Inspiration comes in many forms. Often unpredictable, it’s that little extra spark that ignites the imagination and sets off the creative process.
So vital is inspiration to the creative process that when it’s non-existent, it can leave designers with a real feeling of doom, that they’re no good, or that they should’ve perhaps opted for a different profession.
In motion design, much like other creative fields, inspiration can be found in so many different places and everyone has their own way of trying to find it. With this in mind then, I decided to reach out to some expert motion designers and ask them one simple question:
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
I was thrilled with the responses I received, here’s what they had to say:
Instagram is my main source. Whenever I see someone, be it animator, illustrator, graffiti artist, Cinema 3d modeler, I try to find their Instagram and follow them. It's a nice trick to add random inspiration when I'm scrolling past meme accounts, food, and dog photos.
LinkedIn is also surprisingly good, once you build up a lot of artist connections, because you'll also see content from people you're not connected with when a connection likes or comments on their art.
I find inspiration by watching a lot of movies! I love going to the movie theater. I also find a lot of inspiration from the music I listen to and often it reflects itself in the animations I work on. I like to get inspiration from outside our industry as much as I can.
Building up a collection of inspiration is really important for my work. Over the years I save anything I love on Pinterest, bookmarking on Instagram and Twitter and in folders on my desktop.
It takes time to accumulate but I will follow anything that might help my work, however tenuous. Whether that's an account on Twitter that tweets archive stamp designs, an account that posts cats in weird poses or a travel influencer that posts really nice photos of landscapes. Anything can spark an illustration for me.
This means that when I need to find inspo for a project I can look at my own database of images instead of googling common words and finding things that everyone else will!
Inspiration can come from literally everywhere, I think. Maybe it's more a matter of keeping your curious mindset alive and allowing yourself to be amazed and intrigued by what's around you.
To me it often comes from walks in nature, music, movies, learning something new, events/talks, travelling (even though we haven't been getting much of that lately). But most importantly, I'm inspired by people a lot - from close friends to random strangers on the streets. I think that's why a lot of my work is centered around that, as it's probably my biggest interest in life :)
A good chunk of feeling inspired to me is also connected to novelty, to a rested state of mind and to being allowed to play and make mistakes. It can be extremely challenging to feel inspired in stagnation, under pressure and when the stakes are too high.
I feel inspired when I feel alive: when I feel connected to myself and others, when I'm exploring differences and discovering something new. When I find a new exciting band that sounds like nothing I've ever heard before, when I watch a movie that clicked a few new things in my head, when I see a beautiful pattern on a beetle I just saw in my neighbors garden and wanna draw it, when I notice a little cute specific gesture my partner does when he's feeling sleepy.
Life is overall a big mystery and I feel it doesn't take much to find something nearby that you can take a closer look, appreciate, explore, learn from and feel passionate about.
Over the years, I think I learned to take inspiration from life other than other pieces of work. I've been feeling more inspired by feelings than visuals.
When I started my career I was more focused on trying to know what was "trendy" at the moment and to follow big studios for inspiration. As much as I still do it to this day, I do feel more inspired and energized going for a walk with my daughter, taking care of the garden or reading children's books, for instance.
This is a tricky question, because inspiration can sneak up on you either when you hardcore search for it, a few seconds before you fall asleep or while you're shaving your armpits. At least that's how it works for me.
Sure I can find great content on Pinterest from incredible creatives or when I scroll on Instagram - I'll save my favourites and go back to these when I feel uninspired, or I'll use this instant inspiration from that exact source and start creating. These are my favourite scenarios. When the inspiration-bullet hits you and you allow yourself to sit down immediately and create.
Often we don't have the time when that [inspiration] bullet hits us, cause we are standing in the supermarket buying granny's favourite ice cream and won't be home by the desk for hours (when this happens, I write them down as detailed as possible in notes on my phone, so I can tap back into this idea later on). And especially when you work as a professional creative, you most of the time have to force out the creativity and inspiration on a daily basis - sometimes when you don't feel inspired at all.
That's why it's important to figure out what works for you. This is such a personal thing - listening to your creative voice.
For me, I find inspiration everywhere. I also like to challenge myself and find beauty or a story in the strangest objects, that you might not usually find inspiring. To give you a few examples; I feel extremely inspired by flea markets, because I love old stuff with a story. I love old cartoons, VHS tapes and paintings. I also love urban exploring - this is when humans create something and nature takes it back. Getting lost and going back to nature helps me a lot. I've also started meditating in the morning and at night, and this is actually where I get my best ideas. When I allow my head to be quiet - this is when I feel the most inspired. I can definitely recommend it :)
I find inspiration for my work in two places: outside of the digital world in the nuances of life around me, and inside the animation/design/film/illustration realm we work in day by day.
I find it very helpful to draw inspiration from the intricacies of real life, as it helps to inform real emotion, real storytelling, humor, depth, all of that in the work I create.
