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What’s the Difference Between Animation and Motion Graphics — And Why Should It Matter to You?

One of your (many) responsibilities is solving your clients’ challenges with unique solutions. So you’re constantly looking for inspiration for innovative ideas. 

Have you ever come across an animation so cool, you just know something like it would reinvigorate a client’s stagnant marketing campaign? But when you attempt to find other examples — or even a partner to help you replicate that vibe — you don’t know exactly what to search for. 

It’s not you. It’s the confounding vocabulary used to talk about animation. You Google “animation” and get results for a cartoon series. What you really need is a commercial animation for your client’s business, which you’d find much better results by the term “motion graphics.” But even that’s not necessarily a perfect fit. 

Clearly, defining the various types of animation is a struggle. Here, we’ll help you do it anyway. 

Why Defining Animation and Motion Graphics Is Complex 

There’s so much gray area when it comes to understanding animation vs. motion graphics. Although those are the most common ways to describe commercial animations, still these terms are often misused. Even professional animators interpret the words’ meanings differently. 

It’s dizzying. And yet… 

Despite the challenging semantics of it all, grasping these terms will help you better articulate what you’re looking for. In turn, you’ll be able to:

  • Efficiently find examples of the exact types of projects you want to create. 
  • Expertly assess an animation studio’s portfolio for greatness and quickly select a partner that fits your project. 
  • Easily explain your vision to your creative director and your clients to win their approval. 

With that, we’ll do our best to define the terms on the animation spectrum for you. 

What Is Animation?

In its simplest form, the word “animation” comes from “anima” that means to give life to something. It has the same root word as, for instance, “animatronics” — giving life to machines. 

What comes to most people’s minds when they think about animation? Animated series. Cartoons. But in reality, animation is a broad umbrella term. An animated series is just one of many specialties, subgenres, or subdivisions of animation. Additional subdivisions include stop motion animation, cel animation, character animation, and many others. 

What Are Motion Graphics?

You know what else is a subdivision of animation? Motion graphics. That’s right. Motion graphics — also known as motion design — fit under the umbrella of animation. That’s because, at their core, motion graphics are simply giving life (animation) to graphic elements (lines, letters, shapes, and so on). Thus creating an animation. 

You can also think of motion graphics as a combination of animation and design because, besides simply animating graphics, you’re also using design concepts and methodology to produce this type of animation. Motion graphics also have subdivisions, like 2D motion graphics, 3D motion graphics, UX motion design and kinetic typography. 

While the general public associates animation with television shows and movies, motion graphics are more closely aligned with commercial animation. The stuff you’re likely looking for to support your agency’s clientele

Always Center Your Focus On the Intent of the Animation Project.

The reality is we’ll never reach consensus about the definitions of animation and motion graphics. It’s just too subjective. So, when the terms aren’t getting you where you want to go, nail down the intent or objective of your project instead. 

Why you want an animation in the first place and how you plan to use it tells a better story than a term can on its own. And having a clear objective can lead you to the correct term, too. 

We know you need commercial animation because it’s for marketing purposes (not a TV show). But what’s your intention for that commercial animation? Are you trying to tell a story with a company commercial? Or are you strictly advertising the company? 
The objective will not only lead you to the right team who can create a successful project, it will also guide that team’s creative direction. Understanding what you need from an animation will help your team bring your campaign to life.

Felippe Silveira
Felippe Silveira
Co-founder & CEO at MOWE Studio