Sunday, 22 January 2012

The business of animation

My latest module, entitled ‘The business of animation’, is all about adapting my working practices to be able to meet a set project brief within a set deadline. Working in industry, many animators offer a freelance service whereby they will be employed for a shot duration to work on small advertisements. With such a demanding schedule, (often they are given only a few days to complete the work) good time management, the fast development of strong ideas and a dedication to the job at hand are a must. This module aims to help me develop these skills further, with particular relation to a type of animation known commercially as ‘motion graphics’.

‘Motion graphics’ means pretty much what you would expect- bringing graphic design to life through motion i.e. animation. Most commonly used for advertisements, motion graphics reinforce the narrative of a piece (be it verbal or otherwise) helping to deliver a powerful multimedia and multisensory experience. The typically brief nature of motion graphics makes the need to stay relevant come to the forefront as a critical issue to address. As with all advertisements, there will be a message to be conveyed to the viewer. Motion graphics aim to convey this message as simply and effectively as possible, using a combination of aesthetically pleasing visuals, quirky yet simple animations, and often some form of audio narrative. A common technique is to have an animation which matches verbal information- a word is spoken, and the viewer will simultaneously see that word animated in front of them. This approach is smart as the same message is delivered to the viewer through multiple senses (sound and sight), which aids in the retention of information.

These techniques can be taken a step further, using visual metaphors, related imagery or even a visual onomatopoeia to help reinforce the narrative. For example, if a bang is heard, then the viewer may see the word 'BANG!' appear, or they may see an animated cartoon explosion.

Here are a few good examples of motion graphics:

Motion graphics are growing in popularity. Whilst you can create motion graphics with hand drawn, stop motion and CGI animation, it seems they are almost always computer-based; and with new technology the process of making them appears to be getting quicker and increasingly automated. Companies like them because of their simplicity, ability to deliver key points of information quickly, and the fact that they can be completed fast by a single person (which means they cost a lot less than regular adverts!).

The fact that a core feature of motion graphics is the graphic design itself, means that they present the perfect opportunity for cross-platform use. The same imagery used in the animation might appear as a still image advert in magazines and on the web (for example a banner) or the animation could be simplified to create a flash advert. As the graphic design throughout these various mediums is consistent, the same design principles apply, and as such few changes will need to be made for the same information to be given. One important factor to consider however is time. When text is stationary, in print or type, the reader is able to take in information at his/her own pace. Conversely, for motion graphics, the timing for text must be gauged well, such that there is enough time for the viewer to read it without it taking too long, at the risk of the piece becoming tiresome. Utilising time effectively can benefit motion graphics immensely- fast pacing will create a frantic atmosphere, whereas a slower pace will seem more relaxed.

In their simplicity, motion graphics share similar attributes with infographics. The second part of my digital module is in fact based on infographics, so I shall explain them in detail in a separate post for that module. When you have a short time slot (5 to 15 seconds) to deliver information, it is essential to make use of strong visual iconography, particularly when setting the scene. A description might take too long to be read fully aloud, and so the challenge to the designer becomes showing the ideas e.g. locations through easily identifiable symbols. This often means making use of the power of stereotypical themes, which are instantly recognisable for the viewer and require little to no explanation.

There is a good range of project briefs available to me for this module. There are actually two sets of briefs- one related to Chello Zone CBS Promotions, more specifically for their TV channel Food Network (UK), and the other is a set of 'live' briefs for various different companies. Each brief specifies its own requirements- for example all Food Network animations must (of course) bear the company logo:

My course states that the minimum I need to create is one animation from each set. Alternatively, I could create all of them! As I am sure you will agree, more is not always better. I am a strong believer in quality over quantity, and can safely say that I have made the mistake of taking on too much in the past, and do not wish to do so again! Instead of planning multiple projects at the beginning and finding myself under immense pressure later on, I shall work on them one at a time. If I finish one to the best of my ability, and feel I have time to tackle another, then I can decide then whether or not to attempt it.

Lastly, here is a fantastic video teaching the basics of motion design. Many thanks to Andy (over at for the link!

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