In a previous blog post my colleague, Liam, wrote about Motion Graphics and its history. If you haven’t read it, I’d recommend you have a read. In the post Liam defines the discipline and discusses some of the history of the subject; mainly from a broadcast perspective.
In this post, I’d like to discuss the relationship between motion graphics and the film industry; some of the similarities and differences, its shared history, and finally how we can look to the film industry to predict future trends in motion graphics.
Similarities and Differences
“Hey, I bet you’d love to do special effects on big budget Hollywood movies”
As a motion graphics designer, you’d be surprised how often I hear this. Although I understand the sentiment, and the lure of seeing my name on a film credit crawl, this comment fundamentally misunderstands what a motion graphics designer does, and why I love motion design.
Because we do VFX work as part of our job (green screen compositing etc) it would be logical to assume that the pinnacle of a career would be doing this on big budget movies. However, due to the large budgets and the way VFX heavy films are put together, people tend to specialise on one very specific area. Working in large teams, they take a film asset, work on it, then pass it down the chain. As a motion graphics designer, it’s not uncommon to be involved in every stage of a project, from the initial creative discussion right through to the final delivery.
This is because VFX skills are just one of many tools a motion graphics designer will call upon to create a project. All within one project we might be a camera operator (in a virtual 3d world), an editor, a sound designer, an animator, a 3D modeller and a graphic designer. For motion designers, this variety of disciplines is one of the key things that keeps things exciting. It also means that you tend to learn something new every day, and there’s always a lot left to learn.
Just like in graphic design, at its core motion graphics is all about communicating information in a clear way that resonates with its intended audience. This leads me nicely on to a part of the film industry that is pure motion graphics and a big part of our shared history.
The Art of Title Design
As far back as the silent movies, title cards were used to display production information, convey dialog and story information, and mark the beginning and end of the film. When the silent movies gained sound, the opening and closing title sequences were offen accompanied by a roaring orchestral overture. Over time these became steadily more elaborate. The advent of television created a large incentive for the movie industry to try and differentiate itself with ever more sophisticated opening sequences, with each medium continually trying to outdo the other (a healthy competition that survives to this day).
From the 1950s onward, the film industry hired graphic and motion design heavyweights to push this evolving medium in new directions. Some of these notable pioneers are:
Saul & Elaine Bass
Saul’s first connection with Hollywood was working as a graphic designer creating print advertisements and posters for films. From this work, he was invited to create his first film title for the 1955 film The Man with the Golden Arm. In 1959 Saul was already combining graphic design, kinetic typography, animation and film to create the opening titles for the film North by Northwest. Elaine joined the office in 1955, and by 1960 was working with Saul as co-director and co-producer. They were married in 1961. It is difficult to convey the impact that this couples work has had on title design, graphic design and motion design. Below is a brief overview of their work.
Still working in the industry today, Pablo’s work spans decades. Pablo started out as a self-taught animator, illustrator and graphic designer in the 1950s, where he got know from his work on commercials. He pioneered a quick-cut editing style and multiple screen montage techniques. He did his first film title work as a result of the trailer Stanley Kubrick commissioned him to do for Dr. Strangelove (1964). He has lived a very colourful life and was the subject of a 2012 documentary Pablo. A brief summary of his career so far:
Maurice Binder & the James Bond Legacy
From Dr. No (1962) up until Licence to Kill (1989) Maurice Binder created all but 2 of the James Bond opening titles. He was responsible for the iconic opening gun barrel shot (which he photographed with a pin hole camera) and many of the techniques and styles that have become synonymous with the franchise. Whether it’s your kind of film or not, the brand has arguably pushed the boundaries of what is expected from an opening title sequence. Here’s a retrospective of the first 50 years of bond titles.
Looking to The Future
Things have moved on considerably since these early pioneering days of motion design. The broadcast world is still in a push-pull battle with the film world to create ever impressive opening sequences. Online streaming services are disrupting the traditional business models, with global television brands such as HBO and Netflix creating TV shows with incredible production values. But it’s not just Film and TV anymore. Load up a modern video game and you will probably be welcomed with a cinematic style intro. Go to a live event or conference and there will probably be a piece of motion design, created to get the audience engaged right from the start.
One of my favourite opening sequences is to HBO’s Westworld. The music and visuals combine perfectly to create tension, build excitement and set the viewer up for the show. Have a look below:
But that doesn’t mean we can ignore the film world. Hollywood style movies still demand some of the highest budgets and pioneer new technology. Over time this has a habit of becoming more accessible to the wider industry. In my team, we’ve recently introduced a render solution that was extensively used in the film Gravity (2013) to produce photo realistic 3D CGI (Computer Generated Imagery). So, when I go to the cinema to watch the latest blockbuster I always have a keen interest in the opening titles, and on what technologies have been employed to create the visual effects.
For an idea of the very best the film world has to offer, take a look at the resent Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 (2017) opening titles Directed by Erin Sarofsky. It perfectly conveys the excitement, humour and action we can then expect from the rest of the movie and gets the viewer in the right frame of mind to enjoy it:
Peter Richards – Head of Motion Graphics