I try to pay attention to the small things in life - the way someone smiles or tells a joke, the way bugs walk, how light looks through leaves in a tree, how a breeze can make someone feel calm, how my cat's face looks when he sneezes. Observation is key, and informs great animation and greater storytelling.
So much of the work I create is made for the intention of connection.. and I love being a student of connection in the real world and letting that inspire my sensibilities. In the design + animation world, I am vastly inspired by feature films new and old, animated and live action, and also often find myself losing track of time surfing through Behance or Pinterest.
It's a cliché, but I find inspiration everywhere, well maybe not everywhere. I've yet to be inspired by a public bathroom. Mostly movies, music, books & of course my peers. If I'm really being lazy, from scrolling through Pinterest at other motion design work.
My favourite activity that I use often to generate the best ideas, is sketching on my iPad with a playlist playing. And before each song ends, I try to come up with an image inspired by a lyric in that track. 3 - 5 minutes I think is short enough, that I can't hesitate or think too long about an idea, but enough to flesh one out into something that could, with more time, become an illustration or animation.
Inspiration can come from anywhere, for me it's about being present and engaged with your surroundings. Our medium is so visual that if you open your eyes to the often mundane things around you, there is usually something to inspire or learn from. I'm hyper aware of weird colour combinations since I'm always looking for interesting palettes.
It's the same for paying attention to the real life characters around you, the way light hits different objects, interesting perspectives in art and film, and of course it helps to surround yourself with creative people.
I always aim to avoid the use of other artist's animation and illustration work as an inspiration and/or keep it to a minimum as I don't want to be overly influenced by that. So I try to find my inspiration from the things that I have experienced, seen in real life or even imagined. Whether it's from my travels, the location I am in, the music I listen to, the movies I've watched, what happens in my everyday life or even what I have dreamt one night.
You can find inspiration from the most random places and from what surrounds you. For me, it helps keep my work feeling a little more fresh and not just a rehash of someone else's artwork.
I think inspiration comes from the everyday. I'm always making notes and lists on my phone; a funny thing my kid said, a cool technique I stumbled upon while doing a work project, an interesting quote or song. I like collecting things and coming back to them when I feel stuck.
I rarely solve a design problem by scrolling through instagram or Behance, but many ideas come to me when I go for a walk or take a break from my computer screen. I think it's important to give yourself space, and maybe some silence to listen and wait for inspiration to come.
I find inspiration from things I see in everyday life and my experience. It could be from a street I walk past, from a travelling experience, from artists and exhibitions I see, from films and books I love etc.
I often get new ideas after travelling, I think because it gives me some head space and good rest. I consider it quite a vital experience to reflect or refresh my works. Being in different cultures and travelling to different places would make me see my works in different perspectives and let me have a restful mind to slow down and reflect on my works.
Honestly I get most of my inspiration from other talented artists in the community! The thing I love about the motion design industry is how diverse a range of styles and skills there are. There's always some thing new to learn or to add to your animation repertoire.
I earmark A LOT of stuff by adding it to the 'saved' folder on Instagram (I use Pinterest as well but more for design & illustration stuff) and that has everything from typographic animations generated with code to traditional frame-by-frame to insane 3D physics simulations.
One thing they all have in common though is really great design. In that respect, it's work in which the design informs the motion and the motion informs the design, that really inspires me.
I'll normally try to derive a start point for a project from my own imagination and interests, but then take a deep dive through that folder to help inspire the direction, especially in terms of colour, tone, style and what tools and animation techniques I'm going to use.
It's an overused answer but Twitter and Instagram are my go-tos for new work a lot of the time. When you seriously curate who you follow your feed quickly fills with the work of some very talented people.
Besides other animators I'm very inspired by the cartoons I grew up with. A lot of the distinction in my work comes from the media I enjoy now - much of it being anime! I've personally never studied animation at a University, so seeing how classic cartoons and anime exaggerated movements has really driven the nuance in how I animate characters, or really anything!
For my work, I often get inspired by my daily journal. Sometimes I write a sentence or a paragraph or a number of pages. It really helps me to track my emotional status and feelings. My growth as well. And to see what stories did I want to tell or was interested in.
I also find good inspiration from old artwork in different areas of art. Old sculptings, paintings, jewellery crafts, or simply reading books about art history. Looking at old artwork gives me a tranquillity feeling and somewhat encourages me to live as a contemporary artist.
Actively trying to find inspiration is often difficult. I find that inspiration usually finds me when I'm busy doing other things, like walking my dog or running, I don't think I've ever had a brilliant idea whilst sat in front of a computer or a blank sheet of paper.
I rent a studio instead of working from home so that I can set a clear boundary between work and personal life, I find that this separation allows me space to switch off from work mode and allows my mind time to digest and for ideas and inspiration to happen.
One of my favourite personal films, Life On Mars, started simply by reading an article about NASA landing Curiosity on Mars - this inspired me to draw and rig the rover as I wanted to explore the technical challenge of building this in After Effects. My enjoyment of building this rig then led me to create a short film based on the theme of life on Mars.
