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The Ultimate Guide to Motion Graphics Software 2020

By Adam Korenman
After EffectsCinema 4DIllustratorNukePhotoshopPremiere Pro

We've Compiled the Ultimate Guide to Motion Graphics Software. Time to Get Busy.

Let’s face it: Breaking into a Motion Design career can be daunting. Sure, it looks like nothing but fun parties and perpetual hand cramps from the outside, but then you start flirting with Adobe and find out you need to learn a dozen new programs as well. It seems like every month there's some new software that comes onto the scene and promises to revolutionize the way in which we do our work. How do you decide where to start?
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We’ve put together a handy guide of important Motion Graphic softwares to learn. This is certainly not all the software in the Motion Graphic industry, but it is a list of what you should know in order to prepare yourself for whatever project a client may throw your way.
Place a cushion on your seat and strap in tight, because we’re about to rock your socks off with our list of THE Best Animation Software to Learn…2020 Edition.
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If you want to download a guide with all of the information outlined in this post, feel free to do so by clicking the download link below. The PDF download is just an organized version of the information presented in this article so you can reference it in the future without having to find this post online.

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Essential Motion Graphics Software

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Price: $52.99 a month as part of the Creative Cloud ( solo $20.99 a month)
You've probably heard the phrase "This looks Photoshopped," implying an image has been touched up or altered in some way. That only scratches the surface of what is possible when using the software. Adobe Photoshop is about as versatile as a creative software can be. For a Motion Graphic designer, a working knowledge of Photoshop and its features is key.
Features:
  • Create Matte Paintings
  • Edit Textures
  • Design Boards
  • Stitch Images Together
  • Create a GIF
  • Layout Cel Animations
  • Rotoscope
  • And hundreds of other examples!
The good news is Photoshop is incredibly easy to start using. Once you have a good handle on the basics, you can take your design skills to the next level with Design Bootcamp.
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Price: $52.99 a month as part of the Creative Cloud ( solo $20.99 a month)
Adobe Illustrator is similar—yet entirely different in function—to Photoshop. While Photoshop deals with bitmap (pixel-based) editing, Illustrator is a vector editing software. If you’re not already familiar with the term, a vector image is simply a file that can be infinitely scaled up without pixelating. This is very important when designing logos, shape objects, and vector backgrounds that will be used in your Motion Graphics workflow.
Features:
  • Pixel-Perfect Designs
  • Snap to Pixel Capability
  • Built In Design Templates and Presets
  • CSS Extractor Tool
  • Color Synchronization
  • Free Transform Option
  • Images in Brushes
  • Path Segment Reshaping Options
  • Perspective Drawing Enhancements
  • Anchor Point Enhancement Options
  • Dynamic Symbols
  • Live Shapes Capability
  • Shapebuilder Freeform Mode
  • Smart Guides
Similar to Photoshop, Illustrator files can very easily be imported into After Effects for animation. If you decide you want to change the look of a logo, you can save the file in Illustrator and it will automatically update in AE.
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Price: $52.99 a month as part of the Creative Cloud ( solo $20.99 a month)
The most important software to master as a Motion Graphic artist is Adobe After Effects. While you can create motion design projects in other programs, nothing is more versatile and essential to a modern Motion Graphics workflow.
After Effects is a 2.5D animation software. This means you can do virtually any animation you want, as long as it doesn’t involve 3D modeling (with some exceptions). In general After Effects is the primary software used to animate and composite all of your Motion Graphic work together once you’ve designed the storyboards and elements in Photoshop and Illustrator.
Features:
  • Logo Reveals
  • Title Animation
  • 3D Compositing
  • Motion Tracking
  • Object Removal
  • Simulation Effects
  • Template Creation
  • Slideshow Design
  • UX/UI Design Mockups
  • Web Design Mockups
  • Explainer Videos
  • Kinetic Typography
  • VFX
Once you’re done animating your project in After Effects, you can export a finished video and send it to a video editing software to add it to the rest of your project.
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Price: $52.99 a month as part of the Creative Cloud ( solo $20.99 a month)
Premiere Pro, like all of the other softwares up to this point, is included in the Creative Cloud. Programs such as Final Cut Pro, Sony Vegas, and Avid Media Composer can all be used to create a finished video once you’re done using After Effects. However, Adobe has made great strides to integrate After Effects and Premiere together, making Premiere more essential for Motion Designers and Video Editors alike.
Features:
  • Simultaneous Projects
  • Motion Graphics Templates
  • Shared Projects
  • VR Editing
  • VR Rotate Sphere
  • VR Audio Editing
  • Effects
  • Video Titling & Graphics
  • Transitions
  • Regional Closed Caption Standards
  • Labels
  • Lumetri Support
  • Type Tool
  • Libraries
  • Multiple Video Types
Premiere is almost twice as popular as it’s closest competitor and used in Motion Design studios around the world. A lot of people argue about video editing software, so save yourself the headache and just start learning Premiere.

