What is Motion Graphics?

by Feb 11, 2021Art, Motion Graphics0 comments

“Motion graphics is graphic design on wheels.”

Before going into Motion graphics lets first clarify the concept of a graphic design. A graphic design is a still image that explicitly communicates something. It could be a logo of a particular brand, the website URL of a company, the latest model of a car, or even a message for women’s rights. A graphic designer skillfully composes elements and colors on a canvas to communicate something to the viewer.

“I Love New York” is the official state slogan of New York.

Designed by the great Milton Glasor

However, the development of computers and software introduced third and fourth dimensions to graphic designers. 3D software such as Maya and Cinema4D emerged, and 2.5D software such as Adobe After Effects allowed the artists to place 2D visual elements in 3D, introducing “depth” as the third dimension into graphic design.

Some popular 3D software among motion designers. Maya, Houdini, and 3D Studio Max is more popular for high-end VFX work but Cinema4D and Blender is very popular among motion designers.

Moreover, the software also introduced “time,” a fourth dimension allowing the artists to move graphic elements in time, giving birth to “computer animation.” The grand masters at Disney have already standardized the animation principles by the time computers allow people to make animations.

Animation of Snowhite from 1937.  The knowledge of animation is old and perfected by pioneers over the time. However, technology kept advancing, and introduced computers to the game. Today we animate with computers but the principles are the same.

Critter Compendium by Andy Martin.

This is a modern animation done using computers. Artists can model in 3D and animate them over time.

If you consider the big picture at this point, the birth of motion graphics is apparent. The technology is available to put the individual design elements of a “graphic design” in “motion.” You don’t always need computers to create motion graphics. Still, we only focus on computer animation because it is the industry we have today. We believe the earliest motion graphics could have been for movie titles such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Then it has gradually crawled into other advertising, marketing, and entertainment areas. Before we advance any further, let’s clarify some concepts.

What is graphic design?
A graphic design is a composition of design elements that a designer carefully composed to communicate a message. For example, a designer may skillfully utilize colors, text, shapes, and photographs to project the idea of “global warming” on a canvas.

On top, a business card design by Voyata on Shutterstock. And on the right, the famous “Hope” poster designed by Shepard Fairey for 2008 US Presidential Election.

Both designs communicates something but in different domains. The business card introduces to what they do, and the poster symbolizes a person as an iconic leader.

Art Vs. Design
Is a graphic designer also an artist?. Yes, you can call them artists too because there is art in them. However, art is about expressing yourself rather than communicating a message. It does not mean you can’t share thoughts with art; you always do. But the moment you try to communicate with art, you suddenly become a designer because all of a sudden, you need to speak to an audience. So immediately, you must answer questions like what the audience is, what culture they are from, age group and gender, etc. The result is, you no longer express yourself in complete freedom because the audience drives even the colors and the style of your painting since you need to speak to them. Therefore, you need art skills as a motion designer because your visuals need to be beautiful. Still, you must also be a designer.

On top, the famous painting “Sunrise” by Claude Monet from 1874 and on the right, the poster designed for a Sherlock Holmes movie.

It is clear that in the artwork, the artist only express himself in his own stylized way, but in the poster, the designer, cleverly communicates a serious Sherlock Holmes vibe by using the iconic pipe, red color which implies crime and danger. The designer also ingeniously use the negative space to reveal the famous detective’s face.

What is animation?
Animation is one of the best ways to tell a story. Not only to tell stories, but it has become the most prominent way to inform and educate people as well. Which, is the reason why motion graphics is in high demand today. Animation is about moving the figures to create the illusion of movement. We carry the individual design elements of a graphic design through time to make an animated design, called a “motion graphic.”

Why moving a graphic design?
The simple answer is to elaborate on the message. The graphic design as a still image communicates a message. So you make an animation out of it, which takes time to watch but clarifies the idea in detail. In other words, if the graphic design is the 5-minute introduction at the start of the lecture, the motion graphic is the 1-hour lecture that explains that summary in detail.

Some design boards for the motion graphic explainer “Airbnb Cycling Experiences” by the talented team at Illo, Italy. These are the designs finalized before going into production.

The final animation done in reference to the design boards. Basically, it is a cleverly animated set of designs.

Motion Graphics Vs. Motion Design
The two terms are using interchangeably everywhere, and they both mean the same. Motion graphics is the older term, and motion design is the successor. However, we prefer the term “motion design” since it is much wiser and accurate because all we do is design. We start with a graphic design and carefully design the motion to elaborate on the original design’s message.

There are a lot of areas where motion design is applicable. Let’s look at some applications of motion graphics to clarify the subject even further.

Title Sequences
A title sequence does not essentially tell you a story. However, there are great examples where the title sequence brilliantly introduces the viewer to the plot and the movie’s characters. The idea is to present the titles, but clever motion graphics would take the viewer to the show’s mood.

Opening title sequence for HBO’s True Detectives. It is heavily influenced by “double exposure photography,” which they user so cleverly to introduce the viewer to the scnenarios which the caracters are involved with. They introduce the mood of the show brilliantly in this openning.

Opening title sequence for teh movie “Catch me if you can,” which is a great example of introducing the viewer to the plot in the openning titles. If you pay attention, the titles sequence presents all the main plot points in the movie and it is very stylizes.

Product/Service Explainers
Explainer videos are the latest marketing tool for new product/service launches. It is an exciting way to explain the product/service to potential buyers. It is in high demand due to its favorable conversion rate.

An explainer video by VideoGuru.

Ident animation is one of the oldest, most famous, and unavoidable types of motion graphics. Everyone who ever produces a video must show off their brand logo at some point. The trick is to represent what the company is about with the motion graphic.

An ident animation by Alex Grigg.

Titles, Text Effects, and Typography
If graphic design is about communicating, so is motion graphics. When there is communication, text, and typography are essential. A motion designer would have to use clever text effects and animation to get the messages across.

“Shopify Learning Tool Montage” by Yaniv Fridman.

Awareness Campaigns
Much like explainer videos, the awareness videos would explain something. It could be about labor rights, conspiracy theories, debunks, ocean pollution, etc. These motion graphics are highly informative, often loaded with infographics, and culture-bound, which results in stylized graphics.

“The Danish Chair” by Marius Vaitkevicius.

Motion graphics is also a form of art. It is not always about conveying a message to a target audience. The inherent stylized nature of motion graphics is also a great storytelling tool.

“I am Here” by Eoin Duffy.

Visual Effects
It is increasingly common to see motion graphics in the complex visual effects shots in feature films. The recent sci-fi fantasy movies are full of Futurist User Interfaces, which communicate the advanced technology the characters interact with to the viewer.

“Ender’s Game” motion graphics by Ash Thorp

Motion graphics is a great tool to educate people. A cleverly directed 5-minute motion graphic can substitute a two-hour lecture on a particular concept. How is it possible? A student’s attention drastically diminishes after about 25 minutes. However, a 5-minute engaging animation can get all the ideas communicated while the student’s attention is at its peak.

“How does artificial intelligence work?” by Tech-Ed and PleaseCallMeChamp

The demand for motion graphics is constantly on the rise. With faster internet and social media, people like to see an informative video than a well-designed image. In addition, consumers would love to see more details on the product or service they are buying before deciding. Not to mention that today’s e-commerce solutions expect people to make decisions remotely, the explainer videos have become very important. It would help if you considered adding motion graphics to your next video since it augments the viewer experience. Suppose you are looking for more customer engagement. In that case, motion graphics can assure that by conveying your message to the audience in style.

Written by: Indunil Ranawake
Published on: February 11, 2021


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