Graphics that move :o

If we assume that video is ‘photographs that move,' the easiest way to think about motion graphics is ‘graphics that move.’ A solid example would be the title sequence at the start of a film.

Next time you find yourself sitting down with a barrel of popcorn, take a moment to really watch the title sequence, they're a piece of art in themselves.

The term can be confusing as it is quite broad, incorporating everything from simple 2D animation to complex 3D sequences. At this point you may be thinking: “I wouldn’t know where to start.” But if you’ve used animation in your powerpoint presentations before, you may already be well on your way to becoming a motion graphics master!


Who? ...Me!? Hell yeah. In this article I’m going to focus on the basics of 2D animation which are the foundations of any great motion graphics artist.

Why should I bother?

You shouldn’t. Only joking, motion graphics have a lot to offer your business. As more and more motion graphics-based promotional videos appear online and on TV, businesses are realising the potential in the medium. There are three main reasons why.

Hell yes! The scope of animation is your imagination. So, unless you are as creative as a paving slab, you can create anything (on paper) you can dream up.

We’ve all cringed at the ugly corporate video of the man in the funny suit. With motion graphics, you don’t have to worry about lighting, acting talent, or dogs barking in the background.

One man and his computer – that’s your shopping list right there! Ok, so you’re gonna need some software and license-free music. But that’s only going to cost you a fraction of a film crew with equipment.

Which software, bruv?

I use Adobe After Effects. Most marketing teams across the country are familiar with Adobe Photoshop (part of the same family), so I think it’s a good option.

The basics

Before reading on, please bear in mind I am assuming you have a general understanding of digital image production – i.e. you know what a canvas and timeline is.

One of the first things you need to learn when it comes to motion graphics is keyframing. Keyframes allow you to manipulate the properties of graphical objects – for example: position or opacity. A common use for keyframes is moving an object from point A to point B over a set period of time. This is shown in the example below.


Note the two diamonds on the timeline. These represent keyframes. The first keyframe is set at 10f (10 frames) whereas the second keyframe is at 20f. This creates a 10 frame gap where the animation will happen. What defines the animation is what values are applied to the keyframes. In this instance, the first keyframe is at 960px (960px from the left edge of the canvas) and the second keyframe is at 1371px. So, the object will travel 411px. You can see how these translate onscreen – the hollow squares represent the key frames, and the dotted line in between is the animation thats created. 

Easy Ease
To take your animations to the next level, you need to introduce easy ease keyframes (and no, they have nothing to do with NWA). These stop things looking abrupt and unnatural (e.g. when something skids along the floor it doesn’t stop suddenly, it gradually slows down). In the image below, the angle of the line represents the speed of the movement. You can see that with an easy ease keyframe, the motion starts off slowly, peaks in the middle and then slowly comes to a stop.


Expressions are not so simple, but they make up an important part of motion graphics. It's best to start to get your head around them. They allow you to automate longer, more repetitive animations – for example: a light flickering or a person shivering. Writing expressions is similar to writing CSS. You point to a certain property (such as rotation) and then input a series of values to tell the software what to do with it. A popular expression is 'wiggle,' which creates random movement. So, taking the flickering light example, you'd want to wiggle the opacity value. The expression lets you input one value for how much the opacity wiggles, and one value for how often it wiggles. 


The above expression (when applied to the opacity property) would wiggle it 5 times per second by up to 50%. To be clear, this means every 1/5 of a second the expression will automate a opacity value somewhere between 100% and 50%.


Worth a look?

If you have graphical skills in house and are starting to produce video, then motion graphics are the natural next step. Being extremely versatile while staying professional and relatively cheap, they're a fantastic way to get your message across.

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Howard Phillips

About the Author

Howard is the video production specialist for the marketing team here at Zengenti. He creates videos for case studies, events, talks, and clients. His background includes design, photography, and video (from scripting and directing to shooting and post-production).

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