Perennial doubts plague the area of motion graphics today. Can this area of work be considered as a discipline within its own right? Or will it forever remain a marginal ‘art form’, out there on the periphery and diluted amidst a plethora of professions? Has motion graphics fallen into fashionable terminology, driven by the commercial world, lost amidst the ever expanding digital world and hovering between animation, design, video, film, web, the virtual and the real? Who is the motion designer and what is motion graphics?

To follow – A series of essays, interviews and commentary that will attempt to shed light on the above questions.



Magic as a Means for Motion

The idea that magic could be an underlying driving force in artistic creation, especially in the domain of the moving image, may seem at first sight a far fetched thought and one that has little foundation. It is, however, a serious bundle of thoughts that have remained in a minute pocket of cellular space, ever since I came across the work of Michel Gondry back in 2006. It was during an editing session of an interview with Gondry that the name Méliès popped up regarding narrative in film. The forerunner of film narrative, Georges Méliès (1861 – 1938), had gained many a title in the history of cinema. It is perhaps his lesser talked about mastery of illusion however that leads us to a fascinating facet of the French innovator and one that links itself both to Gondry and a whole generation of film makers.

Creation of the moving image relies heavily on the capacity to manipulate images with editing, compositing and the use of special effects. Filming techniques that all have their origin in the work of Georges Méliès. Aside the technical implementation of such effects I wonder on the deeper level of creation and ask, is there a little magician in all of us then ? One who drives our desire to make images appear, disappear, animate or transform, helping us transcend reality and evoke the more magical realms of our imaginations ?

In the opening chapter of Elizabeth’s Ezra’ study on George Méliès, she describes the first (paying) public demonstration of the Lumière brothers cinématographe in Paris 23 December 1895. She particularly expresses the sheer awe, amazement and even fear amongst the public as they watched an ordinary Parisian street scene ‘come to life’ before their very eyes. The effect was magical, an illusion of the highest form, due in part to its ‘realism’ and in part to the public’s ignorance of the technology. It was however that very magical side that inspired the beginnings of a certain young man to take Lumière’s invention beyond simple scientific demonstration; one that gave us some of the first examples of the moving image as a means to tell stories based on our wildest imaginations. That particular event marked the beginning of Meliès’ career in cinematic storytelling. It was however not the beginning of his career as such.

Magic was a fundamental link to Méliès’ life and a strong link with how he would develop a narrative use of the Lumière’s cinematographe throughout his film making career. He had been drawn to the theatre at an early age, and more specifically to the art of conjuring. He had had the opportunity to attend shows by the great English illusionist John Nevil Maskelyne during a sojourn in London in 1884 and on his return to Paris later acquired the famous French illusionist Robert Houdin’s theatre which became his place of work as director and performing magician. After acquiring his first camera in 1896, he began filming his illusions and projecting his first films at the theatre. It was however a sudden turn of fate that would turn his little box of film into an immense box of tricks. A turn that would help him take illusion a step further.

There is a wonderful anecdote about Méliès and his ‘stumbling’ upon his first camera effect. Outside the majestic Opéra in Paris, Méliès was one day carefully filming a typical street scene when suddenly his camera jammed for several minutes. He managed to get the film to work again and resumed filming. On viewing later, he realised that other subjects turned up suddenly on the screen at the time the film had jammed. This of course was due to the time lapse between the end and restarting of filming and which visually created a stunning effect of disappearance and sudden appearance of horse carriages and people. This little accident became known as ‘substitution splicing’ and was the start in a number of visual effects that Méliès was to develop: Superposition, matte, transparency and indeed editing. These techniques can be seen in a large number of his films: Un Homme de Têtes (1898), Affiches en Goguettes (1905) and Voyage dans la Lune (1902). Some of which had also taken direct inspiration from stage magic classics: Les Cartes Vivantes (1904).

These are today common video and image compositing techniques, the complexity of which, compared to Méliès’ time, have lost their sense in today’s push button society yet I believe have not lost their importance as a means for image manipulation, movement and ultimately storytelling. We are perhaps no longer dupe to illusion yet strangely this does not take anything away from our emotional involvement and indeed illusion often solicits our intellect to question the more bedazzling of effects in todays ‘eye candy culture.’ And that underlines the fact that the spectacle of illusion still does have power amid the spectator as it does essentially amid the creator. The technology of film is in fair share an extension of this desire, a desire to perform tricks and tricks that become part of the bigger story.

