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Interview
October 7, 2021

Marc Leitzel

Working with Motion Design & Getting Hired by NASA

October 7, 2021

Motion design is an intersection of graphic design, filmmaking, animation, and other creative disciplines, making it a valuable asset for modern storytellers and digital creators to tell stories more engagingly and creatively.

 

This time we met with M.W Leitzel, an experienced artist and visual storyteller, to discuss the essence of motion design and what it takes to become good at it. We also talked about the bizarre experience of working with NASA, and in the end, Marc shared some tips for young designers on building relationships with clients.

Marc Leitzel, Senior Animator at NASA

M.W. Leitzel is a visual storyteller, brand strategist and problem solver with a background in animation, motion design and illustration. He has previously worked with NASA, Nickelodeon, Frederator, Sony, GQ and Lionsgate.

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MARC, PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOUR PROFESSIONAL JOURNEY

I’m a visual storyteller. I’ve held a number of roles and worked a number of gigs, notably as a motion designer, multimedia artist, video editor, copywriter, voice actor, 2D and 3D animator and brand designer. However, these are just different skills I use to achieve my objective of telling stories.



My education and early career were in the fine arts until I realized my true love was, as I mentioned, storytelling. I moved to New York and then, more recently, to Silicon Valley, working with clients in STEM, entertainment, education and advertising along the way.

Screenshot from Marc’s Motion Graphics Reel

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If you’re surrounded by motion designers, you may be looking at a melting pot of 2D or 3D animators, graphic designers and compositors — heck, my own educational background is in the fine arts!
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HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE MOTION DESIGN FOR NON-DESIGNERS?
 

Motion design is a discipline combining the principles of graphic design, animation and filmmaking. Motion design contributes to many different areas of work: from animated entertainment to bringing motion to the user experience of apps and websites and designing the lower thirds for televised award shows and sports games.


As video and animation continue to be used as preeminent tools in education, user interfaces, and storytelling, motion designers are increasingly becoming an essential part of many cross-functional teams. They also serve a variety of roles — from brand development to advertising and product design.

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WHAT ARE THE MAIN PRINCIPLES OF MOTION DESIGN THAT YOU FOLLOW IN YOUR WORK?

 

Let me start with a little backstory. If you’re surrounded by motion designers, you may be looking at a melting pot of 2D or 3D animators, graphic designers and compositors — heck, my own educational background is in the fine arts! The one thing we might have in common is that we are using the same suite of tools and are looking at the same pool of potential work and contemporary aesthetics. However, the overall direction of our careers may be different based on our goals and strengths.

 

  1. Motion design has its roots in animation, as they both rely on the observation of life and motion to create a deliberate and appealing visual experience. So, the 12 basic principles of animation established decades ago by renowned Disney animators serve as a necessary foundation for interpreting and executing motion. 
  2. Grid Systems in Graphic Design by Josef Müller-Brockmann is a foundational book I would also recommend to all motion designers.
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The animation itself is not a crutch and cannot overcome bad design
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HOW CAN WEB PRODUCTS AND SERVICES BENEFIT FROM MOTION DESIGN?

 

Video is the most abundantly produced and consumed medium of our time. And as such, it is very powerful in forming our experiences because we are already very open to it. The research into engagement, purchases and SEO through the inclusion of motion and video on a website speaks for itself. However, I’d like to speak to two functions animation can serve for a product or service:

 

  1. developing brand identity;
  2. enriching the user experience. 

 

Animation can be a very proactive method of engaging users, both by providing an impactful experience and, through thoughtful design, facilitating and optimizing the use of the product or service. Attention to detail is important, as visual storytelling can enrich not only the conscious experience a customer receives, but also provide very subtle hand-holding and reinforce more nuanced brand identifiers.

 

That said, I cannot emphasize enough that animation must be used purposefully. The animation itself is not a crutch and cannot overcome bad design.

Marc recommends these books:

  1. Grid Systems in Graphic Design by Josef Müller-Brockmann is a foundational book I would recommend to all motion designers
  2. Damn Good Advice (For People With Talent) by George Lois is for those who want to work in branding may want to pick up
  3. The Animator’s Survival Kit by Richard Williams will be useful if you are frequently working with character rigs
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HOW DID YOU LAND A JOB WITH NASA?
 

