Creating Motion Graphics on a Budget: 5 Tips From The Wilderness

When they hear “video” or “motion graphic,” most people tend to think one of three things: difficult, expensive… or both. That doesn’t have to be the case. According to experimental production company The Wilderness, motion graphics just require a little bit of inspiration and a lot of process. The same can be applied to animated data visualizations, too. Headed by Juliet Rios and Gabe Imlay, The Wilderness spoke to a crowd of designers at a recent AIGA/NY event at the Museum of Art Design. The Wilderness has created motion graphics for a wide array of products and causes, from American Express and The Ad Council, to indie band The Antlers. They’ve done so in a signature DIY style that requires hands-on problem solving and significant process. “I don’t have a theme,” said Imlay. “I just want stuff to look amazing or badass or whatever word you want to use.” Their process begins with an inherent eye for design. “We always start a project with a fine-art basis,” said Rios, referring to her education in fine-art drawing. (Imlay, meanwhile, has a degree in musical composition.) Just as color, form and line weight would apply to traditional design, they apply to motion design and data visualizations. Motion graphics can be very useful when designing data visualizations that deal with complex subject matter, or require a narrative guideline to explain what’s going on. For their Ad Council series, The Wilderness used images of varying sizes and a grid system to create a content-appropriate stop-motion visualization. In an ad campaign for Reebok, The Wilderness created one-of-a-kind moving text by projecting it onto plastic bags and then, in a second ad, lighting the letters on fire. For both, they used lo-fi film which they didn’t know developed until after the fact. The Wilderness is particularly proud of its music videos—“some of our best, most interesting work,” Rios said—which they frequently make with very little money. A Passion Pit video required building a rotating mechanism and taking thousands of photos, as well as some hefty junk store purchases. Their video for The Antlers required a larger rotating platform, milk and several trips to the liquor store (to lubricate the band). The point is: a little creativity can go a long way. And if that isn’t specific enough for you, here are Imlay’s five tips on creating motion graphics on a tight budget.

Take your time

Time can work for you. If you’re creating material things, typically they will look better the longer you have to look at or think about them. We have spent months on our music videos, such as the one for The Antlers. Taking a break and then coming back to a project helps exponentially.

Mix media

Some elements are better created in real life than with a computer. Why not just drop a ball and photograph/film it, instead of creating a 3-D animation of a ball dropping? Photographed physical elements have a trueness that computerized imagery doesn’t, so this can be part of the look.

Keep it simple

Simple things usually look better and are faster to create. Leverage your brain by thinking about how to make the simplest iteration instead of doodling on the computer. Doodling adds complexity. Think of someone doodling on a napkin: how often do they just draw one line? They usually draw 10 lines over and over. One line is usually a better form of communication.


Build a library of good ideas, designs, illustration techniques. When you’re under the gun, whip one out! We have so many awesome treatments, designs and concepts discarded by other clients, which we can now repurpose for other projects. Make sure to save all your versions and experiments.


Sometimes it’s nice to just copy what someone else did. We find that when you do this you don’t have to experiment as much. It sounds lame but the physical process of going through the motions is usually enough to kick-start your brain. Inevitably, the project ends up being something totally different; copying is just a place to start. Rani Molla has a digital media master’s degree from Columbia Journalism School. She’s a journalism reader, writer, photographer, videographer, data visualizer and general doer. Follow her on Twitter.

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