All About Motion Graphics

Motion Graphics

I work with a lot of clients who don’t know what motion graphics are. They often confuse motion graphics with animation. But motion graphics are their own phenomenon, and this artistic field has its own distinctive styles and techniques.

While I can usually work with my clients even if they don’t understand the difference, it always helps to learn a little more. Excellent motion graphics, or motion graphics combined with animation techniques, are a great way to make a very impressive video.

What Are Motion Graphics?

Motion graphics are exactly what they sound like: They’re graphics that move. As most of my clients realize, that’s a huge category.

Motion graphics can be words sliding across a screen. They can be simple “animated” scenes, such as a bike riding across a screen or a bird flying. Or they can be more complicated “animations,” such as those created in Adobe Flash.

Animation Versus Motion Graphics

At this point, many of my clients ask: If motion graphics can create effects that resemble those of animation, what exactly is the difference between the two? After all, aren’t all animations graphics that move?

In animation, an animator draws or models several states of an object. When displayed quickly, these images create the illusion of motion.

With motion graphics, the artist creates one state of an object, or maybe a few. They then manipulate that graphic — moving it across the screen, flipping it between one or a few static states (sometimes quickly enough to create the illusion of movement), or using a computerized effect to transform the image.


If the difference still seems esoteric, consider a process called “tweening,” or “in-betweening.” This is the process of creating frames “between” (in terms of time) two states.

In traditional animation, animators draw all these states themselves. (You might have heard about how some animation companies outsource their tweening to businesses overseas, which is often an ethically dubious practice.)

On the other hand, motion graphics tweening is typically done by a computer. For instance, a program like Adobe Flash will automatically compute intermediate states between two graphics the designer specifies.

Uses of Motion Graphics

There are plenty of areas where motion graphics excels over traditional animation. One is for credits sequences and other text: The artist manipulates the text in interesting, creative ways that keep the audience’s attention. Another is for effects that mimic stop motion animation or other highly stylized animation techniques.

The difference between motion graphics and animation may seem trivial to outsiders, but once my clients understand what it is, they have a unique window into video production — and they can better communicate their needs to me.