How to Become a Freelance Motion Designer with Julia Chetwood

Have you always wanted to pursue your creative passion while traveling the world? Get a glimpse into the life of freelance motion designer, Julia Chetwood, and learn how to make this dream lifestyle a reality.

Julia Chetwood Meet the Experts Q&A
Portrait for Kelsie RimmerBy Kelsie Rimmer  |  Updated August 15, 2023

Have you always wanted to become a freelance motion designer? Do you dream of traveling the world? Well, you’re in the right place! Today, we have the privilege of diving into the creative mind of freelance motion designer Julia Chetwood – an Australian-born, Portugal-based motion graphics expert with a talent for globetrotting and visual storytelling.

Originally from Melbourne, Julia started freelancing in 2022 – and she never looked back. Over the last year, Julia has carved out the ultimate digital-nomad lifestyle, pursuing her passion for motion design while living and working from the heart of Portugal. 

Julia Chetwood

In addition to traveling the world, Julia has worked with some impressive clients throughout her career – such as Google and Jobs Victoria – boasting an impressive portfolio ranging from sleek corporate animations to whimsical visual narratives that tug at the heartstrings. Renowned for her innovative approach and distinct style, her unique animations are full of personality, bright colors, and hand-made charm.

Want to get a glimpse into the life of a freelance motion designer and learn how to make this dream lifestyle a reality? We chatted with Julia to learn about how she got into motion design, her advice for going freelance, and her expert insights into the ever-evolving landscape of motion graphics.

How did you get into motion design?

I first learned about graphic design in high school (Art but with rules? Sign me up!) I’d been drawing forever, but suddenly being a graphic designer actually seemed like a viable career. 

I studied Communication Design at Monash University and took all the motion electives I could get my hands on. I’ve always been interested in the intersection between illustration and animation and enjoyed the patience needed to make frame-by-frame animations. And as more and more design clients started asking for motion design, I wanted to add it to my skill set.

I took on some freelance projects while studying, then landed a job as a designer at Evolved Group. One of my first “real” client projects was designing presentation graphics for 15m long screens for a Google event on-site in Hong Kong – a very steep learning curve from the imaginary projects I worked on at uni. I worked with Evolved for almost four years before leaping into freelance illustration and motion design full-time in 2022.

What does an average day look like for you as a freelance motion designer?

Every day is different. I could be deciphering a complicated script and animating a crypto explainer video one day and Googling images of “snake curled up on the couch” for a storyboard concept the next. 

While I live in Porto, most of my clients are based in Australia, so many meetings occur early in the morning due to the time difference. I work from home but often set my laptop up in different locations and try to break up the day by working on one task for the first half of the day and then switching it up in the afternoon. Whatever happens during the day, I wrap everything up before dinner and maintain my work-life boundaries.

What do you love most about working freelance and traveling the world? 

Working as a freelance motion designer is one of the best things I’ve ever done. Being surrounded by visual inspiration and new places is a surefire way to snap out of a creative rut. It’s allowed me to find community and connect with creative people from various industries I wouldn’t have otherwise had the chance to. Building a client base in a new country can be nerve-wracking, but the payoff has been worth it.

What have been your favorite projects to work on?

Since I started freelancing, I’ve been lucky enough to work on various projects – from animations, social ads, and explainer videos to custom illustration commissions and branding projects. It’s so satisfying to see a project through from start to finish. 

Recently, I’ve been working on several projects developing both illustration style and motion design. For example, I loved creating this illustration style for a Jobs Victoria animation with SOMA Studios and getting the creative freedom to go nuts with the style frames. I also developed the illustrations and event identity for Google for Indonesia with Evolved Group, which I had the pleasure of rolling out across many facets of the event. 

I also curated a 2022 exhibition at Honey Bones in Melbourne called I think I’ve been here before with Jess Riley and Karen Eriksen. It was a great exercise in creative freedom and creating work from a sentimental place. Finding the balance between jobs that pay the bills and projects fuelled by creative passion is super important to me. 

How do you create motion graphics? Run us through your creative process! 

Before jumping in, I always talk to the client about the brief and get as much info as possible about their vision. Then I’ll create a mood board for illustration style and movement references (Miro is perfect for this). I find it helpful to have an idea of movement before sketching a storyboard so you can envision how each frame will act in motion and transition from one to the other. The storyboard is a critical reference point for the animation, so it should provide enough detail for you and the client to envision the end product.

