What Are Motion Graphics?

Johnny Chew

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?

The Term of Motion Graphics

Motion graphics is a new term for a specific genre of animation that has been around for a while. Motion graphics are the crossroad between animation and graphic design. Usually, these are purpose-driven pieces with the goal of presenting information to the viewer through the 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).

Fluid, Bouncy Animation Style

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.

It's Not New

Motion graphics is not new, however, it's just much easier to do now. Growing up, we had a VHS tape called Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land. It did little to help us learn how to do math 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.

Niche Artist Group

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 doesn't mean it's motion graphics.

An Example on Vimeo

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!