All of my personal endeavours have helped to grow my network and business, so I think it's very important for creatives to spend time on their own work and not solely focus on client work.
I'm focusing my currently limited personal development time on learning Blender and it's already refreshing my creativity and making me very inspired and driven to create new personal content.
I look to a lot of places, online and offline, for inspiration. Here are some of my favourites:
- Old art books. I love some coffee table books
- Photography, especially architecture photography
- Paintings in art museums
- I take lots of photos with my phone of random things outside that strike visual ideas in my mind
- Concept art and "Art of _____" movie books
Now, the "proper" thing to do would be to say "get off the computer, go look at obscure sources for inspiration" and leave you with those sources I just listed. But that would be a half-truth. YES, you should get off of the computer and see other sources. You should also look at industry sources as well. Here are some of the ones I like...
- Pinterest for broad visual searches, Behance, and sometimes Dribbble.
- Vimeo (Wine After Coffee) and Motionographer for motion design specific things
Just remember, keep your sources broad and varied! And if "inspiration" starts to turn into discouragement, you might be over-consuming and it's time to start making things.
I find inspiration in everyday life, books, and of course, my peers. What drew me to animation was the ability to exaggerate or make fun of daily annoyances, or to add a fun twist to a mundane thing. Whenever I have an idea for a personal project, it usually stems from an experience I've had -- such as forgetting my mask when I go to the grocery store, or having a fear that one day I'll forget that I'm not wearing pants on a zoom call.
Books are also a great way of finding inspiration because it's completely creative. When you're reading, it's solely the description that the author gives you that drives the visuals that come up in your head. I love to read because it allows me to imagine characters, places, and concepts and put my own projections onto them. The author might say something like, "Sarah had brown hair and tattoos", and as readers, we can fill in the blanks to how we perceive Sarah to look like. It's truly a magical experience!
And of course, my peers! We live in a wonderful age where we can easily find tons of amazing artists on instagram or Dribbble or Behance and study their beautiful work. Seeing a bunch of different styles and color palettes really inspires me to keep experimenting and to not fall into one style box. I think as artists, it's really important to try new things and have fun with creating.
I draw inspiration from many places. Sometimes I like to look through online platforms like Behance, Pinterest or instagram. I have folders of saved artwork I've liked over the years that I could quickly look to if I need.
But I also like to look outward in the real world, away from the digital screens to avoid falling into the habit of following trends too much. Some of these things could be from music, dance, architecture, graphic design, visual arts, or just being in nature while going for walks and observing people and things around me.
When I see something cool when I'm out and about I always like to snap a picture and put it in my inspiration folder. Later on, they may be used as reference for moods or colour palette in my projects.
I really try to go back into the child's mind and imagination when it comes to inspiration. A lot of it comes from nature, specifically really looking at the smaller mostly unnoticed plants and animals. I think we can get so caught up with the distractions of screens and seeing amazing work from other artists that it tends to overwhelm and curb my own inspiration. While drawing inspiration from other artists isn't a bad thing at all, something I definitely do, I don't like to use that practice when it comes to creating.
Chase Jarvis wrote a book called 'Creative Calling' that has a ton of great insight, and one practice he wrote about really opened my art in a whole new way. That practice is upon waking up in the morning, before you look at any screens or content, you do some kind of creative practice. Whatever that creative practice may be, its coming completely from you and not something you maybe just scrolled past that's fresh in your mind.
For me, that creative practice has been a morning sketch. Its just me drawing and seeing where my brain takes me without any references. What comes out has really helped with strengthening my imagination and improved my drawing abilities. All this inspiration I may have come across in the past are all kind of already up there in my brain. I'm taking bits and pieces of maybe some art or nature or movie that caught my attention and they are all coming together to make something that feels more like me.
Some great comments and advice I’m sure you’ll agree!
Personally, with my own motion design work I find I’m most inspired when I’m outside, perhaps on a long cycle ride, or up a mountain, or even just watching the birds and wildlife on my doorstep, the natural world really is a wealth of inspiration.
One thing that does really fascinate me about inspiration, is that it’s also shaped by each of our own unique perspectives. Every single one of us has a different perspective on the world that’s shaped by an infinite number of variables, which ultimately means inspiration is inevitably different for all of us!
It’s important to keep that in mind, because if you don’t find inspiration in the same places as the people above, it’s not that you’re broken or a bad designer, it’s because your perspective perhaps requires something different. As you can see from the variety of responses, there’s no one size fits all, so keep on searching for what inspires you.
A big thank you to the motion designers who took the time out and responded to my request, if you’d like to be considered for a future article or you have comments you’d like to share on this one, then I’d love to hear from you, and I encourage everyone to get in touch either by email: [email protected], or via Twitter @made_by_loop.
If you liked this article, you may also like our article on how to improve as a motion designer, where I asked 19 experts what they think is the best way to improve as a motion designer.