Intermediate Motion Graphics Software

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Price: $59 a month
Once you've warmed up to the Adobe Creative Cloud, it’s time to jump into the world of 3D. Cinema 4D is the software of choice for most Motion Designers. It is very user friendly; It’s not inconceivable for you to be able to sit down right now, watch a tutorial, and create something.
Cinema 4D is used extensively in the Motion Graphics world for modeling, animation, and simulation effects. It’s important to stress the phrase "Motion Graphics" here. While you certainly will find studios all over Hollywood using C4D, it’s far more common to use applications such as Maya for industry-level VFX work.
Features:
  • Volume builder
  • Fields
  • Node-based Shaders
  • UV Unwrapping
  • Improved CAD Importer
  • Alembic baking
Cinema 4D is also compatible with a few different GPU accelerated render engines that allow you to render out higher-quality 3D models faster on your computer. The most popular render engine in Cinema 4D is Octane, a third-party engine.
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Price: License is $695 for Mocha Pro, or $20.99 a month for Mocha AE as part of Adobe Creative Cloud
Another fantastic tool, Mocha AE is a planar-based tracking system, which basically means it tracks motion beyond a cluster of pixels. This makes Mocha extremely powerful for Motion Artists who are interested in performing screen replacements, object removals, or rotoscoping. Mocha can be a bit tricky to master at first, but once you get used to it’s spline-based workflow you’ll be able to track virtually any movement with ease.
Features:
  • Advanced Modules: Lens, Insert, Remove, 3D Solve, Stabilize
  • GPU accelerated tracking and object removal
  • Stereo 360/VR workflows
  • Export data to industry standard systems
Mocha AE is built into After Effects, meaning you can very easily hop from After Effects to track a shot in Mocha, then hop back into After Effects with the tracked camera data. This application will become more useful as you begin to work on commercial work.
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Price: $999, or $49.92 a month
Trapcode Suite is technically not an application. Rather the Trapcode Suite is a collection of plugins that can be used inside of After Effects to give users functionality that would otherwise be impossible.
Features:
  • Trapcode Particular: The industry standard particle generation tool. Seriously, if you’re creating particles you need to use this plugin.
  • Trapcode Form: Builds grids around 3D objects. Think of a holographic display. The application is pretty diverse.
  • Trapcode Mir: Fantastic for simulating environments and terrains in After Effects.
  • Trapcode Stroke: Creates shapes and strokes from masks in After Effects.
  • Trapcode Shine: Creates 3D light ray effects that are much more complex than the ones built into After Effects.
  • Trapcode Starglow: Create stylized glints and glows for motion graphics and text
  • Trapcode Sound Keys: Instant Audio-driven Motion Graphics in After Effects
  • Trapcode Tao: Creates abstract 3D geometry shapes. Great for adding in extra design elements into your scene.
  • Trapcode Lux: Creates 3D lights.
  • Trapcode Echospace: offsets and clones animated layers.
  • Trapcode Horizon: Create 3D backgrounds.
All of these plugins are cool in their own way, but if you had to pick a few: Trapcode Particular, Form and Mir are all highly recommended.

CEL ANIMATION TOOLS

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Price: $52.99 a month as part of the Creative Cloud ( solo $20.99 a month)
Adobe Animate is another incredible tool in the Creative Cloud. If you're looking to explore 2D animation and craft your own stories, this is very powerful software.
Features:
  • Adobe Animate Camera
  • Lip-syncing
  • Vector brushes
  • Design interactive animations for games, TV shows, and the web
  • Bring cartoons and banner ads to life
  • Create animated doodles and avatars
  • Add action to eLearning content and infographics.
With Animate, you can quickly publish to multiple platforms in just about any format, and reach viewers on any screen.

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Price: $399
Formerly Anime Studio, Moho Pro 13 is an incredibly efficient animation tool, providing improved workflow for your projects. With brand-new bitmap and freehand drawing capabilities, vector animation tools, and Moho's proprietary bone-rigging system, the possibilities are limitless.
Features:
  • Brush Tools
  • Rigging Systems
  • Keyframing Tools
  • Photoshop Integrations
We’re only scratching the surface of what these applications can do. if you’ve ever dreamed of crafting custom animations, you should definitely check them out. And if you really love Character Animation, be sure to check out our Character Animation Bootcamp here on School of Motion.