As I mentioned, I am a visual storyteller, not specifically a motion designer, animator or compositor. Like other businesses and institutions I’ve been hired by and contracted with, NASA was at a stage where they needed a storyteller.

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Given the extremely expedited timeline, my resourcefulness was put to the test

Due to the pandemic, NASA’s annual TACP conference had to be an entirely remote experience. Vigorous security checks are necessary for any individual contracted to work for NASA, and so only a handful of creatives were brought into the internal media team to create an online conference experience with very limited time. This meant I was not only animating, but writing copy, providing voiceovers, developing storyboards, pitching concepts, providing art direction and perhaps most importantly, creating engaging narratives using talking points provided by NASA researchers.

Introduction video for NASA TACP 2021

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WHICH PART OF THIS JOB ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?

 

One of the videos was particularly successful. I had little more than a week to make a 7-minute video from scratch about a researcher and her efforts in developing safer batteries for modern and future aircraft. 

 

Given the extremely expedited timeline, my resourcefulness was put to the test. I developed an animated puppet to directly engage with the viewer and surrounded this character with a handmade and hand-painted aesthetic that is more akin to multimedia animation seen on children’s television. Although I wish I had more time to polish this project, the segment proved to be among the most popular during the conference.

Video about SPARRCI (Sensor-based Prognostics to Avoid Runaway Reactions and Catastrophic Ignition)

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WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION FOR YOUR WORK? PLEASE SHARE 4–5 RESOURCES (WEB, BOOKS, COURSES, ETC. + OFFLINE)
 

Overall, it’s important to remember to fuel the creative tank. We can improve by being very disciplined about our own growth and what kinds of projects we take on, but chances are when we bump into a lack of motivation, it’s sometimes necessary to rekindle our love for the medium with external inspiration.

 

  • Youtube. For a motion designer, it’s important to be in touch with what you love about film and animation. Fortunately, we have resources such as YouTube where you can instantly load up countless animations and study them frame-by-frame.
  • Vimeo has become home to the portfolios and reels of countless motion designers. It’s worth exploring for inspiration.
  • Sakugabooru.com is another outstanding resource. It’s a collection of animations curated by and for animators and animation enthusiasts. Better yet, quite a big part of the collection is tagged based on the studios and primary animators involved.
  • School of Motion is a great resource specifically catering to motion designers.
  • Additionally, Instagram has become a popular platform for motion graphics artists, so it’s worth following those communities to learn about the latest trends, plugins and courses.
  • Finally, cartoonresearch.com is a vital blog run by animation producer, historian and professor Jerry Beck. There is a wealth of knowledge and inspiration on this site.

Marc's top-3 tools for a productive work as a motion designer

Adobe After Effects
Adobe After Effects

After Effects is just an incredibly versatile and powerful software package. From compositing for animation and video to creating motion graphics from scratch, I use this application with every project I work on.

Procreate
Procreate

As it’s a pleasure to work with and I can easily export files into PSDs for integration into After Effects, Procreate has become a vital tool for digital painting and frame-by-frame animation

Trello
Trello

A feature-rich and intuitive tool for project management and team collaboration

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HOW DO YOU THINK MOTION DESIGN WILL EVOLVE IN THE NEXT 10 YEARS? 
 

I can’t say whether it will be in 10 years or 50, but I see a lot of investment in VR that shows promise. As this technology becomes more commonplace, it will get more complicated for animators and motion designers, as they’ll have to adapt to so many more considerations specific to this medium.

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Overall, it’s important to remember to fuel the creative tank
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ANY FINAL TIPS FOR YOUNG DESIGNERS WHO WANT TO MAKE A CAREER IN THE DESIGN INDUSTRY AND, PROBABLY, BECOME MOTION DESIGNERS?
 

When studios are hiring, they want to see a solid reel. If you’re not currently working in a relevant industry, this should by no means be a deterrent. For me personally, most of my showpieces and reel clips come from my side projects and gigs rather than my full-time employment. Even if you’re building a variety of short motion design experiments and exercises, these are just as valid as any showpieces you’re going to get from a workplace.

 

Have faith in your skills. When you are hired, it’s important to remember you were brought in because your employer thinks that you can get the job done. The actual challenge of the job is making sure you pay attention to the needs of project stakeholders and how those needs are communicated. It will often be up to you to enable, facilitate and improve communication.

 

 

If you want to tell a story about your career or share your expert opinion, send us a pitch at serafima@flowmapp.com