Motion graphics are pieces of animation or digital footage which create the illusion of motion or rotation, and are usually combined with audio for use in multimedia projects. Motion graphics are usually displayed via electronic media technology, but may also be displayed via manual powered technology (e.g. thaumatrope, phenakistoscope, stroboscope, zoetrope, praxinoscope, flip book). The term distinguishes static graphics from those with a transforming appearance over time, without over-specifying the form. While any form of experimental or abstract animation can be called motion graphics, the term typically more explicitly refers to the commercial application of animation and effects to video, film, TV, and interactive applications.
Motion graphics extend beyond the most commonly used methods of frame-by-frame footage and animation. Motion graphics can be distinguished from typical animation in that they are not strictly character driven or story based and often represent animated abstract shapes and forms such as logos or logo elements.
Before computers were widely available, motion graphics were costly and time-consuming, limiting their use to high-budget filmmaking and television production. Computers began to be used as early as the late 1960s as super computers were capable of rendering crude graphics. John Whitney and Charles Csuri can be considered early pioneers of computer aided animation.
In the late 1980s to mid-1990s, expensive proprietary graphics systems such as those from British-based Quantel were quite commonplace in many television stations. Quantel workstations such as the Hal, Henry, Harry, Mirage, and Paintbox were the broadcast graphics standard of the time. Many other real-time graphics systems were used such as Ampex ADO, Abekas and K-Scope for live Digital video effects. Early proprietary 3D computer systems were also developed specifically for broadcast design such as the Bosch FGS-4000 which was used in the music video for Dire Straits' Money for Nothing. The advent of more powerful desktop computers running Photoshop in the mid-90s drastically lowered the costs for producing digital graphics. With the reduced cost of producing motion graphics on a computer, the discipline has seen more widespread use. With the availability of desktop programs such as Adobe After Effects, Discreet Combustion, and Apple Motion, motion graphics have become increasingly accessible. Modern character generators (CG) from Aston Broadcast Systems and Chyron Corporation's incorporate motion graphics.
The term "motion graphics" was popularized by Trish and Chris Meyer's book about the use of Adobe After Effects, titled Creating Motion Graphics. This was the beginning of desktop applications which specialized in video production but were not editing or 3D programs. These new programs collected together special effects, compositing, and color correction toolsets, and primarily came between edit and 3D in the production process. This "in-between" notion of motion graphics and the resulting style of animation is why sometimes it is referred to as 2.5D.
Motion graphics continue to evolve as an art form with the incorporation of sweeping camera paths and 3D elements. Maxon's CINEMA 4D, plugins such as MoGraph and Adobe After Effects. Despite their relative complexity, Autodesk's Maya and 3D Studio Max are widely used for the animation and design of motion graphics, as is Maya and 3D Studio which uses a node-based particle system generator similar to Cinema 4D's Thinking Particles plugin. There are also some other packages in Open Source panorama, which are gaining more features and adepts in order to use in a motion graphics workflow, while Blender integrates several of the functions of its commercial counterparts.
Many motion graphics animators learn several 3D graphics packages for use according to each program's strengths. Although many trends in motion graphics tend to be based on a specific software's capabilities, the software is only a tool the broadcast designer uses while bringing the vision to life.
Leaning heavily from techniques such as the collage or the pastiche, motion graphics has begun to integrate many traditional animation techniques as well, including stop-motion animation, cel animation or a combination of both.