characters, scenes and objects.

First, open the storyboard

You’ll find the empty Storyboard on the Motion Design Plan board. Double-click the Storyboard to open it and start adding the mapping out the key scenes.

How to do this in Milanote
  1. Double-click the Storyboard to open it.

Map out the key scenes

When creating a storyboard, it’s crucial to know what story you’re telling. The best starting point is to break up the script or narrative you’ll be working from. Identify the key scenes and start to map them out on your storyboard.

How to do this in Milanote
  1. Add a column for each frame.

    Drag a column onto your board

    Name it, then drag any relevant notes or images into your column

Add images or sketches

Now it’s time to begin visualizing each scene. Some storyboard artists might begin sketching with a pen and paper first, but you can use reference photography, illustrations, screenshots, location shoots, and even motion to communicate each scene.

How to do this in Milanote
  1. Upload images for each frame.

    Upload a file or document  

    Click the "Upload file" button or just drag a file onto your board. You can add images, logos, documents, videos, audio and much more.

  2. Use the built-in image library.

    Use the built-in image library

    Search over 500,000 beautiful photos powered by Unsplash then drag images straight onto your board.

Describe what happens in each frame

While each frame is a static image, try to communicate how it's going to look and feel as a moving sequence. Describes the style, mood, and behavior of any characters. Consider how you'll transition from one scene to the next. Add details about the sound or voice-over to help your team imagine the emotion and drama you're trying to create.

How to do this in Milanote
  1. Add a note to describe each frame.

    Drag a note card onto your board

    Start typing then use the formatting tools in the left-hand toolbar.

Share it with your team

When you're ready, invite your team to review your storyboard and share their feedback. This is the perfect moment to see how others interpret your vision for the story. It's also a great opportunity to make any final tweaks while in pre-production. Adjust the order of your frames or edit the content based on everyone's feedback.

How to do this in Milanote
  1. Share the storyboard with your team.

    Invite editors to your board

    Open the "Editors" menu from the title bar of your board. Add email addresses of the people you'd like to collaborate with—they'll receive an invitation via email.

  2. Start a comment thread.

    Start a comment thread

    Drag out a comment from the toolbar on the left and place it on your board. Other editors can reply to your comment.

  3. Mention teammates to get their attention.

    Mention teammates to get their attention

    Type '@' in any text field to mention someone who has access to your board. They'll receive a notification and be able to respond to your comment.

Your storyboard is done!

Now that your storyboard is complete, you have a clear vision for the sequence of your animation! Let's move on and create style frames to help you present the visual direction to your team.

6. Style frames

Share visual concepts with your team

Style frames are a simple, visual representation of how the final animation will look, they're a critical step in the motion design process.

Motion designers, animators, and creative directors use them to present options to clients and teams before they start an animation. This gives everyone an opportunity to provide feedback and agree on a visual style early in the creative process.

First, open the style frames board

You’ll find the Style Frames board to on Motion Design Plan board. Double-click on the Style Frames board to open it and get started.

How to do this in Milanote
  1. Double-click the Style Frames board to open it.

Upload your concepts

Start by uploading the concepts you've designed so you can share them with your team. These are often 2D or 3D renders of a scene from a storyboard you've created earlier. It's best to present variations of the same scene side by side so your team can focus solely on the visual style rather than the contents of the scene.

How to do this in Milanote
  1. Upload images to your board.

    Upload a file or document  

    Click the "Upload file" button or just drag a file onto your board. You can add images, logos, documents, videos, audio and much more.

Explain your thinking

Next, include some written notes about each option. This will help you explain your ideas and keep everything in context. You don’t have to go into too much detail—the goal is to explain the differences between the options you're presenting. Remember to give each concept a name so they're easy to reference.

How to do this in Milanote
  1. Add a note to describe each option.

    Drag a note card onto your board

    Start typing then use the formatting tools in the left-hand toolbar.

Choose a final direction

Share the style frames with your team and get together to choose a final direction. Ensure that everyone on your team agrees on the final direction before you start animating. It's much easier to revise the style in this phase of the project compared to production, where simple changes can take days.

How to do this in Milanote
  1. Publish and share the board with your team.

    Add a welcome message to your board.

    Write a welcome message under the "Publish & share" menu. This will display the first time someone views your board.

  2. Start a conversation about the options.

    Start a comment thread

    Drag out a comment from the toolbar on the left and place it on your board. Other editors can reply to your comment.

  3. Mark your favourites using reactions.

    Add emoji reactions to your content

    Select an image or note and choose "Add reaction" from the left toolbar.

You're all done!

Hopefully, this guide has helped you become more organized during the pre-production stage. If you're just starting a new project, use the Motion Design Plan template below to get set up in minutes.

Plan your motion graphics project

Get all 6 pre-productions templates FREE in our motion designers pack.