Invisible art, on the face of it, may seem to be an intangible subject. In terms of motion graphics design, it’s the title sequences, animated logos, intros and art that appear on television, the Web and in adverts. It’s invisible because it goes largely unnoticed by the viewer, despite there being around 12 minutes of graphics design per hour of television.
The rise of this art form owes much to the leap in technology over the last decade. This conglomeration of 2D and 3D animation and motion graphics is for the most part achieved with programmes such as Adobe After Effects. In a certain sense it’s PhotoShop for film’.
It’s a complex procedure that requires a specialised team with regard to the varying levels of art, design, conceptualisation and animation that go into this particular process. Motion graphics does its job best when it goes unnoticed as a seamless part of the television show, a subtle animated logo in a corporate documentary or the enhancement of a commercial advert.
However, it only truly fulfils its role when the show intro, logo or advert stands out. Viewer recall is paramount because motion graphics design that’s world-class comes across as ‘invisible’ yet packs a mean subliminal punch.
So what constitutes world-class motion graphics? As I said earlier, there are a myriad of skills and procedures that go into the process. It starts off like most great artworks, with an idea, a concept. This is where the look, feel, complexity and message of the motion graphic will be decided – many times not finalised, but it’s a starting point. The chosen design studio typically receives a brief from a client saying they’d like a certain type of character, image or animation to portray a certain message or emotion.
It’s important for the studio to capture the genuine brand ethos in the design. A quirky and colourful character animation, for example, would be out of place for a funeral plan company and would be communicating the wrong message and be remembered by for the wrong reasons.
A standout motion designer is a person trained in traditional graphic design but has also learned to integrate the elements of time, sound and space into his or her existing skill-set of design knowledge. An understanding of filmmaking and animation is an integral part of creating exceptional work.
If the motion graphics designer is aware of emotional engagement and narrative progression, this insight into the design and animation mix with a more potent message, and elicits a heightened sense of engagement from the viewer. It’s more than simply making a cute character or elaborate logo animation to sell your idea. It’s rather understanding what both the client and the consumer want, then marrying the two to create something memorable.
It is this deeper understanding of what engages people that makes the difference between an average and a world-class designer. An exceptional design has originality, meaning and relativity to the viewer. If the designer knows how to portray a message in an appropriate way, and also understands the limits and bonuses of choosing a certain style, it can make or break the design.
For example, if a client desires a science fiction-themed clip aimed at a younger, male audience, the designer must know what elements must be included on a technical, design, narrative and emotional level. If there is a robot, it must be a composite of every robot the youngster has ever seen, but with something that sets it apart. It has to look cool, act cool, and be cool.
The child will see the design, and feel it speak directly to him, as if it understands his wants and needs, and he will go to his friends and tell them he just saw the best advert ever – and that’s what a world-class designer must strive for, whether it’s space-robots, car insurance, princesses or engineering equipment.
To elicit a certain emotion, the right technical knowledge is also essential. A designer with a stylistic understanding of the brand and how it may be unpacked, knows in what ways the character should be animated, coloured and stylised, making it so much easier for the viewer to accept. There is nothing worse than being subjected to a faux-cute animated critter that by all rights should be adorable and engaging, but is simply annoying and pretentious.
Television and movie audiences, contrary to corporation’s perceptions, are merciless in their judgment and criticism of what they are force-fed daily. But, it’s not only about visuals. Sound, if applicable, plays a major role in the design equation. It has as much to add to the overall product as any visual, and incoherent and ill-fitting sound can destroy any piece regardless of how good it might look.
So, what distinguishes ‘invisible art’ and makes it world-class?
Originality, engagement, understanding, knowledge, and, above all, appeal. Let the (moving) picture speak a thousand words, and let the words be well “spoken”.
Paul Meyer is co- owner and managing director at Luma