What Are Motion Graphics?

If these were moving, they'd be motion graphics!.

So maybe you've been browsing Vimeo or Youtube and you stumble across somebody's motion graphics reel. Pretty snazzy stuff huh? But what are motion graphics anyway?

Motion graphics is a new term for a specific genre of animation that been around for a while. Motion graphics are the crossroad between animation and graphic design. Usually purpose driven pieces with the goal of presenting information to the viewer through use of animated text or graphics.

They often have voice overs narrating what the text or graphics are representing. Lyric videos are a nice example of motion graphics, the graphics echo what the singer is singing.

With the more widespread popularity and lower cost of computer animation, motion graphics began to differentiate themselves from regular animation. Motion graphics have begun to define a specific style as well. Often bright and colorful with no outlines (the lack of outlines makes the computer animation easier).

They usually are a very fluid, bouncy animation style. When you're working with narration you want to keep the viewer engaged visually so they don't just zone out and listen to the narrator. To do this motion graphics artists often make snazzy transitions and dynamic movement between text or between graphic images.

Motion graphics often tend to be more commercial and client driven. It's rare to see someone make an independent film in the style of a motion graphics piece.

The reason for this has to do with the combination of graphic design and animation. Taking the commercial and client based world of graphic design and combining it with animation ends up with motion graphics.

Motion graphics is not new however, it's just much easier to do now. Growing up I had a VHS tape called Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land.

It did little to help me learn how to do math (sorry Mom) but it did contain motion graphics all the way back in 1959. The part where Donald plays pool (or billiards as they call it) where they show a representation of a pool table and draw the lines onto it is the same idea of motion graphics today.

They need to represent some information and illustrate an idea to the viewer so they do that through using animation and motion.

So why call it motion graphics instead of just simply referring to it as animation? Well, the cynical person in me says it's because everyone wants to be a special snowflake and have a neat sounding job title to impress people at parties.

The more optimistic hippie side of me however says it's because motion graphics artists are trying to present themselves as a more niche artist group. Rather than the more broadly defined "animator" they choose to present themselves with the specific label of "motion graphics artist" just like how some people will say "character animator" rather than just simply animator. If you're an animator you could be a character animator, an abstract animator, any number of things. But by saying you're a motion graphics artist you let people know right away what you are and what you do.

Where it gets a little sticky is that the more popular the term motion graphics becomes it seems the more people are misaligning animations to it. Just because an animation is bright and colorful without outlines, like Alex Grigg's work for example, doesn't mean it's motion graphics.

Take this vimeo video for example, while there are bits of motion graphics within it, the majority of these clips are not motion graphics. They're simply stylized, trippy, liquid-y animation. There's nothing really wrong with mislabeling a style of animation for another, it's just something to keep in mind when you're talking about your own work. You wouldn't want to be a character animator doing cool liquid-y animation and apply for a motion graphics job, you'd be disappointed when you had to animate text all day rather than doing your character work.

Remember also that to be motion graphics you don't need to fit into the popular style of them, in fact it may even help you stand out amongst motion graphics artists if your work looks different!

So in summary, motion graphics is the world where graphic design and animation collide. Graphic design is all about portraying information to the viewer, and taking that mindset and applying it into a timeline and animating it gives birth to motion graphics. While not a new concept, it certainly is having a burst in popularity.