From Mickey to Monsters Inc. Betty to Bart, the genre of animation stands out from film perhaps clearer than any other genre simply and evidently due to its visually graphic form, and yet it is inherently closer to film than a lot of other disciplines that may appear under the umbrella term of ‘animation’. This may not seem immediately lucid as a statement. It is subtle because the umbrella term of animation or animated arts includes a vast palette of work which all share a similar technique (that of animating) however they are quite different interms of how they have come about and evolved. For example think about music videos, film titles, special fx, motion painting, screen designs, information graphics and the Web. All of which can be brought together under the term of motion graphics. So, what is the difference with animation ?

When we talk about animation in a general sense, we tend to evoke the cartoon madness of Tex Avery, the latest Pixar movie or your favourite Tom & Jerry gag. From this perspective, animation is best considered as a genre and one that has direct links with the history of cinema; with its strong character developments, intriguing plots, conflict, love and moral message, in it’s informed use of camera technique and montage, and indeed in its presentation and marketing. It is a genre that has its critics, purists, festivals, magazines, personalities and indeed a growing economic model based on the commercial development of the first major sudios of the early 20th century.

Animators will all have their particular view on the true nature of animation. Purists amongst the animation elite will defend an even greater divide within the scope of the animated arts and would easily scoff at shapes and text sliding across their screens, “that isn’t animation !!”, they cry. Flash animation is considered cheap, abstraction too profound and newer techniques in animating such as motion capture may well have got them thinking yet still riles them profusely. Clearly, animation is a genre to be defended and it is perhaps more evidently an industry to defend. One that is based on a firm historical background that has layed down a particular view on what can or can not be considered as animation for the mass market. So, where does motion graphics fit in to the story ? The Simpson’s is clearly not motion graphics even though they share a similar technique. What makes the distinction ?

Genre is one particular facet of the realm of animation and when we start to consider other animated art forms that manifest themselves in music videos, special fx seqeunces etc, then we need to take on another perspective. Whereas traditional cinema and indeed the genre of animation take from the literary novel as a means to structure their form and narrative, motion graphics is predominantly drawing from the visual static arts as its means to express. This is an important distinction to make. Painting, illustration and the rise of graphic design from the modernist era were all to have a major role in the shaping of motion graphics, both in its form as its function. Early film titles from Saul Bass to Pablo Ferro and Maurice Binder had been directly informed by graphic design’s visual language and techniques and indeed many working in this field were equally designers working in agencies on a commissioned basis. The same can be said about many of the avant garde non-objective film makers. Although more radical in their rejection of traditional cinema and commercial activity, they were perhaps more committed to creating a new visual language that directly had its root in the modernist and abstract movement of the era.

Within this framework, motion graphics is perhaps best seen as a mode of expression and indeed one that has its own rich and unique history. It’s use of animation as a technique should not be confused with the genre.

References :

Furniss, M, Art in Motion: Animation Aesthetics (London: John Libbey, 1998)

Klein, Norman M., Seven Minutes: The Life and Death of the American Animated Cartoon (London: Verso, 1993).

Moritz, William, ‘Some Observations on Non-Objective and Non-Linear Animation’, Storytelling in Animation, The Art of The Animated Image, Vol. 2, ed. John Canemaker (Los Angeles: The American Film Institute, 1988)

Wells, Paul, Understanding Animation (London and New York: Routledge, 1998).