From animating title text to enhancing a scene with lens flares, vignettes and special effects, motion graphic applications give video producers the power and freedom to effectively express their vision.
Whether you're working in the cut and dried corporate video world or you travel the world making feature films, motion graphics play an essential role in the delivery of effective video.
For many years now, we have seen animated elements composited on-screen. Graphic titles slide out to introduce broadcasters, Neo and Morpheus chat about guns in an infinite white "construct" in The Matrix, and computer generated (CG) aliens demolish landmarks and take over Bill Pullman's brain in Independence Day - just when he'd finally become president.
In most modern cases, these elements are created for film and TV using a motion graphic or animation program.
These programs are similar to editing applications in many ways. They allow you to work with a timeline, adding and removing effects dynamically with keyframes - indicators telling the application how much or little of an effect you would like at that specific time in the clip, allowing for smooth transitions, fades, and any other change in a given variable.
Popular motion graphic effects include particles used to create airborne dust in a scene, removing or "keying out" a green screen to isolate an actor or object so that the subject may be composited onto other footage, or morphing one shape into another for dramatic effect. There are so many tools and options with these applications that you are often limited only by your imagination. Of course, tools which allow you to go way overboard often lead to doing just that. Keep in mind that motion graphics and animation are part of your larger production toolbelt, to be used as needed. Remember: your interview with a financial guru probably doesn't need a horde of angry fire ants in it (just probably). Regardless of what a program can do, always remember your vision and remain cognizant of what your needs are.
Disclaimer: now, this is by no means a total look at every application available or every technique possible, but merely a look at some of what's out there, and how it can benefit your work.
With that out of the way, let's get started. Your science fiction epic "alien-gets-the-girl-but-zombie-blows-up-the-planet" movie isn't going to make itself.
Tools for Pros and Amateurs
Smoke 2013 ($3,500 - Autodesk, Mac)
A surprise darling at NAB Show 2012 was Autodesk's all-in-one edit-to-finish product, Smoke 2013. It is designed to manage the entire video post-production process, from editing to color grading, and 3D object compositing.
Included in the package are powerful tools for editing (including a workflow for stereoscopic 3D), node-based compositing right in the timeline, color grading sequences and matching color between different clips. It also has a suite of built-in effects for most of the major motion graphic techniques including keying, image stabilization and motion tracking, and if you need more, there are many third-party plug-ins available from vendors such as GenArts. Such a shift in accessibility is going to give many a chance to work with Autodesk.
Now priced within reach of mere mortals, Smoke 2013 offers an interesting high-end take on the post-production process, combining many of the tools that designers and editors require all in one location. It's nice not having to leave the house to get groceries.
Adobe After Effects CS6 ($1,000 - also available in cost-effective suites and through subscription, Adobe Systems Inc., Mac/PC)
You can't discuss motion graphics without looking at the grand-daddy of them all, Adobe After Effects. Originally created by the Company of Science and Art in 1993 and bought by Adobe in 1994, After Effects is the standard for 2/2.5D animation in the film and television production industry.
As part of Creative Suite 6 (CS6), Adobe After Effects is more robust and powerful than ever, with the Global Performance Cache utilizing the full capabilities of 64-bit operating systems (stock up on RAM) along with a host of plug-ins and effects. New and of note in this iteration are the 3D camera tracker for tracking 3D elements, and the ability to extrude ray-traced text and shapes as well as vector art natively into 3D shapes. With 90 new and updated built-in effects, your creativity may be your only limitation.
One of the great strengths of Adobe's Creative Suite applications is the ability to create interfaces that look and feel similar to anyone who has used another application in the suite. After Effects is no exception. If you've spent a bit of time in Photoshop, or even better, Adobe Premiere Pro, you will find yourself in familiar territory.
For those making the move from Avid's Media Composer or Symphony or Apple Final Cut Pro to Adobe software, you can import and work with FCP 7 XML files, as well as Avid AAF files, using Pro Import AE, allowing you to build After Effects into your pro workflow.
Unlike Smoke 2013, After Effects isn't a total editing solution. To offer editors a fluid workflow, Adobe added a feature to their last couple versions of Creative Suite called Adobe Dynamic Link. Adobe Dynamic Link allows editors and motion designers to hop between Premiere, Encore and After Effects with ease. This means that it's possible to edit, add visual effects, and even author a DVD without ever needing to render your work.
As powerful as it is, After Effects is pretty easy to get started with, and there are many dedicated resources available to help enhance skills and learn new tricks and techniques, and a massive community of user groups is always there, willing to help. (For example, www.videocopilot.net, www.FXPHD.com, http://tv.adobe.com, and www.greyscalegorilla.com, etc.)
Motion ($50 - Mac)
From the folks in Cupertino, Calif. Apple's Motion software does much of what Adobe After Effects does in a somewhat simpler user interface and with a workflow that meshes seamlessly (as only Apple can) with Apple's Final Cut Pro X editing application.
Many tools, filters and effects give Motion users the ability to do green screen effects, particle effects, animated titles and many of the other very popular techniques motion designers use regularly. While Motion may not have the diehard following that After Effects does in the motion graphics world it definitely comes at an attractive price point and must be considered a powerful tool for today's designer.
For support, there are many local Final Cut Pro user groups that will talk about all of Apple's production tools, including Motion.
Premiere Pro CS6, Final Cut Pro X, Avid Media Composer 6, Sony Vegas Pro 11
Often overlooked for this kind of work, today's editing software packages offer a healthy sampling of many of the same tools, effects and plug-ins that you find in a motion graphics software application.
