Finishing is all about creating a sense of unity and cohesiveness to your motion design boards. After gathering elements from different sources, they often come from different color spaces and can sometimes clash. These photoshop tips can help you smooth out the rough edges, polish your design, and make it all work.

1. Add Noise/Grain

  • Make a solid 50% gray layer.
  • Filter Noise: 3-7% based on taste.
  • Set the layer to overlay, put that on the top of the stack to uniform the shot.  

This makes it look like something that was shot on camera and makes everything looks like it was in the same space and source even if it’s different.

Add Noise - Attack motion design in Chicago

2. Gradient Map Color Treatment

  • Add a gradient map and pick a custom gradient or a preset. You want something that has a balanced color harmony.
  • Put this near the top of the layer stack.
  • Adjust fill to taste.
  • Adjust opacity to taste.
  • For extra subtitles and blending set the layer to overlay, screen, or color.

This is great for the treatment of footage and assets from different sources. It can help with unity like noise but also can give a richer color depth. It’s up to you how much to use, but I either use it very subtle…. barely noticeable or heavy, close to a two-tone but with some of the source color peeking through. I don’t always use this, but it’s a good trick to give a bit of extra depth to your boards.

Gradient map color treatment

3. Dynamic Range With Curves

This may seem counter-intuitive, but you can increase the dynamic range by putting a curves layer over everything and dial back some of the blacks and whites. A light touch is key here, you don’t want to lose all your contrast. You want enough to give you some headroom to brighten or punch-in the mid-tones as you see fit. Sometimes I'll make a point in the middle of the curves to lock in the mid-tones, then adjust the black point or white point. Later I'll go back and adjust the mids.

dynamic range with curves - motion graphics design

4. Shot Layout Board

Seeing all the boards as one unit can help you spot any color shifts from shot to shot and make sure you have a visual good flow. The background should be neutral either black, white, or dark gray depending on the general color scheme you use. You want the shots to stand out. It helps to start doing this while you are in the designing process as it can guide your design and you can refine as you go along.
Motion design boards are all about going through the big picture and general idea of the video that’s going to be made. Making a shot layout board will help you avoid tunnel vision and start thinking about flow and motion from the get-go.

5. Value Structure Hierarchy

  • Add a black layer at the top of everything overall you boards groupings. 
  • Set it to color. This should turn everything to a correct B&W to check your value structure.
  • This is a guide layer that you can turn on and off as you design or at the end for final touches.
What you are looking for is that everything reads and has a distinct level of contrast. You can go into any layer that looks like it blends in too much or pops too loud and adjust the color. Start with the luminance, then tweak the saturation and finally the hue if need be.
This can also inform which way to push or pull your mid-tones w/ the curves layer. Also, don’t forget to turn on and off the guide layer while doing this, or you can end of up with some wacky colors.
* Updated 8-26-19 thanks to this awesome twitter thread:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Color theory tip: Using &#39;Desaturate&#39; in Photoshop is not the same as saving to Grayscale, or checking for value. So don&#39;t use &#39;Desaturate&#39; to convert colors to grays if you want to preserve value.<br><br>One might even say that as a solution, it&#39;s ... unacceptable. <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Bob Flynn (@bobjinx) <a href="">July 30, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

Mission to Mars - Attack motion designs and animation after effects

6. Vignette

A dark vignette can help strengthen the focal point of the frame. I use a curves adjustment layer over everything and bring down the mids, blacks, and whites. I'll use a vector mask to mask out the area I want to leave as it's normal tone, with a high feather value to soften the blend between the lighter and darker values. If used with extreme values it can look a bit like a harsh spotlight. I prefer to use it with subtle effects to draw the eye to the important part of the frame.

7. The Usual Suspects: Depth of Field, Motion Blur, Glows, Lens Flares, Volumetric Lighting, etc

I’m not going into too much detail here since it’s an in-depth subject and there are heaps of tutorials on all these techniques elsewhere. Since they are used in adding a finished look to your boards, I’d be remiss if I didn’t address it. For transition frames, it can help sell the shot if you have some depth of field, motion blur, and a sense of movement.

Lens flares and glow effects can also provide a bit of pop when used sparingly. To add depth of field put a simple gaussian blur on foreground objects or the background. A directional blur on any elements you want to portray as moving can add some dynamism.

There are plenty of volumetric lighting and fog tutorials online, but if you are using Octane to render any 3D elements you can do some of the post effects in Octane instead of photoshop.

In fact, Octane is quickly pivoting to be the creative directors' renderer for this reason. You can achieve a lot of rich different looks “in-camera” and render fast for concept and look dev.


8. Update Bonus (2021): Camera Raw Filter - A quick trick that combines multiple steps into one.

So we all know there are a million different ways to do things in photoshop. I've been working on some CG art recently and found a great timesaver in developing a consistent look and final grade. All your image-based compositing and effects should be done first and locked down. Then you select everything and go to copy merged. Once you do that, paste it and you should have a layer that has all your elements flattened into one layer still retain your non-destructive layers in case you need to make changes. Right-click and convert it to a smart object, which allows you to use the powerful camera raw filter as a smart filter. It also means you can paste that filter on your subsequent frames for consistency.

Inside the camera raw filter, you can start off w/ presets and then dial in your look from there or just got straight to the manual tweaking. The Basic section has some great fine-tuning features including texture, clarity, and de-hazing, plus segmented exposure control. Curve, Detail, Color Mixer, Color Grading, Optics, Geometry Effects and Calibration are the rest of the sections. Each one dives deep into various photoshop functions and lets you get really granular. I use sharpening in Detail, get a look w/ Color Grading and sometimes Color Mixer, Add slight distortion in Optics (usually -1), and Grain and Vignetting in Effects. You can also use the adjustment brush to paint in a range of adjustments to get the frame exactly how you want it to look.


Attribution: The boards featured here were created as a homework assignment for the Design Bootcamp course from School of Motion, Inc. All work is speculative and created for educational purposes.

These are some of the tips I learned at School of Motion Design Bootcamp. Photo images have been graciously provided by Shutterstock for use in the creation of course content and exercises. Visit them at