Once approved, I’ll create a rough animation or go straight to animating the first draft. I frequently refer back to the initial research throughout the animation process to stay on track. Still, I often go off on research tangents – you never know what other ideas or inspiration might pop up. 

Illustration and motion graphics are inextricably linked. How can creatives combine these skills and use them to their advantage? 

Whether you come from an illustration or an animation background, knowing the basics of both sides means you can clearly communicate your ideas to other creative collaborators. An illustrator who knows the processes and limitations of motion will be able to create the most effective illustrations for animation. And a motion designer who understands design aesthetics will be able to ensure that they maintain the integrity of a design during the moving process. If you’re an illustrator, adding animation to your work is a great way to get into motion design. If you’ve designed something, you’ll intuitively know how it needs to move.

What are your tips for attracting motion design clients? 

Keep your portfolio up to date! You’ve probably heard it a million times, but presenting your best work is so important – you never know who might stumble across it. As much as I find LinkedIn a foreign world for creatives, it’s a great place to get noticed by bigger agencies and clients, so being active there can be beneficial. I mainly use Instagram to share passion projects I’m particularly proud of and flex my creative muscles without client limitations. 

One thing I’ve been trying to do recently is be less precious about what’s “good enough” to share. There’s this idea of social media being super polished and perfect, but the content I most enjoy from other creatives is the messy, behind-the-scenes insights into how they created something.

What challenges have you faced as a female motion designer in a still male-dominated industry?

The gender split in motion design is shifting, but it’s a slow process. When I started, I found being one of the studio’s only non-male motion designers quite intimidating. It was a mental hurdle to overcome the imposter syndrome and take a seat at the boys club. 

Recognizing your value is super important, and following other female motion designers helps to foster a sense of community rather than competition. Hearing Zoe Crocker and Bel Giles speak at Node Fest a few years ago was incredibly inspiring, especially after listening to so many panels made up of only men. Plus, seeing big projects from other freelance motion designers – like Mikaela Stafford – is key for creating more female representation in the motion design world. 

What are your top tips for creating high-quality motion graphics that stand out? 

  • Render often and early: motion design can be quite tedious and detail-oriented, so take a step back and look at the bigger picture to better understand the overall feeling of your piece.
  • Invest in plugins: plenty are free or relatively cheap, and they’ll change how you work forever.
  • Have a clear vision: there’s always room for experimentation, but with a clear vision of what you want to achieve, you’ll be able to do it the right way the first time.

What tools can’t you live without? 

I use After Effects for 95% of my motion work and the Procreate animation toolbar for frame-by-frame animations, and I can’t live without my Overlord, Ease Copy, and Motion After Effects plugins. I’m also constantly on Pinterest, looking for inspiration and tracking down creators to follow. Panimation is an excellent resource for female and non-binary motion designers to get a look into others’ work and processes.

What do you love about Envato Elements for motion designers?

Envato Elements is super accessible for anyone – from beginners to professionals. It’s so handy to access everything you need in one subscription instead of scouring the web for assets, music, fonts, etc. It allows you to save time on designing things from scratch, which you can then use to finesse your animation. It’s also a great source of inspiration if you find the blank page intimidating.

How did you start out creating motion graphics? What’s your advice for budding motion designers? 

Give yourself plenty of time to play with After Effects and get comfortable with the foundations. I started out by handling the changes on the studio’s big-motion projects. Even though it felt like I was defusing a bomb every time I opened a file, it meant I got to poke around in more experienced motion designers’ animation projects. Working backward from a finished product allows you to adopt parts of someone else’s workflow, helping you better understand their creative process. From there, you can develop the confidence to customize and create your own. 

Do you have any words of wisdom for motion designers just finding their feet? 

The learning curve for motion design is steep, but there will come a day when it clicks into place and starts making sense – tasks that used to take a long time will become easier, and the graph editor won’t seem like such a scary place! Even the most seasoned motion and graphic designers go through problem-solving frustrations in the middle stages of a project, so lean into the messiness. Ask as many questions as possible, and ensure you take time at the end of a project to reflect on what you’d do differently and, most importantly, celebrate the wins.

And that’s a wrap! To delve into the world of motion design, head to Envato Elements to start creating today. Or, read up on the top Motion Graphics Trends of 2023.

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