Advanced Motion Graphics Software

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Price: Free to use, but a royalty fee is required for commercial products
Unreal Engine is the world’s most open and advanced real-time 3D creation tool. The fact that this insanely powerful tool is free shouldn't belittle its power. The developers continuously evolve the software, providing creators across a number of industries the power to invent awe-inspiring worlds.
If you think this engine is just for gaming, you're missing out. Sure, it is a powerhouse for the Video Game industry, but Unreal is used in Television, Film, and commercial productions just as often.
Features:
  • Pipeline integration
  • World building
  • Animation
  • Rendering, lighting, materials
  • Simulation and Effects
  • Gameplay and interactivity authoring
  • Developer tools
With a price tag we can all afford, there is no excuse for avoiding this amazing playground.
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Price: $39.95 a month
If you work in 3D, ZBrush is the industry standard for digital sculpting and painting. With customizable brushes to shape, texture, and paint virtual clay, you can craft incredibly intricate works of art in no time.
Features:
  • Base mesh generation
  • Sculptris pro - dynamically add (tesselate) and remove (decimate) polygons wherever and whenever needed
  • DynaMesh
  • ZModeler
  • Live Boolean
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Price: Free download!
Blender is a free and open source 3D creation suite. It supports the entirety of the 3D pipeline—modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing and motion tracking, video editing and 2D animation pipeline.
Features:
  • Rendering
  • Modeling
  • Sculpting
  • Animation and rigging
  • Grease Pencil
  • VFX
  • Simulation
  • Video Editing
  • Scripting
Whether you're building new worlds, modeling amazing characters, or crafting gorgeous effects, Blender is a wonderful tool to add to your belt.
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Price: £16 a month ($19.57)
Currently in Beta, Cavalry is for Motion Design, Generative Art, Character Animation, Data Visualization, FUI, Visual Effects and much more.
Features:
  • Create grids, position elements along paths or place shapes using image based distributions
  • Use Behaviors for voxelizing shapes, deforming along paths, or oscillating position values
  • Create dates, strings and values and then join, scramble or replace characters with ease
  • Animation can be played back in real time and any changes updated live
While still new to the field, Cavalry has demonstrated its value with impressive support and a growing community.
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Price: $4,988 to start
Nuke is a professional software used at the highest levels of Motion Design work. This node-based compositing software is used to composite 3D elements and video together. It's very different from what you might have been used to in After Effects. This system makes it very powerful when working on large collaborative projects.
2D Features:
  • Nodal toolset
  • Deep Image compositing
  • Stereoscopic workflow
  • Rotoscoping
  • Keying
  • Keylight
  • Dope Sheet
  • Relighting
  • OFlow retiming
  • ZDefocus
  • 32-bit floating-point color channels
  • Color analysis tools
  • Planar Tracker
  • Furnace plug-ins
  • Kronos retiming
  • Advanced retiming and warping
  • Vector Generators
  • Lens Distortion
  • 360° Stitching and Camera Rig Solving
  • VR Corrections
3D Features:
  • 3D workspace
  • UDIM import
  • 3D Camera Tracker
  • Model Builder
  • 3D Particle System
  • Point cloud and depth generation
Nuke and After Effects can easily be used on similar compositing projects, but Nuke has been specifically designed with a professional users in-mind.
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Price: $269 a year for indie studios
Houdini is the Ferrari of the 3D simulation world. Houdini is the perfect software if you want to create incredibly VFX at the scale needed for big-budget feature films.
Features:
  • Realistic Fire
  • Explosions
  • Ocean Dynamics
  • Cloth
  • Smoke
  • Destruction
  • Fur
  • Crowds
This is the tool that the big-kids in Hollywood use to create VFX work for blockbusters and commercial videos alike. Houdini is not for the faint of heart. You could very well spend your entire career focusing exclusively on this one program.
If you just want a taste, there is a free version of Houdini that you can download from the SideFx website.
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Price: $1,620 a year
Maya is a very popular 3D modeling and animation software used all over the industry. It allows users to write scripts that expand the functionality beyond what would be possible with just the built-in tools. While it is the go-to software for the Entertainment Industry, the learning curve is quite steep. You could very-well spend your entire career in Cinema 4D without ever opening up Maya and be very successful. But if you want to work in Hollywood, it is worth at least familiarizing yourself with Maya.
Features:
  • Dynamics and effects
  • Bifrost for procedural effects
  • Ready-to-use graphs
  • Interactive hair grooming
  • Deep adaptive liquid simulation
  • Bifrost Ocean Simulation System
  • Bifrost Fluids
  • Bullet Physics
  • Maya nCloth
  • 3D animation
  • Cached Playback
  • Animation Bookmarks
  • Native motion library pluginP
  • Time Editor
  • Geodesic voxel binding
  • General animation tools
  • Shape authoring workflow
  • Parallel rig evaluation
  • Performance capture
  • Rigging
  • Matrix drive workflows
  • Pin to geometry
  • Proximity Wrap deformer
If Maya's not your cup of tea, a lot of Motion Designers enjoy using Modo from the Foundry to model their 3D work. Again, the learning curve on this one can be quite steep, but it’s a great software for professional work. You can download a free trial of Modo over on the Foundry's website.
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Price: $299 for Intro License
Syntheyes is the best Match Moving/Tracking software in the world. If you want to composite your Motion Design elements into your scene with perfection and control, there is nothing better.
Features:
  • New neural-network-based automatic and supervised tracking approaches.
  • New Lighting-Invariant tracking mode for supervised trackers.
  • New File/Export/Lens/Image Preprocessor Preset as Script
  • List, control, drag, and clone splines in the Hierarchy View.
  • New "Lens/De-zoom in image preprocessor" script to remove focus hunting.
  • Types of Shots
  • Image Preprocessor
  • Lens Calibration
  • Object Separation
  • Tracking
  • Geometric Hierarchy Tracking
  • Solving
  • 360° Virtual Reality
  • ViewShift System
  • Stabilization
  • Coordinate System Setup
  • Set Reconstruction
  • Graph Editor
  • Perspective Window
  • Images In/Out
  • Meshes In/Out
  • Scripting
  • Workflow/User Interface
Syntheyes is a powerful third-party application that can be used to fix shaky footage, track virtual sets, smooth 360 footage, create architectural previews and more.
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Price: $449
TurbulenceFD's simulation pipeline implements a voxel-based solver based on the incompressible Navier Stokes equations. That means it uses a voxel grid to describe the volumetric clouds of smoke and fire, and solves the equations that describe the motion of fluid on that grid. For each voxel TurbulenceFD calculates the velocity of the fluid as well as several channels to describe properties like temperature, smoke density, amount of fuel, etc.
Features:
  • Intuitive workflow
  • Optimizes CPU performance
  • Physically based fire shader
  • Multiple scattering
  • Particle advection
  • Adaptive container
  • Emitters
  • Collision objects
  • Turbulence mapping
Simply put, TurbulenceFD enables you to create realistic, voxel-based simulations that will take your 3D game to the next level.