To return to the work of Michel Gondry, it can be noted that he uses a number of ‘artisan,’ home made techniques in his film. Everything from stop motion animation to make shift stage sets and mechanical contraptions, that strive not for realism but rather have more to do with the sense of the stage illusionist who wants to awaken the freer side of our imaginations, beyond the shackles of our practical realities. His mention of Méliès was perhaps more than just a historical wink at cinematic narration, it was also an acknowledgment of his own desire to perform magic on screen. And who has never wanted to perform a magic trick, whether it be to entertain or to understand the workings of the art of illusion.

There is currently a major exhibition on Georges Méliès at the Cinémathèque Française in Paris, along with the publication of two special edition box set dvds and a 350 page illustrated book. With an important presentation of newly acquired artifacts, this is the best exhibit there has been on an undeniably crucial figure of not only cinematic history but of creation of the moving image at large.

>>> Méliès at La Cinémathèque française

>>> Georges Méliès. The Birth of the Auteur. Manchester University Press 2000. Ezra, Elisabeth

Lambie Nairn updates with a new motion graphic for the BBC News.

Lambie-Nairn has kept the red colour scheme but replaced the dark backgrounds in an attempt to brighten them.
The BBC asked audience members what they associate with its news, and Horrocks (Peter Horrocks, head of BBC Newsroom) says, ‘the characteristics that emerged included the globe and the colour red’.
He goes on to say the new designs have ‘taken those well-established attributes and emphasised them further and consistently in a set of designs that will apply across all of the BBC’s core news services – on TV across the UK and on the Internet’.

Source : http://www.designweek.co.uk

This rebranding however has caused quite a spark of comments on the editor’s blog for the BBC with some interesting insights into the design aspects of broadcast graphics.

Lambie-Nairn again surprises by opting for techniques that look rather dated and old-school. His style has always been to scale back the high-tech sheen and opt for simple flat designs. This amongst other things ushers in cheaper ways of creating on-screen graphics and widens the potential for VT editors to create well-branded graphics without expensive in-house designers overseeing the process. But he does it so stylishly.
Quoted from Tanglespider. Comment 149.

>>> Read the comments here

For those who are interested in taking the nostalgic road, watch ‘BBC News through the Ages’ which is a compilation of broadcast designs for the news channel since 1954.

>>> Watch the new national title design here

>>> Watch the new regional title design here

>>> More on the history of British TV Broadcast Design

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Morfism Video Still. © The Holograms 2007

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onedotzero linked up with MTV to inspire new perspectives and present new talent. The result was Bloom and is 10 new talents from around the Globe.

“Bloom was a worldwide competition that searched for the very best up-and-coming creative talent. New filmmakers, animators and other creatives were invited to send in a treatment for a one minute film that explored the identity and community of their hometown, in a fresh way.”
Entries were judged on innovation, style, technical skill and interpretation of the bloom brief.

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Untitled Video Still. © K. Kijek & P. Adamski 2007

onedotzero is the cross media production company that enjoys renowned fame for pushing boundaries in moving image creation. MTV are of course the home to all budding and aspiring moving image directors – a must have CV entry in climbing the professional ladder.
What I liked about the brief for Bloom was its final phrase, “in a fresh way.” The ten winners all shine with their particular sparkle yet their freshness, a difficult quality indeed, left some questions. To be new, fresh, innovative is to be purposefully risky, bordering upon the outer bounds of experimental. Otherwise we are repeating past form and formula which in my demanding eye was pretty much in evidence amongst some of these works. Beyond that rather pedantic detail though, Bloom succeeds in presenting a handful of young and creative talent that are smelling sweet and for whom I hope will continue to bear future flower.

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Foreigners Video Still. © Ayala Sharot 2007

If there is to be one outstanding piece, for me it would have to be the work of The Holograms. The Holograms takes the title as freshest amongst the freshest – bold in form, communicative, simple yet intriguing with its keen eye for contemporary typography and good solid graphic composition that takes on architectural space. The piece is pushing the boundaries in terms of aesthetic. Its Pierre di Sciullo in motion. It’s what I’d love to see in full HD reality – the animated logo upon a building’s façade – its pure motion graphics taken to another level of sleekness and freshness.


>>> http://www.mtvonedotzero.com/

>>> Watch The Holograms

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