Video production is mostly dealing with concepts. As a storyteller your job is to convey the concept in such a way that the viewer understands the topic. If your story is the extinction of the dinosaurs, you might need a good graphic of a comet or meteor. Some dinosaur graphics would be nice too.
Unless you are capable of smashing a comet into earth and filming it from the international space station, you might want to invest in a good motion graphics and animation package. Besides, I live on earth and I would prefer if you didn't slam a comet into it.
Animation is the best way to portray something that is impossible or too expensive to actually show. In the past you might have made a Styrofoam ball and flung it at a photo of earth. It would look cheesy but get the point across, and for a comedy that may work. However, today audiences are accustomed to something a bit more realistic. Your library of motion graphics and animations is priceless! Being able to assemble clips that convey an idea or scenario quickly is pivotal to all video production. It saves you time and a ton of hard work trying to film something abstract, or create it yourself.
Investing in a good library is as important as your investment in the camera you use and the editing platform you learn as well, as the time you spend making video. If money is an issue there are places you can get free graphics and elements to start a good library. But to have access to any concept that may be necessary to a good production you should consider buying a complete library or a set of individual clips.
Motion graphics include wipes and transitions, lines, bugs and other elements you can place on the screen to highlight a point or direct the viewers' attention to a specific part of the screen. They are necessary to create attractive logos and punctuate a point of view. A motion graphic may be an object such as a spaceship or vehicle, or something abstract like a burst of light or spinning plasma.
They can be used to highlight text, build a background or add some dazzle to your scene.
These graphics will have the alpha transparent element embedded in them so you can overlay it onto your video and only the object itself will show. Most professional editors will have this capability. Once you have the element you can use Key Frames to move the object or fly it on and off the screen.
The World at Your Fingertips
Animations may simply be clips or scenes of a specific action, such as a spinning globe of earth or a nice meadow with clouds drifting by. And most animations or motion graphics will be loopable, meaning they end and begin at a point where if you repeat them the scene will appear continuous. This can be important if you need to extend the scene beyond the length of the clip.
Combining motion graphics and animations will allow you to build entire scenes that convey the concept you wish to present. It is far easier to use pre-made graphics rather than learn animation software and do it yourself. This guide will help you find graphics and the elements you need from companies that create useful artworks for video production.
Things to Look For
- When building your library, try to avoid being too specific. You may be working on a science fiction concept today but next week that may change. So broaden your search and get things that you not only need now, but feel you may need later as well. Next month you may require an automobile animation. You'll have it if your goal is to build a complete library.
- Look for clip libraries that also include appropriate sound effects with the motion graphic. If your concept is a comet whizzing by, you will need that sound to get the point across. Professional libraries will have the audio included or a separate sound effects package that includes the right mix of effects. Keep in mind that sound is as important as the visuals.
- You might want to avoid standard definition libraries, unless the clip is just what you need. Today everything is HD. You should future proof your library so what you have will still be useful years from now. If you still shoot in SD, consider getting an HD library that is up to Blu-ray specifications. You will need it later.
- Check to see if the clip is interlaced or progressive, this can be important if you plan to resize the clip. If you purchase a clip and it comes in different sizes and ratios, get them all. Especially if you are paying for the clip but different versions are available for the same price. You never know if you may need a higher resolution version later down the road.
Long Term Investment
Animation today is very realistic. Ask yourself how "dated" is the clip? Will it be useful years from now or is the animation too cartoonish? If you are spending serious money on a library this can be an issue, you want the clips to have a long shelf life. Cell phones and other technology will change, that motion graphic of a cell phone or camcorder should look modern at least. I have plenty of clips in my library that look too old to actually use in a video today. Furniture, automobiles, computer monitors, and other items should be modern looking. If it is an animation of a person consider how they are dressed, hairstyle and other factors.
Even abstract animations can be dated. Consider how 1970s psychedelic styles look today, will your video suffer from this in the future? Styles change just like fashion and your library is a fashion statement for your videos. A grunge look may be popular now but will it be the same in a few years? This will depend on the expected longevity of your project. You may be trying to convey a look of today.
