In Motion With…. Lily Lin

9 months ago by

In this series we’re shining a light on some of the people who breathe life and action into design, Aotearoa NZ’s motion designers. 

This week we sat down with Lily Lin, a freelance 2D motion designer.

Brought to you in collaboration with our friends at Motion Designers Guild of Aotearoa


Can you tell us a bit about your career journey? Where did you start out and what was it about motion design that drew you in?

I’ve always been interested in art and have been drawing since I was five y– Oh yep, it’s the same story as every artist I know. Long story short, being heavily influenced by Studio Ghibli and having read tons of manga growing up, making art was an important form of self-expression and storytelling for me.

I first heard about the term “motion graphics” during college. I went to ArtCenter College of Design in California for an illustration major, and we had various tracks/routes we could pick to narrow down our focus – motion being one of them. I was immediately attracted to this field because being able to breathe life into static designs seemed so magical and further elevated the stories.

A challenge that I frequently came across was the feeling of needing to commit to one illustration style or role. My brain needed various stimulants to stay engaged, and that reflected on my interest in exploring many styles and media. Motion design seemed like the perfect playground to diversify my interests – playing with sound, timing, animation techniques, and various illustration styles. (I remember the first time I made a rotating square in After Effects I felt like a powerful wizard!) Once I started, I just couldn’t stop thinking about adding animation to every illustration I drew.

Flash forward to now, I have been working as a freelance motion designer and illustrator since I graduated in 2020, and have been fortunate enough to work with many wonderful folks in the industry.

What are your favourite types of motion design projects to work on?

On many occasions, projects often come with their own branding rules and vision, so it’s harder to experiment with adventurous styles or motion especially when a project is micro-managed by many. When it comes to creative direction, the projects I have the most fun with are always ones where the client allows an open collaboration and trusts the creative’s expertise enough to just let them explore. 

In terms of storytelling, I’ve always been a strong advocate of designing for social impact, or design with the intention of meaningful storytelling. Motion design will only be in more demand, so I feel like we can achieve greater narratives with our skillsets, instead of designing pieces just for it to be commercial “eye-candy”. It’s been my goal to work with more people/studios who focus on delivering projects with personal meanings, or special messages to help raise awareness for causes we may have overlooked in society.

Is there a notable project you’re especially proud of?

I absolutely love the work I did with an animation studio from Australia called Redboat, who asked me to collaborate on an animation series on light pollution for the Australian Government back in 2021. It was a dream project because it combined social impact and motion design, and I was also able to educate myself on the topic of light pollution as well. After I shared the project on social media, a couple of my friends messaged me saying how they had no idea about the negative impacts of light pollution on the environment and are now more aware of the methods to prevent it, which made me really happy and felt like the project did its job of delivering the right message. 

In your opinion, where and when should a motion designer be brought into a project?

This is a tricky question because personally sometimes it’s nice to step back and just be heads down on either design or animation. However, I find that projects that require complex design elements and scenes help to have the eye of a motion designer early on to prevent redundant work from being done later on.

A motion designer can give insights to:

  1. How to design certain assets so that the motion can flow seamlessly. (Like continuous backgrounds or movements.)
  2. How files should be prepped or what effects can be achieved in After Effects instead of testing in Photoshop or Illustrator during the style frame phase. (Especially projects with heavy effects.)

If an animation is dependent on timing, music, or rhythmic cuts, it’s a much smoother process to have one person taking care of the design to animation pipeline, since the motion designer already designs with the motion in mind.

Also, a small practice I’ve noticed: regardless of which phase in the production pipeline I’m being brought on, it’s always a bonus to be properly onboarded as a freelancer because it minimizes a lot of messy files or incorrect labeling, especially in a large team setting.

A piece of equipment you couldn’t live without?

I upgraded from a Wacom tablet to a cintiq this year and now it’s my favourite thing to use (other than my ipad for smaller doodles.) Painting in Photoshop is so much easier with it and it’s also helped relieve wrist pain when I’m animating in After Effects with a mouse. Best purchase everrr.

What makes a good motion designer and do you have any advice around what makes someone excel in the industry?

I think the essence of it all really boils down to 3 points:

  • Do good work
  • Be a good person
  • Stay curious

As baby motion designers in the industry, we were taught to focus on developing our skillsets to be good designers, to be disciplined, and to be dedicated to what we create. All is true but while technical skills can help you stand out from the crowd, being a good person with a strong work ethic is what helps you establish long-term working relationships. 

Someone once told me: ”Great work may help you gain your first client, but being a good, reliable, trustworthy person will make people want to come back to you.”

The industry can be very fast-paced and brutal. Sometimes we’ll be stuck with late nights and long hours of work, but it’s important to stick together, be empathetic, and encourage each other through these crazy deadlines.  

Also always be curious and be passionate about what you do! Nowadays there are plenty of resources and classes online for knowledge to be available at your fingertips. It’s great that the motion industry is relatively young and growing because it keeps us on our toes and allows us to stay humble while we continue our quest to evolve as creatives. 

What sort of advice would you share to anyone just starting out in their motion design career?

Put yourself out there:

Don’t be afraid to put your work out there on Linkedin, Instagram, or other social platforms. Find out about motion design communities online or local to you, because it’s a small and super humbling industry and people aren’t afraid to share their experiences. Being in Slack groups or Facebook groups helped me to feel less alone as a freelancer because I have a community I can go to for advice.

Know what you want to focus on:

Research on different types of motion studios. Motion can be applied in many different areas so it helps to see how people are applying it in the working world to help you better understand the direction you want to go for. And remember to make a spreadsheet to categorize all your studio finds! 

On work-life balance:

The first year I started freelancing I was pumped and full of energy. My planner was filled with work or social media challenges I wanted to do and I felt incredibly guilty if I wasn’t being productive. And that led to…you guessed it… burnout. What saved me from that situation was a long-term full-time contract position where I didn’t have to worry about finding my next freelance hustle; however, I fell into another dreaded uncreative cycle where I also had no energy left every day after work to do any personal drawings. 

I figured there had to be a balance formed between the two and that’s how I came up with the “Full-time like a freelancer, and freelance like a full-timer” formula: When I’m working full-time, I’ll find ways to introduce new animation techniques or art styles I want to experiment with. On the other hand, when I’m freelancing, I have to set up working boundaries and clock in and out as if I work full-time, to prevent myself from over-working.

Lastly, where can we follow along with your work?

All of my projects are available on my website (www.lilylindesign.com). I also love meeting and making new friends on Instagram so come by and say hi @itslily.lin. If you’re a LinkedIn kinda person I do also post occasional tips and random thoughts there as well. (My LinkedIn Profile)

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