What is motion graphics, VFX and animation?
At Spin The Yarn, we tell stories by pushing pixels around the screen. Most of the people we produce work for are happy enough using the term 'Animation', although it's often not strictly correct. If you're a bit of a stickler for detail, like me, you might be interested in what makes a motion graphic, an animation and VFX (visual effect) and the difference between them all.
To start off, I’ll say something that’ll have some animators grinding their teeth in contempt. Animation, Motion Graphics and VFX are all animations. The dictionary definition of animation is: “The generation of successive images to create the illusion of movement.” Artists often use the same tools for all three disciplines, work on the same principles of frames per second, and all can be combined with other mediums (such as video/photography), amongst countless other similarities. So what’s the problem? The work involved and the end results of each are often very different. The problem arises from the use of the word. The word “Animation” is a process, so it’s only fair to associate all work using that process with the same name. As an example, we’ll rename the car. If the car was called “transportation”, it would be difficult to differentiate it from vans, boats, trains, aeroplanes, bicycles… They all perform the same process, transporting something from one location to another, but each performs this task in very different ways for different purposes. The one specific mode of transportation that’s named transportation is in a group of transportations with other forms of transportation. If you think that previous sentence is ridiculous, welcome to my world.
To try and clear these murky waters a bit, animators tend to associate animation with something other than the dictionary definition. We like to think that "animation" is the act of bringing life to an inanimate object. The most obvious use of this is in cartoons, where we have an approximation of reality through artwork. Animators bring things to life by giving them motion associated with living things. This needn't be a thing we associate as being a living thing, it's the motion of this thing that gives it intent, character and life. The video below shows Disney's classic principles of animation, where a simple cube is given life through animation.
Giving life is no easy task. Making people buy into something being alive is particularly difficult, time consuming, but oh so rewarding when done well.
What's a motion graphic then?
Motion graphics have evolved from the world of graphic design. Where animation gives life, motion graphics inform. It's like the difference between reading a novel and a leaflet. Motion graphics make use of text, iconography, colours and sounds to get information across to the audience. While animation (as defined above) often has a story with characters, motion graphics have none of these constraints, although they can use them when needed . What's particularly interesting to me is the principles of graphic design still apply to motion graphic design. Complementary colour palettes, balancing the weight of graphical elements, the use of negative space...It's all the same, but with the added element of time.
VFX (Visual Effects) has its history firmly rooted in cinema. The storytellers of big budget films (VFX is often pretty darn expensive) wanted a way of showing the impossible. A classic example is Jurassic Park. Steven Speilburg was considering stop motion for the dinosaurs, but after seeing what was possible with CGI (computer generated imagery), he went the digital route. VFX is the process of combining CGI with filmed footage. Not only that, but the whole purpose of VFX is to be invisible to the viewer. If a CG ape is added to a scene, you want the audience to think it's a real ape. If the VFX isn't noticed by the audience, they've done a great job. They are the unsung heros of 90% of modern big budget films (sit and watch the credits for the latest Marvel film. Literally half the crew are digital artists working on VFX in one way of another). VFX often gets confused with SFX (special effects). Special effects are practical effects created on set, such as fire and explosions. It's understandable why people confuse the two, as VFX has been eating into the SFX market over the past couple of decades. With SFX, pyrotechnics experts plan and execute a real explosion for a shot. It's expensive, time consuming and, most importantly, very hard to do another take if something goes wrong. With VFX, you can shoot the scene, someone off camera shouts "BOOOOOOOOOM!" and the actor reacts to the explosion. VFX artists then work their pixel magic by adding the explosion digitally. The director then has the ability to control nearly every aspect of the explosion, making it bigger, smaller, change the colour. The possibilities are (almost) endless.
Hopefully this brief look into the difference between Animation, motion graphics and VFX has been interesting to you. This blog post has been on the back burner for quite a while. Even though I work in these mediums, I still needed time to do a lot of reading and a lot of thinking on the subject, as it's not a simple one. Even after all of the above, there are still blurry lines between the three art forms. Motion graphics often make use of character animation, treading on the toes of "animation". VFX often makes use of animators to bring CG characters into filmed footage, Motion graphics often makes use of VFX techniques to add graphical elements to footage. If you ask us to create a motion graphic and call it a motion graphic, you'll earn some brownie points from me, If you call it an animation, that's fine too, as technically you're still right. All in all, we're just pushing pixels around the screen to tell your tale.