What every video editor should know about motion graphics

Motion graphics are running rampant in the world of video editing. They communicate concepts, establish branding for products and services. Motion graphics also entertain audiences.

There’s good reason for the widespread use of motion graphics in video. The tools for motion graphic design are more prolific and abundant than they were in the past. Video editing programs now include a wide array of tools to generate and animate stylized clips of video with accompanying titles. As a result, a video editor needs to have an understanding of motion graphics.

Video compositing applications and animation programs, such as Adobe After Effects, are in the hands of video enthusiasts and seasoned professionals. Video content comes from more tools than just a camera these days.

What are motion graphics?

Motion graphics aren’t as nebulous or as difficult to define as one would believe. Motion graphics are simply animated graphic design elements. There is a difference between a motion graphic designer, a graphic designer and a video editor. But, the lines between these roles grow more blurred every day. One can borrow from the other to make their own work better. When it comes to motion graphics, video editors benefit from knowing what they are and how they work.

Motion graphics are defined by motion

This is the most basic principle, motion graphics are created through the intentional movement of visual elements on the screen. Animated movement is the key concept, whether it’s a design element, an image, a logo or text. A video editor advances the story through the use of animation. A still graphic isn’t a motion graphic, it’s just an image. The introduction of motion to an image changes its meaning. It’s useful for revealing new information to audiences.

Motion graphics can save an edit

Video editing provides numerous paths to tell the same story. Seasoned video editors often know footage they need either doesn’t exist or at the least, it doesn’t exist yet. Motion graphics are a great way to create footage that delivers a concrete definition or explains an abstract concept. If the video editor is the creator of the motion graphic, they possess a great amount of control over the content that shows up on the screen.

Timing is always important

Creating precisely timed movement in a motion graphic works on the same principles of timing for editing. The timing of animation shouldn’t be an arbitrary choice. Timing establishes a visual rhythm and attracts the audiences’ attention to various elements on the screen. Motion graphic design and video editing share the subtle art of timing.

Simple is usually better

There are a lot of bells and whistles in programs like Adobe After Effects. The best bet is to not get caught up in every effect and technique at your disposal. It’s the same problem that video editors face with the multitude of transitions in their video editing programs. A checkerboard wipe is possible, but is it necessary? More advanced motion design techniques take a lot of time to learn and master. If a video editor attempts one of these techniques with no prior experience, the chances for failure are great. A simple technique executed flawlessly always looks better than a complex technique that falls apart on screen.

Say it with words

A video editor’s most common use for motion graphics is to generate type. The rules of typography apply to the words on the screen just as much as they apply to the written word. Video editors can improve their use of text by understanding the rules of good typography. When the text is in motion but set for the audience to read it, a video editor needs to take account of several factors: 

  • Is the type legible? Does it clearly stand out from the background and any surrounding elements?
  • Is the text big enough to be read by someone not sitting directly in front of the screen?
  • How long is the text on the screen?
  • Is it up long enough for the average reader to comprehend it?
  • How fast is the text moving? Is it too fast or is it too slow?

A good rule of thumb is to read the text out loud as it plays back and listen to what’s being said and whether or not it sounds conversational.

Motion graphic design is its own art form, but that doesn’t mean video editors cant utilize them. In fact, video editors should embrace the techniques and principles of motion graphic design. It will help them gain a better grasp on their own craft and on how to tell stories through the moving image.

Chris Ace Gates
Chris "Ace" Gates is a four time Emmy Award-winning writer and producer. He is a big fan of animation and transmedia storytelling.