An introduction to motion graphics

Marc Greaves

If you pop over to good olde Wikipedia, 'Motion Graphics' is described as:

'Animation or digital footage which create the illusion of motion or rotation, usually combined with audio for use in multimedia projects.'  

Unfortunately, that's pretty vague. Motion graphics (also motion design) is a shortened form of  ‘motion graphic design’ and, thus, involves moving graphics in space. Motion graphics incorporates both digital and analogue technology and media such as 3D, 2D, hand-drawn & stop motion animation, video, text, photography, virtual/augmented reality, illustration and film- even audio, flip books and animated GIFs! So yeah, there's ALOT that the term 'motion graphics' can cover. In most cases though, it's best considered as 'Moving Graphic Design' and this tends to be commercial in nature. Some common examples of application would be for social media content, advertising or educational video in addition to TV or film work. There is a current trend for explainer videos, where a process or story is revealed through moving graphics and illustrations. So if you've sat through an 'Explainer Video' for training at work, seen an animated company logo or watched any sports event where stats and information are layered on top – you've just seen yourself some motion graphics!

People have never consumed a greater amount of information, which is now forcing businesses and individuals to fight for a consumer's attention. Motion graphics are a great way to attract due attention, as well as create a modern presentation of information in an appealing and compelling way. This makes motion graphics design play a crucial role in boosting overall business results or promotion. It can also help your video by creating or reenforcing a brand image. Just as the posture and the manner of walking can tell a lot about a person, the manner and the speed of movement set the tone for the right understanding of a brand. For example, the manipulation of graphics can communicate the brand being cool, modern, humorous or, on the contrary, mature, stable and refined. Additionally, motion graphics have the added advantage of directing and retaining a consumer's attention for education, entertainment or exposure. In a local setting – this may be exemplified with a professionally created explainer video to be shown at the workplace for training. When combined with social media presence, video content can result in huge numbers of consumer retention. 

The time it takes to produce motion graphics for any project varies greatly depending on the level of complexity. Usually the process itself involves pre-production (script, initial storyboards, animatics) – production and amendments. For smaller projects with a simple brief (for example a logo animation), you might be looking at 1-3 days, with more complex and detailed projects extending past a week. This often is down the production preparation of the artwork and assets to be animated, before the production process starts. If the artwork/video content is already supplied by client, this reduces the production time dramatically.

Oh there are tons of tricks to make graphics pop, crack, zing- you name it! Techniques employed by a motion graphics designer might include aesthetics borrowed from art and static graphic design, motion tracking (imagine a company logo or message moving across a wall in time with a camera movement), liquid/electric animation ( a hand-drawn effect giving a rugged texture in combination with video), animated text, parallax or 2.5D effects and transitions (an almost 3D effect applied to video or stills photography) as well as puppeteered illustrations and characters, 3D CGI and basic VFX.  I've also seen brilliant examples of motion graphics using stop motion animation, subtle emotive animation of simple logos and there are a plethora of options – it all depends on the project brief and budget! If a goal is for the work to stand out, then this is usually achieved through project concept or the techniques used, however.

The tools of a motion graphics designer stem firstly from creativity and proper technique. It's not generally known but designers for animation often study lighting, composition, principles of animation and graphic design. For the most part however, production of motion graphics generally come from the use of software packages such as the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite, Cinema 4D, Blender and Apple's Final Cut Pro. I tend to use Adobe's Creative Cloud Suite as assets can be prepared in Illustrator and Photoshop for transferring to editing and compositing applications such as Premiere Pro and After Effects. Using the correct tool for the job with a great concept or story and you'll have content that adds tremendous value to your video. Consider it the icing on the cake. As a matter of fact there is a tremendous motion graphics piece from 2005 involving the icing of cakes...

Marc Greaves


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