Motion graphics are pieces of animation or digital footage which create the illusion of motion or rotation, and are usually combined with audio for use in multimedia projects. Motion graphics are usually displayed via electronic media technology, but may also be displayed via manual powered technology (e.g. thaumatrope, phenakistoscope, stroboscope, zoetrope, praxinoscope, flip book). The term distinguishes still graphics from those with a transforming appearance over time, without over-specifying the form. While any form of experimental or abstract animation can be called motion graphics, the term typically more explicitly refers to the commercial application of animation and effects to video, film, TV, and interactive applications.
Motion graphics extend beyond the most commonly used methods of frame-by-frame footage and animation. Motion graphics can be distinguished from typical animation in that they are not strictly character driven or story based and often represent animated abstract shapes and forms such as logos or logo elements.
Since there is no universally accepted definition of motion graphics, the official beginning of the art form is disputed. There have been presentations that could be classified as motion graphics as early as the 1800s. Michael Betancourt wrote the first in-depth historical survey of the field, arguing for its foundations in visual music and the historical abstract films of the 1920s by Walther Ruttmann, Hans Richter, Viking Eggeling and Oskar Fischinger.
The history of motion graphics is closely related to the history of Computer Graphics as the new developments of computer-generated graphics led to wider use of motion design not based on optical film animation. The term motion graphics originated with digital video editing in computing, perhaps to keep pace with newer technology. Graphics for television were originally referred to as Broadcast Design.
Saul Bass is a major pioneer in the development of feature film title sequences. His work included title sequences for popular films such as The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Vertigo (1958), Anatomy of a Murder (1959), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), and Advise & Consent (1962). His designs were simple, but effectively communicated the mood of the film.
Before computers were widely available, motion graphics were costly and time-consuming, limiting their use to high-budget filmmaking and television production. Computers began to be used as early as the late 1960s as super computers were capable of rendering crude graphics. John Whitney and Charles Csuri can be considered early pioneers of computer aided animation.
In the late 1980s to mid-1990s, expensive proprietary graphics systems such as those from British-based Quantel were quite commonplace in many television stations. Quantel workstations such as the Hal, Henry, Harry, Mirage, and Paintbox were the broadcast graphics standard of the time. Many other real-time graphics systems were used such as Ampex ADO, Abekas and K-Scope for live Digital video effects. Early proprietary 3D computer systems were also developed specifically for broadcast design such as the Bosch FGS-4000 which was used in the music video for Dire Straits' Money for Nothing. The advent of more powerful desktop computers running Photoshop in the mid-90s drastically lowered the costs for producing digital graphics. With the reduced cost of producing motion graphics on a computer, the discipline has seen more widespread use. With the availability of desktop programs such as Adobe After Effects, Discreet Combustion, and Apple Motion, motion graphics have become increasingly accessible. Modern character generators (CG) from Aston Broadcast Systems and Chyron Corporation's incorporate motion graphics.
The term "motion graphics" was popularized by Trish and Chris Meyer's book about the use of Adobe After Effects, titled Creating Motion Graphics. This was the beginning of desktop applications which specialized in video production but were not editing or 3D programs. These new programs collected together special effects, compositing, and color correction toolsets, and primarily came between edit and 3D in the production process. This "in-between" notion of motion graphics and the resulting style of animation is why sometimes it is referred to as 2.5D.
Motion graphics continue to evolve as an art form with the incorporation of sweeping camera paths and 3D elements. Maxon's CINEMA 4D, plugins such as MoGraph and Adobe After Effects. Despite their relative complexity, Autodesk's Maya and 3D Studio Max are widely used for the animation and design of motion graphics, as is Maya and 3D Studio which uses a node-based particle system generator similar to Cinema 4D's Thinking Particles plugin. There are also some other packages in Open Source panorama, which are gaining more features and adepts in order to use in a motion graphics workflow, while Blender integrates several of the functions of its commercial counterparts.
Many motion graphics animators learn several 3D graphics packages for use according to each program's strengths. Although many trends in motion graphics tend to be based on a specific software's capabilities, the software is only a tool the broadcast designer uses while bringing the vision to life.
Leaning heavily from techniques such as the collage or the pastiche, motion graphics has begun to integrate many traditional animation techniques as well, including stop-motion animation, cel animation or a combination of both.
One of the most popular motion graphics tools is a particle system: a motion graphics technology that is used for generating multiple animated elements. This type of animation is commonly referred to as procedural animation. A particle system is available as a plug-in, as a stand-alone application, or is included as an integrated part of a motion graphics package. Particles are points in 3-D or 2-D space that can be represented by a wide variety of station and animated objects such as a ball of light, a video clip, or a selection of text, to name a few. The particles are generated by a particle emitter and can be emitted in small numbers or in the thousands, depending on the project. Among other things, a particle emitter can be in the form of a single point, a line, a grid, a plane or an object such as a box or sphere, although it can also make use a custom object to serve an emitter, such as a logo, which for example, can be exploded, melted, or transformed into blowing sand. A popular particle system for motion graphics is Particular by Trapcode.
Other examples of individual particles include a blurred sphere that can be used in large numbers to create smoke or fog and a video clip of a person who can be duplicated to create a crowd scene. Particles can be emitted as a single item, although it is typically used in large numbers, such as when creating smoke or rain. They are controlled by directional forces, simulated wind, and gravity, objects designed to attract or repel them. Other controllable attributes can include such things as changes in color, size, or transparency. Depending on the system, one can also combine multiple simultaneous emitters, such as when simulating an explosion that combines fire, smoke, and flying debris. In an advanced 3-D system the particle can be used to control an animated articulated character, a recognizable example being the warriors in the battle sequences of the film Lord of the Rings.
Elements of a motion graphics project can be animated by various means, depending on the capabilities of the software. These elements may be in the form of art, text, photos, and video clips, to name a few. The most popular form of animation is keyframing, in which properties of an object can be specified at certain points in time by setting a series of keyframes so that the properties of the object can be automatically altered (or tweened) in the frames between keyframes. Another method involves a behavior system such as is found in Apple Motion that controls these changes by simulating natural forces without requiring the more rigid but precise keyframing method. Yet another method involves the use of formulas or scripts, such as the expressions function in Adobe After Effects or the creation of ActionScripts within Adobe Flash. Computers are capable of calculating and randomizing changes in imagery to create the illusion of motion and transformation. Computer animations can use less information space (computer memory) by automatically tweening, a process of rendering the key changes of an image at a specified or calculated time. These key poses or frames are commonly referred to as keyframes or low CP. Adobe Flash uses computer animation tweening as well as frame-by-frame animation and video.
Since motion design is created using images and video sequences, a complementary tool is a 3d software package. Maya has new MASH module specially design for motion graphics with lots of nodes for complex but interactive animations and seamlessly exports camera objects to Adobe After Effects. Cinema 4D is widely used for its intuitive interface, layered export to Adobe After Effects, and the additional MoGraph module, but there are other software packages as well. Such packages can generate images or video sequences with an alpha channel, which stores all the transparency information.
Motion design applications include Adobe After Effects, Eyeon Fusion, Nuke, Autodesk Combustion, Apple Motion, Max/MSP, various VJ Programs, Smith Micro Software Anime Studio, Adobe Flash, Natron and Synfig Studio. 3D programs used in motion graphics include Maxon Cinema 4D, Autodesk 3ds Max and Maya, NewTek Lightwave, e-on Vue Infinite and Blender. Motion graphics plug-ins include Video Copilot's Products, Red Giant Software and The Foundry Visionmongers.