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Price: $239.99 for the first year
EmberGen is a real-time volumetric fluid simulation tool that can instantly simulate, render, and export flipbooks, image sequences, and VDB volumes. With EmberGen, you can create anything from fire and smoke, to explosions and magic wisps. EmberGen gives you the creative freedom to iterate on your simulations in a few milliseconds instead of hours.
Features:
  • Real-time iterations
  • Built with games in mind
  • Produces high-quality simulations for feature films
With one look, you can see why EmberGen is quickly becoming a gold standard in the motion picture industry.
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Price: Starting at $49.99
3D-Coat is a commercial digital sculpting program from Pilgway designed to create free-form organic and hard surfaced 3D models from scratch, with tools which enable users to sculpt, add polygonal topology (automatically or manually), create UV maps (automatically or manually), texture the resulting models with natural painting tools, and render static images or animated "turntable" movies.
Features:
  • Easy texturing and PBR
  • Real-time physically based rendering
  • Digital sculpting
  • Ultimate retopo tools
  • Fast and friendly UV mapping
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Price: Starting at $19.99 a month
Substance Painter is a 3D painting software allowing you to texture and render your 3D meshes.
Features:

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Price: Starting at $19.99 a month
The industry standard for creating custom materials, Substance Designer gives you complete authoring control.
Features:
  • Non-destructive workflow
  • Material authoring
  • Powerful generators, tools, and filters
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Price: €34.90 ($37.68) a month
RizomUV’s strength is that it is built for speed of workflow. It can unwrap in seconds, pack in seconds, optimise in seconds, thereby reducing the hours you spend UV mapping in other applications into minutes. RizomUV VS is a full-featured UV Mapping application, with features surpassing most offerings currently on the market.
Features:
  • Instant unwraps
  • Tight packing
  • Autoseams
  • UDIMS and Multi-channels
  • brushes
  • Super sharp optimization
  • Adaptable
From indie stills to games you’ve played or movies you’ve seen, RizomUV is quickly taking over the market.

Hopefully you’ve found this article to be helpful. Of course if you're ready to learn more about Motion Graphics or Animation we highly recommend checking out the tutorials, articles, and courses here on School of Motion.
So now that you know the right programs to learn what are you waiting for? Stop reading this and get to work!
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