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With the trend towards cleaner, simpler, and more streamlined graphics, the importance of motion in a piece becomes much more pronounced. Before, designers could rely on visual fidelity alone to carry it through. Think of Japanese anime. The scenes are beautifully drawn and rendered, but there is hardly any movement. It works because of the artwork (and all the crazy stuff happening in the plot), but when the graphics become more simple, something else has to take over.
1. Follow the Laws of Physics
If I had to give any advice to anyone on how to make motion graphics, it would be to go outside and watch how the world moves. Everything has a a flow, a rhythm, a heartbeat. Motion graphics should be a choreography of design elements and that movement is best received when it mimics the real world. Observe how objects in real life interact with each other. Take note of the acceleration and deceleration objects and animals make during their daily routine. Count the bounces your chocolate chip cookie makes when it unexpectedly falls from your grasp and crashes to the ground while trying to write a blog post (5 second rule!).
Physics! Believe it or not, it’s more than a concept used to torture high school freshmen. It’s an introduction into how the world moves and works. F=MA. V=D/T. Kinematic equations. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. GRAVITY! Am I giving you PTSD yet?
The blueprint for impressive motion in animation was taught to you since you were born (and shoved down your throats in High School). From your faltering first steps, you learned all too well the significance of gravity. And later in life, walking into a ridiculously spotless glass door revealed the magic of Newton’s First Law of motion (An object in motion, in this case me, tends to stay in motion unless an outside force, here the glass door, smacks you in the face making you fall over. You don’t realize how fast you’re actually walking until you’re suddenly stopped by plate glass).
These principles serve as the backbone for eye pleasing motion graphics. Take a look at this clip of the Visually logo animated two different ways; one embracing natural physics based motion, including gravity, acceleration/deceleration, bounces and overshoots, and another with all that stripped away. Notice how the second version feels a bit jarring and not as pleasing.
2. Don’t be Afraid of Unnatural Selection
Not all movement is intended to be realistic and natural, but it’s important to know what is, so when you do decide to go against the grain you know why and how to do it. Cartoons tend to exaggerate motion, particularly playing with acceleration. For example, Family Guy often shortens the time it takes a character to fall or crash, exaggerating gravity.
This isn’t necessarily going against natural movement, but rather exploiting your familiarity of it to elicit a response when natural movement is modified. Horror movies tend to do this with their ghosts or monsters, eliciting an emotion from their unnatural movements (uneasiness, fear, wetting your pants, etc.) Even the most alien concepts are grounded in the realities of what we know.
3. Don’t Go Crazy With the Camera
Playing with the camera in a scene is a place where I see a lot of funny business going on. A camera should be treated like any other real world object. Sure, you could do things with a virtual camera that you couldn’t with a real one. But try and limit those things to accessibility, such as placing a camera where it wouldn’t normally fit — like inside the human bloodstream — instead of unnatural movement. Use the camera like you would in real life. It could have precision movement as if on a dolly, crane, or steady cam, or could be chaotic, as if handheld, or some combination of the above. Unless you are purposefully trying to to unsettle the viewer, stick to what works.
Great motion animation is what separates a motion graphic from a glorified slideshow. You can easily learn the technicality of production through tutorials (believe me, if I could do it, anybody can), but what really makes motion graphics great is MOTION. When you know WHY you want something to move, it’s easy to learn HOW. Master that principle and you’ll already have a leg up.