What is the difference between Motion Graphics and Animation?

In this blog I am going to attempt to differentiate between motion graphic designers and animators, ultimately explaining what we do and why they are different. I am also going to address the common misconceptions between the two and try to relate to why they are so often mixed up.

The Reality

If you tried to describe to someone what you do as a job and you say, ‘I’m a Motion Graphics Designer’ they will either have a mental breakdown and stare at you or incorrectly tell you that you are an ‘animator’.

Sometimes this is okay as the terms motion graphics and animation are often used interchangeably. To animate merely means to give life to something, and that can mean giving life to primitive shapes just as much as to Mickey Mouse.

Relationship Between the Two

The relationship between motion graphics and animation is quite complex. Both types of designers rely on very similar tools for example, After Effects, Cinema 4D, Maya and Photoshop. They also use a similar craft perspective and in this way, animation and motion graphics truly complement each other.

Why Is It So Hard for People to Tell the Difference?

Because of the obvious relationship between the two designs, this leads to some blurry distinctions between animation and motion graphics and can cause an identity crisis in designers. If I told you I was a motion graphics designer and you replied to me that I’m an animator, then the first thing you start to think of are things like Disney and Pixar etc. Whereas, that isn’t in my toolkit (at the moment) and then I have to explain the difference between the two types of designers.

So, What’s the Difference?

You may be thinking, why is it so important for us to figure out what differentiates animation for motion design. Well if you are a Cardiac Electrophysiologist and somebody calls you a doctor, then not only would you be rather annoyed as you have spent your entire life devoted to this practice but at the same time, they are kind of right. If you called me an animator, it’s insulting, but also kind of, vaguely, true.

However, the challenge is to explain the pitch of motion graphics as a discipline. Both animators and motion designers are trained to bring their work to life. An animator relies on characters and narrative to communicate ideas, whereas a motion designer seeks to reduce that communication to more primitive formal elements: colour, space and typography.

Final Thoughts

I have studied this field now for over 11 years and I still couldn’t put a direct definition to the term motion graphics so naturally, this isn’t the final word on the subject. Therefore I can completely understand the confused looks people give me when I tell them what I do, but my question reaches out to any other motion graphics designer to ask them, how do you explain to the world what you do?

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