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Motion Design Business Practices
by Shel Perkins

Work on film and television projects tends to be organized into the standard production/post-production pipeline, which is to say that the work tends to be sequential and compartmentalized. Companies providing post-production services such as motion design and VFX usually negotiate their portion of the project on the basis of a fixed-fee contract plus a short list of extra items that will be billed separately if the client later decides to include them (such as extra seconds added to the duration of a shot). All services are provided on a work-for-hire basis. The standard legal language used in these contracts addresses issues related to the use of union labor and the obligations of signatories (for example, there are union requirements and restrictions for the content of title sequences and end credits).

A useful reference for entertainment contract language is available to members of the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP). As the name of the organization indicates, most AICP members are involved to some extent in making commercials for ad agencies. They work in both the live and digital production environments, and the board of directors includes professionals from leading companies such as Digital Domain and Brand New School. The “Doing Business” section of has a variety of reference documents available to members, including a standard commercial production agreement, a digital commercial production contract and new media licensing agreements.

A different set of business expectations is found in graphic and interactive design firms. In general, design firms are accustomed to a more exploratory and iterative process, and prefer to be involved right from the inception of a project. That is to say that design firms tend to take an approach that is more holistic and the workflow is usually not organized into a tight production/post-production pipeline.

Many of today’s top motion designers began their careers in print, and then gradually shifted from static to kinetic projects. This involved mastering the essential film skills of movement, sequence and narrative, as well as becoming power users of editing software.

In the design community, most contracts are in the form of fixed-fee proposals. If a client later makes substantial changes, those modifications are documented with one or more change orders. A sample set of terms and conditions for design proposals is available at The AIGA “Standard Form of Agreement for Design Services” reflects current usage of trade within the design profession. It has a modular structure. The first two modules, General Terms and Conditions and Schedule A: Intellectual Property Provisions are intended for use on all projects. An additional three modules are provided as supplements to be added to the agreement only as needed for print projects, interactive assignments or environmental/3-D projects.

This AIGA system is now being updated to accommodate motion design. The existing intellectual property provisions are being expanded to include a work-for-hire option. Previously, the underlying expectation was that projects would not be work for hire. Going forward, that will still be the case for projects unrelated to motion design. For most traditional deliverables, it will remain standard practice for the creative company to be recognized as the copyright holder. Necessary rights are then licensed or assigned (transferred) to the client when full payment for the project has been received.

Lastly, a brand new supplement is being created with some additional provisions that are specific to motion design deliverables, such as a warranty of compliance with the client’s technical requirements and applicable industry standards. This new supplement has two important underlying assumptions: that most AIGA members are not in a union; and they are not involved in projects that require live action or shooting on location.

So, if you’re a motion designer negotiating a project, which business practices should you follow? The variety of players and business relationships in the field today means that there is currently no single approach that will match all situations. Here’s a diagram to help you sort out the differences we've been discussing and find the contract terms most appropriate to your own particular circumstances.

Keep in mind this is only a snapshot at this point in time, when the field of motion design is still quite fragmented. A certain amount of confusion and inconsistency is unavoidable in the near term. In the long run, however, motion design will continue to mature as a professional service and that evolution will involve the development of shared business practices. CA Perkins
Shel Perkins ( is a graphic designer, management consultant and educator. The revised and expanded second edition of his book Talent Is Not Enough: Business Secrets For Designers is published by New Riders.