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What is Motion Graphics?

The world of commercial animation is comprised of a number of fields and styles. The word “animation” is an umbrella term that includes almost anything that has movement. However, one subset of animation is confusing to some people, even though it’s all around us in the digital era: Motion Graphics. It’s so ubiquitous that it’s almost invisible — but it is a truly powerful tool when it comes to commercial animation.

In this insight article, I’ll explain what Motion Graphics is, its history, what differentiates it from other types of animation, and its importance in the advertising and design industry today.

From Static to Moving Designs

Motion Graphics means Graphics in Movement. It’s the most straightforward definition you can get. Many times, Motion Graphics is also called Motion Design, making the relationship between movement and design elements easier to understand. Motion Graphics is about bringing the design knowledge to new mediums by adding the elements of time and space to it — i.e. creating movement.   

But bringing design elements to life isn’t a simple task. Unlike other animation fields, you don’t have a pre-defined or “natural” way of animating things. For example, in a traditional cel animation (like Disney movies), you can use endless references from nature to animate a human figure or an animal. But in Motion Design, there’s no natural reference to how shapes, typography, and grids move. For this reason, motion designers study all types of movements, acceleration, and speeds. By putting all those variables together they can bring life to design elements in a way that’s more humanized, capable of connecting with viewers.

The History of Motion Graphics

Before Motion Graphics existed, there was a time when Graphic Design pieces only worked in a flat and un-moving format. A time where moving images were equal to the traditional Walt Disney cartoons. But it was with the advances of cinema, especially in the opening titles, that Motion Design emerged. 

In the 1940s, Motion Graphics was born through the experimental work of Oskar Fischinger and Norman McLaren. In the 1950s, amazing designers such as Saul Bass, Maurice Binder, and Pablo Ferro brought Motion Graphics into the public eye in a big way.

The films those artists worked on are still major points of reference and inspiration to many Motion Graphics Designers and cinema experts. Their work represented an unexpected and creative approach to setting the mood for spectators, creating excitement, and introducing technical information about the movie, such as the production company, film director, actors, and many others. This new way of playing with words and graphic elements that people had never seen before was the entrance point for Motion Graphics’ further popularity, reaching the cinema and mainstream TV.

Motion Graphics is extremely connected with the advances in technology, so naturally, their evolution is intertwined. In more recent years, the advancement of design and animation software allowed Motion Graphics to become a lot more accessible for those willing to learn or produce. At the same time, the ubiquity of screens around us has created more opportunities to design and, consequently, to animate content. From our cars to billboards, our smart fridges, and the phones in our pockets, today everything uses motion graphics.

Uses of Motion Graphics Today

The development of technology and the presence of screens in multiple devices in our lives expanded the full range of usage of Motion Graphics. What before was used just to introduce technical information and set the mood for a story, nowadays serves a wide range of purposes.

On television, Motion Design is used in the opening of TV shows, as the video brand of the channel, and to introduce information with bumpers, lower-thirds, and many others. It’s also built into the forecast screen on the news and in their virtual backgrounds. TV has been using motion since the early days, and it has become an integral part of its identity, helping to make a channel or show memorable.

With the advances of websites and apps, motion has been playing a significant role in helping build better interface experiences through the niche area of UX Motion Design.

When it comes to advertising, especially social media, motion graphics really shine in everything from complex, story-driven ads, to simple animated Instagram posts. It’s a great tool for helping companies stand out from the crowd.

Other usages include everything from animation menus at fast-food chains to projected signs in airports and at events. Motion is used everywhere, and each situation explores its potential on a different level.

How to Think Motion

Abstraction

When thinking about a motion piece, it’s less about being literal and more about the expressiveness and abstractions you can create to convey an idea. By nature, motion design doesn’t rely on characters to perform well. The use of visual metaphors is a great ally for powerful motion videos.

Rhythm

When it comes to movement, the pace of actions and transitions of scenes is crucial for a good motion graphics video. It’s about mastering time and space. Rhythm comes from the difference of speed in the actions in various moments of animation. Smoother movements, with a longer duration, can bring a sense of peace, while fast actions and plenty of transitions speak to something more energetic. The combination of those in a single video helps to create the rhythm and generate climax. Movement is a language; it tells a story on its own and empowers the message. 

Reading Time

Motion is not just about elegant movements and an excellent rhythm. Another important aspect of motion is reading time. It means that every text and action on the screen should have the proper time to allow the viewer to read and understand what is happening. A lot of things happening in a short period of time can seem chaotic and result in misunderstanding.

In the end, Motion Graphics is an incredible area of animation whose popularity just grows over time. Understanding its distinctive usages and possibilities can lead to innovative ideas. Remember that Motion Graphics means more than just nice movements; it combines design with communication and brings a piece to life.

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Author avatar
Felippe Silveira
Co-founder & Creative Director at MOWE Studio

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