Cost is also important. If you plan to only use a clip once and doubt you will need it in the future you may want to purchase individual clips per your project. Longevity may not be an issue. This guide provides several places to buy individual clips. It is a good idea to subscribe to or join as many libraries as you can. Most will have freebies or offer a few clips to let you use. Start a collection of these free elements and begin building a small library today. However, you may think you can build a complete library from the freebies these companies offer, don't fool yourself into thinking you can. You will get many useful clips but even if you collect them for years you will never be near a complete library.
What You get Free - So does Everyone Else
Keep in mind that you are not the only one with the freebie; these clips will have a much shorter shelf life because everyone is using them. In time they can actually make your video look amateurish because the clip is so visible on other videos in the market. Free clips are a good starting point and very useful but they can take away from the uniqueness of your video production. If you truly want to build a great library, be prepared to spend some money. Prices can range from a few dollars per clip to thousands for a library of discs. Your goal should be to have things that almost no one else has and will appear fresh and new to your audience. Believe it or not the viewer will often subconsciously know if they have seen a graphic in another video.
Cheap is not always Better
Many libraries will have multiple versions of the element, some fast or slow, some long or short, or some that do different things. They may have different colors and multiple styles of the same element. This variety will help you plug in the right graphic for your purpose and give you less headache trying to make an element fit. Look for libraries that either offer a variety or have software to generate the clips you need. Do you need a comet to fly in from the top or side, or have the camera follow the comet till it slams into earth? Professional companies will offer a variety of angles. Many libraries have separate elements of a whole series so you can mix and match them.
You can find many inexpensive libraries on eBay as well. These will probably offer no variety and may be older libraries sold by individuals. Something to consider here is the rights to use them. If the person selling the library bought it, and the rights to it, those rights may not be transferable. You could end up with a great library quite cheap but you might also be stuck with legal issues if you include it in your productions.
You Bought it, but do You Really Own it?
Remember; when you buy royalty free clips or production elements be sure you have also purchased the legal right to use it from the company they originated from. All major production companies with animations will have a document describing your rights and how the element can be used. This document will indicate if the rights are transferable.
Keep a printed copy with your library and never use elements you do not own or have the right to use. In most cases the person who bought the library and is now selling it does not have the right to transfer it to you, only the original company can do that. To be safe, buy from the original company that is selling the package. Your purchase will include the license for you to use it.
Licenses Can Come in Four Types
Royalty Free. This means if you bought the clip or package you may use the elements in your productions without having to give credit where they came from. You own them. You never have to pay each time you use them. However, you may not give them away or sell them as a package or individual clips. This is the most common license and allows you freedom to use the clips over and over. Most freebies will be under this license.
Annual Blanket. Clips of this nature will have restrictions. You may have a time limit to use the material. Generally you are allowed access to a library and you pay a fee to use clips without having to buy the entire library. This is usually via a membership. There may be a limit to the use, either commercial or non-commercial and a limit to associated elements. Study this license carefully to insure you are able to get the clips you want and use them how you wish. It is usually cheaper to go this route rather than buying a whole set.
Per-Use. Elements are sold per your use of them and may have restrictions toward a specific project or production. You can use them in one show but not in others. Credit may also be required as to where you got them and if they can be used commercially. You are agreeing to use the element in a single production and you will need to explain how you plan to use it as well as the name of the production.
Creative Commons is another license some producers will have and allows you the use of the material with a variety of conditions. There are several creative common types, study the one the producer is offering the elements under to insure you can use them in your production. Creative Commons is not free or royalty free and it may have commercial use restrictions.
Almost none of the aforementioned license agreements will allow you to transfer the right to use the clip to another person or production company. Even freebies that are offered as "Royalty Free" fall under the license agreement of the company you download them from, though most companies will have no way of tracking the use of these elements. Follow this guide when making your graphic purchases. The grid provided lists many companies offering a huge assortment of elements and animations for any video project or concept you may have. Visit and bookmark the various companies and join their mailing lists. As new packages are offered you will be able to grab them fresh off the production line. Then use them, they will vastly improve your videos!
Graphics will set the difference between a bland video and a creative and stylish production. Concepts need not be difficult when the right animation is so easy to get. By the way, if you do plan to slam a comet into earth please let me know; I intend to sleep in that day!
Click here to download a PDF of Videomaker's Animation and Motion Graphic Buyer's Guide
J. Michael Long is an event video producer as well as a special interest documentary producer with 19 years broadcast experience.