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Overcoming Creative Imposter Syndrome

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When I was 22, I got to edit, design, and animate my first national TV spot.

At the time it felt like I was editing a goddamn Superbowl ad, but in reality it was a pretty run of the mill sweepstakes spot for a kid’s yogurt product called Danimals.  I was working with a Producer and an Art-Director from a big-name ad agency in New York, and this was the first time my work was actually going to run coast-to-coast and my family back in Texas would actually be able to tune in (if they watched Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel) and see one of my commercials air.What was I thinking as I sat in front of my edit bay with two big-wig creatives behind me? This.

“What, the actual f--k, are you doing here? You have no clue what you’re doing. You are pretending to be an editor.”

To prove this point to me, the Universe decided that not only should the Art Director sucker-punch me in the face after a drunken wrestling match (a really long and weird story for another time), but that I should also mistakenly deliver a 29-second spot to the mix house.  (Hint:  Commercials are supposed to be 30-seconds long.)  Thank GOD the audio engineer liked me and tipped me off to fix the spot.

And yet, the spot eventually shipped with my editing and graphics on it, it aired across the nation, and I had a goddang national commercial on my reel.  I was officially a “real editor.” Check out how well this spot holds up after more than a decade.

What was my takeaway?


This may terrify you when you think about the fact that airline pilots, doctors, and the guy installing your smoke detectors probably all have a touch of something called "Impostor Syndrome" now and again.Freaky? Yes, but it’s also something you can use to your advantage.


So let’s talk about a few things you can do that help overcome the feeling that you’re not really who people think you are, that you’re just a hack in a world of seasoned pros, and that at any moment your house of cards will come tumbling down on your head… you get the idea.

1. Start something, then finish it. Something small.

Successful people in any field (but especially in Motion Design) are finishers.  They can start a 3 month slog of a project and see it through until the end.  Are you like that? If you’re not sure, try this experiment: Pick a font, go into After Effects, type your name out, and make it animate on in some nifty way in 5 seconds.  This little ditty below took 2 hours to make, and I'm actually not totally ashamed of it.

You know what you just did?  You MoGraphed!  Maybe you just made the opener for you next reel.  Who does stuff like that? Motion Designers do… real ones, not pretend ones.

The goal with this simple exercise is to make you realize that you ARE what you DO… and you really begin to feel like a Motion Designer when you do it repeatedly.  After a while, 5 second projects turn into 30 second spots, 2 minute videos, and by that point your confidence has jumped quite a bit.

Make it a habit of finishing stuff. Just do it.

2. Your job is not to win a MoGraph competition…it's to make one person’s life easier.

Here’s what I mean: Your clients may seem like the ones with all the power in the relationship, given that they are the ones with the money and control over what ends up on screen.  In reality, though, the artist is the one that has the most control over his or her own fate.Think about it. A producer at a small agency needs someone to create a 60-second video for one of their brands.  They reach out to you and 3 other MoGraphers to see who might be a good fit.  That producer is A) probably not an expert in design and animation and B) not checking out Motionographer on the daily.  They get to choose who gets paid to complete the project, but they have a limited ability to judge who the “best” artist is.  So, what do they look for?

Clients look for “Who will let me sleep better at night?”

Your #1 job is not to set keyframes and layout storyboards… it is to make your client’s life easier.  That’s it.  The second you prove to your client that hiring you means they can stop worrying about how the heck they’re going to get this video done, you’ve won the gig.  Never mind that the other artists have better reels or know Cinema 4D better.  Most clients want to hire someone reliable and trustworthy over some rockstar who may or may not complete the job on time.


So, how do you let the client know that you’re going to make all of their troubles melt away?  First of all, tell them that’s what you’re going to do.  Imagine two answers to the question, “So, would you be interested in working on this?”

Option A

“Definitely!  What’s the budget / schedule? It would be really cool to do (insert fancy MoGraph meme) and really make this thing kick ass.  Do you guys have any designs yet?”



“Definitely. I’d love to help take this off your plate and make this a smooth and easy process.  If we end up working together I can manage the project as much or as little as you’d like.”

