A lot of terms are bandied about in the video production industry, and the term “motion graphic” is slightly hackneyed by now. It’s been ousted by a similar term, “animation,” but the two are not the same. Digital animation is a very broad term, whereas motion graphics refer to a specific type of digital animation used to animate simple statics.
The simplest everyday example of a motion graphic is what happens when you click on an icon in your smartphone: a new window will balloon out from the icon to fill the screen. That is a motion graphic. When you flip through the “pages” of The Return of Sherlock Holmes in your smartphone reader? Also a motion graphic. Powerpoint transitions? Check. These simple graphics are everywhere these days – most of us just don’t realize they have a name.
Motion graphics have been around since the 1800s but rose to prominence in the 1960s, when John Whitney founded Motion Graphics Inc. He got the idea to create simple sequences for television shows and commercials, and jury-rigged an old WWII M-5 antiaircraft gun director to create an anologue computer for his animations. This should give you some idea of how expensive it was to make even the simplest of graphics back then.
Since the digital revolution, however, multiple programs have sprung up that allow motion graphic designers to provide simple animations to static images without having to picking up a camera. Just as digital newspapers adopted infographics to spice up data sets, many companies are using advanced motion infographics as promotional videos because they can cut down on the costs of a video crew.
So, what’s the difference between an animated video and a motion graphic video? Really, it just comes down to the amount of animation being done. Vidaao’s Watch How It Works explainer is a great example of both types of animation – the narrator, Tom, is an example of traditional animation techniques, whereas everything happening around him (e.g. text appearing and disappearing, numbers popping up, buildings expanding) is motion graphics.
At the end of the day, the distinctions are purely semantic. Digital animators all know how to create simple motion graphics. Some of them are experts while others are only acquainted with standard programs. Still, it’s good for non-creatives to know the difference between “animation” and “motion graphics” so that there’s no mix-up in production talks.