Tutorial: How to create a fast 3D motion graphic

Without knowing anything about Maya

Introduction Image: How to create a fast Motion Graphic by Classy Deer

Hey everyone. This is Matt Cheah here writing our first Classy Deer tutorial! This post is targeted at aspiring motion graphics designers (like myself) who have too little time to actually take classes and learn Maya to an extent that would actually allow me to know what I’m talking about in this situation. Though this may seem like a case of the blind leading the blind, I have come up with a few guidelines that have helped me to create motion graphics that look fairly decent (to my eye, at least), and that require only a basic understanding of 3D software, but can also be completed in a short period of time. The guidelines are these:

Simple Shapes, Simple Shading.

In my experience, modeling is one of the hardest things to do well in 3D programs. (Veterans will tell me this is because I haven’t attempted texturing or rigging) However, there’s no reason for you to waste your time when most things you need for your motion graphic can be created in 4 or fewer clicks. Use everything at your disposal. Cubes, spheres, cylinders, Toruses (Torii?), etc.

Random Motion

One of the common themes in my motion graphics is creating a lot of elements and moving them all in random directions. This means moving them at different speeds, and if you’re feeling adventurous you can even vary acceleration. Random motion can be accomplished using your simple shapes or through the use of a particle generator.

Contrast

This should be a no-brainer. No matter how simple your shading is, you’ll want to mix it up a little. A lot of the graphics I create use harsh lighting and incandescent materials because these are easy to set and place, and they keep the scene interesting.

Complexity

The most important step you have to take to make your motion graphics visually stimulating is to create the appearance of complexity. This is the reason for the prior 3 guidelines. When they are mixed together it creates the illusion that the items in your project are planned and complicated, even if they’re not. Simple shapes with contrasting lighting / motion /styles randomly moving together will create the environment that you want your camera to fly through.

Note: If you’re going for a minimalist theme, contrast and complexity will not be as important to you. The first two, however, would be even more important in this situation.

I’ll be using the most recent graphic I created as an example. This 5 second graphic was for the intro to a video for a student sport program that Classy Deer shot recently. I wanted to make it look good but I wasn’t getting paid for it. Solution? Quick, easy 3D graphic guidelines. This one took me about 4 hours to make (plus rendering time). Please note that this particular graphic requires a very basic understanding of Maya, but it’s not something that you won’t be able to learn in a few hours. Just learn how to create objects, move, rotate, scale, and animate these changes. You’ll also need to know how to apply a quick shader and add lights and a camera to a scene. Pretty Easy.

I started off with a line of rhombuses (rhombi?). Then I duplicated it so there were 4 lines of rhombi. This is the key to a lot of the stuff I do. You want easy? Just make 1 thing and duplicate it.

A bunch of rhombi strung together and duplicated 4 times.

I gave these a faint incandescence and a yellow hue, then scaled and moved them randomly on the x axis. The second group of objects was just a bunch of long rectangles. Duplicated, Scaled randomly, moved randomly. For this motion graphic I wanted the style to be somewhat grungy, so I downloaded a shader that provided a rusty metallic feel. I have no idea how to create something like that myself. Simple Shapes, Simple Shaders.

Rhombi and Rectangles Straight On
Picture 2. The Rhombi and the Rectangles together.

Now the point of the graphic, as you’ll soon see, is that the camera is going to pass through all of these objects. So yes, the movement is random, but the objects are moving to allow the camera through.

The third group of objects I made was a bunch of rings. Simple Shapes, simple Shaders. I just gave them a chrome-y material, which I figured would contrast with the rust. I stuck them together in 3 clumps and then removed parts of the rings so it looked something like this. I then made sure the anchor point was in the correct place for all of these objects, and started rotating them randomly. On the Z axis, or else it would look terrible. OR WOULD IT?

3 Clumps of partially formed circles together

 After completing these 3 ring clusters, I started working on a fourth one. But OH GOD I MESSED EVERYTHING UP IT’S OVER.

Classy Deer Motion Graphic Design Tutorial
Partial Rings with messed up anchor points

Somehow I think I got the anchor point wrong for the rotation and then everything was completely unfixable. In fact it started looking like Magneto’s turn-New-York-into-mutants machine. This was kind of my intention in the first place, but I didn’t know if I was going to be able to accidentally-on-purpose mess it up as much as I needed to. It turns out, I was. I was pretty happy with the way it turned out.

Once I had completed this and the camera now had a twisty tunnel of doom to navigate through, I figured I had enough elements to maintain the illusion of complexity. I wanted the logo to reveal itself as the graphic progressed, so I started working on the elements of the reveal.

I added some panels to the background. It might look ugly now, but when you look at the background in the actual graphic…it still looks ugly. That’s why we’re going to light it very dimly so we know instinctively that there’s a wall we’re moving toward with the camera, but we don’t have to look at it or pay attention to it. It beats the heck out of just seeing a black emptiness behind your elements.

Black Panels in the background

The next step is to add the rectangles that move away to reveal the logo. I shaded these with the same shader as the background panels. It’s basically a blue-black color with a fractal noise bump map. (I think fractal noise is just an AE thing, but you probably know what I mean. Simple Shapes, Simple Shaders.)

Squares open to reveal Logo
Squares start off closed

Next, add the logo behind these panels.

Logo added behind the squares

Actually making that logo took like an hour of my time… so really this should only take 3 hours.

Anyway, at this point we’re pretty much done. We animate the camera so that it goes straight through all of this madness, and we add a few high-key lights to provide contrast and to show us only what we want to see. At this point, this is what our full composition will look like on the last frame.

Primary Render

When I saw this though, I wasn’t too impressed with myself. I didn’t utilize contrast as much as I could have, so I took, once again, the easy route. I added 2 more rectangles going opposite ways on either side of the logo. Almost full white incandescence and I added a glow to them. Without a glow they look awful by the way.

Added Incandescent rectangles

This made the image look a little more bearable. So I left it at that. If you missed the link at the beginning of this tutorial, you can check the final product out here.

Final Render

So here’s the final opening shot. Does it look pretty terrible? Yes. Did I get paid for it? No. Did I put it together in 4 (3) hours with only a rudimentary understanding of an extremely complex 3D program (and not have to pay for a degree)? Yes. I’m sure with a few more hours I could have cleaned this up, provided even more contrasting elements and made it usable for a professional broadcast, but that’s not really the point of this walkthrough. The point was to create something good with minimal effort.*

I hope you enjoyed it! Please feel free to ask questions if you would like to know more about how I did a certain part of the project, or leave me some tips if you’re a professional motion graphic designer and you have any suggestions for a quick and simple motion graphic trick. I’d love to have more stuff to write about.

*Please note this is not a rule that I live by. Unless I’m not getting paid and I have other work to do.