You might think that the producer is really more interested in the SWEET creative you’re going to deliver, but the reality is that for most jobs, the producer just wants the thing done on time, on budget, and to a respectable level of polish. Promise that, and then over deliver on the creative… that’s the golden ticket.So… if your job is to just re-assure your clients that it’s all going to be ok and that you’ll make sure the job is handled… isn’t that a heck of a lot easier than making your job “be a better MoGraph artist than the competition?”

3. Constantly invest in your growth as an artist

This doesn’t necessarily mean “spend money,” though really in-depth training isn’t generally free.  What this means is, you need to always be sacrificing something… some little thing in your life to give yourself the opportunity to get better.



We’re talking one less hour of sleep and you could start doing everydays like the man, the myth, the mutha f---kin’ legend Beeple.  Do you know how much better this will make you? I can’t overstate the effect this can have. It also goes nicely with point #1 about making a habit of FINISHING STUFF. Make one frame in Photoshop, animate 5 seconds of stuff in After Effects, model something every day in Cinema 4D.  It’s amazing how a habit like this can pay off quickly.


Our site has a lot of free training, so does GreyScaleGorilla, After Effects with Mikey, Lester Banks… if you don’t mind having to sift around to find what you’re looking for, damn near anything can be learned for free.  I used to spend 9:30-10:30am every weekday going through tutorials. Watching one-off how-to videos isn’t the most efficient way to learn, but when you see enough of them you start to build up a library of tricks in your brain that you’ll end up using at the most random times.  Like, “Hey!  2 years ago I watched this random Houdini video and now I think I can apply that trick to this Cinema 4D setup.”

Animation Bootcamp.png


There are some very cool options if you want to accelerate the learning process and have a few bucks to invest.  There are cheaper options like LinkedIn Learning and Domestika that have an incredible amount of content on all sorts of topics.  The quality of the individual lessons may be spottier, but I have learned tons from both sites.  You can step up to sites like Gnomon Workshop or FXPHD to get some really killer classes taught by some badass artists. These sites are more money, but the overall quality of the classes is fantastic.  And, of course, you can jump right into the deep end of the pool and dive into a School of Motion course.  Our courses aren't cheap or easy but they are worth it!  They cram bags and bags of knowledge into your skull and take no prisoners.  If you want to get a LOT better in a short amount of time, look into them.By investing time and / or money into your MoGraph education, you’ll slowly start to see that, hey… that awesome thing Buck just put out didn’t require the use of black magic to create… they’re just doing (this thing you just learned) and doing it WELL.  Once the curtain gets pulled back a little bit, you’ll find that you’re not so intimidated by good work.  You’ll be able to see WHY it’s good and learn from it.

So, to recap...

1. Be an artist that finishes stuff.

2. Your job is to make your client sleep better.

3. Invest in yourself.


These ideas may seem kind of unrelated, but the purpose behind all of them is to force you to take little steps both physically and mentally to chip away at the idea that you’re somehow faking this whole “Motion Designer” thing.  Sure, you may be on Day 1 of your journey towards the front page of Motionographer, but that does not mean you are an impostor.  It means you’re a beginner, and there’s a large and growing community out there to support you and push you.  And if you’re already a pro and just feel “the dip” from time to time, these same ideas can help you push through.

Are you interested in more content from School of Motion about this topic? Check out our podcast, It's a Charade with Doctor Dave who has a PhD in Educational Counseling and over 31 years in the field. This podcast comes from our free course Level Up in which you can explore the expanding creative field and discover where you might fit in.


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Not sure where to start?

If you’re a beginner, here are some great courses to help you get started:

After Effects Kickstart

Dive into the fundamentals of motion design with our most popular (and recently updated) After Effects course.


Photoshop + Illustrator Unleashed

Master the basics of Photoshop and Illustrator and gain invaluable insights in this introductory level course.


Design Kickstart

An introduction to the design principles behind all great work.


More Advanced?

If you’re a more advanced student looking to up your game, here are some great options:

Animation Bootcamp

Learn the art and principles of creating beautiful movements in Adobe After Effects.


Design Bootcamp

Learn to design for motion in this intermediate-level, project-based course.


Cinema 4D Basecamp

Learn Cinema 4D from the ground up in this exciting introductory C4D course.


Now is the time to learn the skills you need to advance in your motion design career: