While 3D and CGI animation might get a lot of the focus these days, 2D motion design continues to evolve and can still be hugely powerful and effective. Its simplicity can command attention, simplify complex messages or data and make a memorable impact. Some of the industry-standard tools being used have been around for decades, but a small British team is out to shake things up with procedural, non-destructive software inspired by their frustrations as creatives.
Scene Group's Cavalry is a data-driven design and motion design tool that its maker describes as "a secret weapon for some of the world's best design studios". It has a list of Pro subscribers to back that up, including Pentagram, DIA, Studio Dumbar, Buck, Stink Studios, Dept, Superunion and Wolff Olins. So how did a small British start-up based in Manchester set out to take on Adobe? Co-founder Adam Jenns told us about how it began, and where it's going (see our pick of the best animation software for more tools).
Scene Group was founded in 2019 by a trio from the London-based motion design studio Mainframe, with Jenns as CMO alongside CEO Chris Hardcastle and CTO Ian Waters. Their foray into software began alongside their day-to-day work at Mainframe when they developed a Maya plugin, MASH, which was snapped up by Autodesk in 2015. Five years later, the first iteration of Cavalry was released.
"Having worked extensively in both 2d and 3d, we were frustrated that all the innovation in animation seemed to be happening in 3d with the world of 2d/2.5d left largely stagnant," Jenns says. "We found ourselves creating motion graphics in packages primarily designed for compositing and relying on numerous third party plug-ins. They felt slow to use and so we set our sights on creating a purpose-built motion graphics application fit for today’s fast-paced requirements."
The obvious reference here is to Adobe After Effects, which largely remains the industry standard tool but has been showing its age and perhaps tries to do a little too many things. not all in the most efficient way. Scene Group set out to design a tool specifically for the kind of work that its team had seen a need for during their experience in an agency. "We felt the industry was crying out for a tool that was real-time and procedural, making creative exploration and iteration a breeze," Jenns says.
One thing that's surprised Jenns, however, is that the software is receiving wider use than initially expected. Although it was designed with the team's own motion design experience in mind, a broad range of creatives have caught on to it."
"Having imagined initially that motion design studios and creative technology companies would be our biggest market, we were pleasantly surprised how well it’s been received by design companies and branding agencies. There are motion elements to pretty much every branding project now and design companies that may not necessarily have had motion designers in-house are picking Cavalry up and doing some amazing motion work after just a few hours."
Some examples of this have included creating wayfinding for a museum, iPhone and Apple Watch lock screen graphics and an animation charting a UK sailing challenge. Meanwhile, tech brands have been using Cavalry for advertising creative and versioning for different markets. Clients, such as Stink Studios, which used Cavalry in a large project for Revolut, said it helped them to optimise their template setup and create multiple ads in different formats across various languages.
It's also been used for generative art, character animation, fictional user interfaces (FUI), social media posts, templates, UI/U and more. We've recently seen artists taking part in the annual 36 Days of Type open call using the program.
Scene Group wanted the app to have drawing tools so you could see a motion project through from start to finish without having to chop and change between programs. And they didn't want it to be necessary to use a ton of plugins, so they built in their favourites from the start. They also recognised the growing importance of data, so data integration was put at the heart of the app through connection to sources such as Google Sheets and external APIs.
"You get a huge leg up designing new animation software when you’ve suffered the inefficiencies, anachronisms and oddities of old animation software for years," Jenns says. "You get a head start because you already know 10 ways you don’t want to do something, or a very specific way you do want to do something because of experience on the tools."
The beta for Cavalry 2.0 is expected to be released soon. Jenns says this will include some big advances including cameras and 2.5d, tapered strokes, a particle system and new quality-of-life features.