What is Motion Graphics?

Friday, April 19th, 2013 | Blog, Theory

I have been tasked with writing a curriculum in the study of motion graphics. Defining this particular design practice ended up requiring more thought, attention and research then I expected. One could simply say “Graphics in Motion” and be done with it, but that wasn’t particularly satisfactory. Here’s what I wrote.

What Is Motion Graphics?

Before we begin producing Motion Graphics, it can be useful to define it. Defining the discipline proves maddeningly difficult: even top practitioners and artists produce in wildly different mediums, disciplines, and intents. Further muddying the waters can be that the various principles and techniques that collectively make up “Motion Graphics” can be applied to other design disciplines and larger projects.

Simply, motion graphics takes the approach of a graphic design practice and applies it to time-based media. Let’s further build on this definition with more concrete language.

First: time-based media is a term that describes any data that changes meaningfully with respect to time. Sometimes this can be known as streaming media, because of the streaming, forward moving nature of time. In our case, the data that is changing is the designed content. Music, animation, and movies are all examples of time-based media. Unlike other types of design (…for example a poster), in which the duration of engagement is open-ended, time-based media fixes the duration of engagement of the audience explicitly. This duration must be considered and intentionally designed by the motion graphics content creator.

Adding to time-based media, we attach the term pictorial. This term simply refers to the fact that motion graphics is a sequential series of pictures. Additionally, pictorial refers to the intent and usage of any photographic work. This helps differentiate the design usages of photography and cinematography from cinema. Essentially, images are treated as source footage to help communicate an idea, as opposed to “straight” photography.

Building upon that, we add communicative to our definition. This helps differentiate motion graphics, which for all practical purposes is computer animation in contemporary production, from the other concerns and disciplines of computer animation. Feature length and large budget animated films have a distinctly cinematic form with the telling of a story being of paramount importance. Motion graphics, like graphic design, focuses on visual communication and presentation.

String them together, and we arrive at our definition: communicative pictorial time-based media. A bit of a mouthful, but it helps the practitioner focus on what to study. While the disciplines and techniques of various other media and artistic disciplines will be helpful to motion graphics studies, the successful motion designer always has a focus on communication and adopts a design-centered approach and process.