If you’ve ever searched for a job as a video editor I bet you’ve come across a motion graphics artist position labeled as one on accident. The professions sit next to each other like books in a library. They are quite different despite starting with the same numbers in this fictitious Dewey Decimal System.
Unfortunately, clients, co-workers and companies often don’t understand the difference and why you as the video editor can’t create a 3D deck of 52 separate playing cards that fly across the screen that burst into tiny rainbow particles by COB tomorrow.
Recently I got upset over a similar ridiculous request and took to Twitter. I wrote:
Pro tip: Video editor and motion graphics artist are not synonyms.
That stirred up a surprisingly large response. Many of us are required or asked to use both skill sets on a regular basis. So I got to thinking, what is the appropriate amount of motion graphics skills for a video editor and how do we describe this?
What’s the Difference?
A video editor weaves a story together using footage. They use music, dialog, graphics, effects and more to enhance the story. A motion graphics artist uses 3D motion graphics and animations alone or in combination with footage to create videos and video elements.
The Theoretical Level
There are many concepts that overlap between them. Some of those are design, pacing, lingo, color balance, masking and alpha channels to name a few. The artistic eye is quite similar as well. However in my definitions above the main separator is story generation. The majority of the time a video editor creates the story while a motion graphics artist supplements the story. The differences begin to grow once you start looking at a finer or more pixelated level.
The Pixel Level
With the title of video editor, efficiency in After Effects is still a must. Green screen keying and basic tracking are important. A professional video editor should be able to create custom moving lower thirds and backgrounds without having to seek help. They should be able to create animated titles outside of the prepackaged animation presets in After Effects (even though that’s a great place to start).
However the terms “guru” and “ninja” need not be applied to the video editor’s AE abilities. Complex expressions and working heavily with 3D objects is starting to get outside of the comfort zone of the editor. Software such as Maya and Cinema 4D should not be assumed as knowledge for a video editor.
How Can This be Described?
- If something already exists, like a template or footage, a video editor should be able to work with it. They should be able to make some sort of compilation or motion graphic out of these resources, within reason.
- If something static needs to be built from scratch, like a diagram, football field or airplane, a video editor should be able to do this within reason. However it will take them longer than a motion graphics artist and will not look as crisp. Depending on the importance of the element, the client or company may want to freelance this task out.
- If something active needs to be created like a talking hippopotamus walking down a non-existent beach, the video editor is out of the question. It will be best to freelance this out or start over with your storyboarding.
Thoughts From Around the Industry
I asked some colleagues from around the industry what they thought about the line between video editor and motion graphics artist.
Richard Leverton (http://richardleverton.co.uk) I think these days, basic motion graphics skills are essential; I don't think you'd get hired without them. Commonly I'll be adapting AE templates from sites like revostock.com or motionvfx.com, creating lower-thirds or doing logo removals, and that feels like the minimum I can get away with.
That said, editors shouldn't over-reach. Knowing a wide range of skills is good - but it's always better to be a specialist.
Holden Kim (contrastcreative.com) Motion graphic skill is a must for editors nowadays. Just like you think music, sound effects and color grading are important to tell a story, a good use of motion graphics can help the story to be told better. And as far as the level of motion graphic skills needed for editors, it really depends on the project. But whatever the case may be, if you are a good editor and aware of the benefits of the motion graphics knowledge, you would keep wanting to improve that skill set no matter how good you are already.
Rich Alderson (www.richalderson.com) I think that there is still a place for 'pure' editors that only cut content and do not get involved with grading or graphics, but I can see over the last few years how this is increasingly becoming a niche. These days I think that most editors are expected to do so much more: colour grading, graphics, animation, visual effects and sound design all come within the remit at some point.
I also think that the launch of Adobe's Creative Cloud is playing a big part in all this. The fact that files can round trip so easily between Illustrator, Photoshop, Premiere and After Effects just cries out not only for editors who use motion graphics, but also graphics and animation people who edit.
On a personal level, motion graphics is now a big part of what I do, and most of my clients do not regard me as either 'editor' or 'animator', hence using the term 'creative digital media' to describe what I do.
Kes Akalaonu (www.youtube.com/user/mmka1985) A video editor needs to know what creative direction to take when they incorporate motion graphics into project. Some projects call for simple and quick elements while other projects may require you to take it a step further. Knowing the creative direction your client wants alleviates the amount of revisions you may encounter down the road. Understanding how blending modes work and taking full advantage of them can bail you out of frustrating situations such as non-keyed elements, footage being under-lit or combining similar takes into one shot.
Twain Richardson (http://twainthestoryteller.wordpress.com) As a video editor I have been called upon many time to produce motion graphics. I will say that of all the Post Production roles, motion graphics is my weakest skill. I love editing and storytelling and so I stick to that and hand the role over to an experienced motion graphic artist who specializes in producing graphics. I do know a little to get by but I pass the heaving lifting off to the pro.
Video editors focus needs to be on the story. We strive to create something beautiful whether it’s a moving documentary, a compelling drama or a CEO speaking about upcoming events in an office lobby. We are not animators or 3D experts. But we can and should be able to create custom moving elements. Help spread the word and leave your thoughts below.