Premiere Pro CS6, Final Cut Pro X, Avid Media Composer 6 and Sony Vegas Pro 11 all contain many motion graphic tools to help videographers build their project from start to finish, without ever leaving their application to design motion elements. Third party plug-ins mirroring those created for motion design programs are often available for the editing applications as well. Techniques such as compositing multiple layers, green screen keying, and complex title animations are all possible from within these beasts. While these tools can't replace a decent motion graphics application altogether, it's nice to be able to handle some simple tasks without having to leave the editing program.
3D Animation programs
Want to pan around an item with a virtual camera in After Effects or Motion? 2D just isn't going to cut it anymore. Depth is a key here, and it is one of the benchmarks for a quality image. It's time to move away from flat elements and look at 3D objects!
While programs such as Motion - and After Effects - work within 3D space (side-to-side, up-and-down, towards-and-away), the shapes, layers and objects they can create are generally flat or 2D. This means that you can move a title towards or away from the viewer's eye, but the title won't have any depth, if you were to look at it from a side view.
There are a number of applications specially designed for the purpose of creating objects that are 3D in nature. These applications are used to create everything from thick, extruded text to the incredible creatures you see in Avatar and Jurassic Park (funny we're still talking about such a dinosaur, but it stands up).
Tools such as Maxon's Cinema 4D Prime or Autodesk's Maya or 3ds, are all designed for modeling, animating and rendering 3D objects, including spheres, cubes, splines, um-dinosaurs and more. Full compositions can be created and managed within these programs, or your creations can be exported and then manipulated within the motion graphics application of your preference.
To get your feet wet and give 3D a try without cleaning out your bank account, check out Blender Foundation's Blender 2.63a; a free 3D application that is as fully functioning as most expensive 3D programs.
If these programs seem a tad too specialized, or if you've already invested in a Adobe Creative Suite and need to save money for a holiday, take a look at Adobe's Photoshop Extended 3D. Adobe Photoshop CS5 and later includes some pretty cool 3D tools, which will allow you to create and animate 3D objects within Photoshop.
Templates, Stock Animations, and More!
Sometimes creating a graphic from scratch can take too long and require enough effort that you will miss important deadlines. While we don't like to cut corners in quality of work, sometimes it's important just to get a project out the door. Whether you're a seasoned motion graphic designer or you have never opened an After Effects project, there are options to spice up your videos using motion and animation in less time. Many companies now offer reasonably priced stock animations, pre-created 3D models, and motion graphic templates.
A motion graphic animation is much the same as purchasing stock footage, only instead of footage as content it contains a pre-rendered animation. These animations will add quick production value for a reasonable price, and you can buy and download them in a variety of formats.
Motion graphic templates are an invaluable item to include in your production tool belt. These projects - created for After Effects or Motion - include placeholders for you to add your own footage, text or stills and to create a custom, high-end motion graphic project. While it takes some skill to customize these templates, the result is usually more relevant than results from a stock animation.
Even if you are a skilled motion graphic designer and are capable of creating these sorts of animations you may be limited by time and budget - picking up a dazzling animation or customizing a template to add to your project can cut costs and save a bundle of time. Some of the best places to get this sort of thing are:
Digital Juice DigitalJuice.com
Digital Juice has a wealth of motion graphic and animation tools and packages. Their motion graphic and animation products range from ready2go projects and templates to the Toxic Type series of collections. They also have a number of canvases - pre-animated backgrounds in a number of styles, from beautiful rolling hills to summer sunsets - which can be a great starting place for a video or title. Their Motion Designer's Toolkits are collections of useful elements you can pick and choose from to create your own amazing animations. Shapes, patterns and textures come together in these kits however you see fit, and if you aren't sure where to start, Digital Juice has dozens of great tutorials to get you rolling.
Another great website for motion graphic and animation elements is MotionElements. They offer a library of elements, including matted and green screen footage and animations for you to composite over your work. Also in their mix of offerings are video essentials, such as lower thirds, looped visuals for DJs and large screen presentations, as well as a massive number of animations, stock clips, 3D models and more. To get you up to speed, they offer tutorials as well.
TriLab Productions' Digital Hotcakes animationsforvideo.com
Digital Hotcakes by TriLab Productions offers high-quality animated elements for video production. Their products range from wedding collections full of satin backgrounds and flourishing graphics to high impact sports graphics. They also offer title discs, with pre-matted titles for different genres and event types. Their unique lineup, as well as a wide variety of purchase options, make www.animationsforvideo.com a must-visit in your quest for video greatness.
3D Without the Work
Did your head explode when you first looked at Cinema4D Prime's interface? You're not alone.
Luckily, pre-created 3D models such as those offered by MotionElements are readily available online. If you're working within an After Effects or Motion project and wish to import a 3D model but don't have any experience using a 3D application you may wish to purchase one to get started. Try looking at www.motionelements.com, www.turbosquid.com or www.evermotion.org to find a 3D model that fits your needs. The coolest thing about these elements is that they're usually available for immediate download once you've made the purchase.
Motion graphic software programs give us the power to create 2D and 3D elements and change them over time. We can layer footage, graphics and effects together to devise more interesting and complex scenes. We can dynamically adjust, remove or add color or textures throughout a composition to create tension or help direct the eye to a focal point. We can also isolate elements to be used in larger compositions through techniques such as chromakeying. There are entire characters to be developed with the careful application of motion graphics. When time and budget don't allow for complex animating, stock animations and templates are available to keep production value high with low costs and quick turnarounds. There is an incredible amount that can be done using motion graphics. Stay creative!
Click here to download a PDF of Videomaker's Motion Graphic and Animation Buyer's Guide
Russel Fairley owns a turnkey video production company (200+ videos/year), featuring Web videos, television commercials, and live event coverage.