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Why use Motion Graphics and 3D Animation in 2020


If you’ve seen both motion graphics and 3D animation, you may be wondering what the difference is. Though there are some similarities when you look at them, the production mechanics are very different. And those production mechanics are going to matter when you’re producing your video. Quite often, there will be a single method that is most suitable for your video production, and that method is going to be more effective for your message.

Motion Graphics: A Way to Give Inanimate Objects Life

You’ve probably seen explainer videos. Well, explainer videos are usually an example of motion graphics. Motion graphics are what you use in slide shows, presentations, explainer videos, and commercials. It involves moving items to give them life and animation, such as animating a pie chart to slowly expand, or animating text across the screen.

In the animation industry, motion graphics can refer to more. Motion graphics can refer to almost any type of animation, but they usually refer to two things: illustrative motion graphics, and stop motion graphics.

Illustrative motion graphics are what happens in slide shows when slides fade from one end of the screen to the other. These motion graphics are intended to create engaging and compelling presentations, because they call the viewer’s eye towards movement. Something that doesn’t have motion graphics in it might as well be a document: there has to be some flash and pizazz to keep the viewer interested.

Frequently, motion graphics are used in commercials. This cuts down on the budget for a commercial significantly because motion graphics are very simple and affordable to do. Of course, that also limits what motion graphics can be used to do.

Most option graphics are going to be 2D, due to their nature, and they’re going to be far more affordable than 3D animation. If your project simply needs to be more engaging, you should probably consider motion graphics rather than 3D animation.

Here’s the process of creating motion graphics for an illustration:

• The graphics themselves will be created, which could be things such as title text, icons, statistics, and so forth.
• Effects will be added to these graphics. Effects can cover a wide range of things, such as the graphics moving across the screen, fading into nowhere, getting larger, or even spinning across the screen.
• Sound effects will also be added, which can often smooth out a graphical effect and make it more interesting. Sound effects are key components to both motion graphics and 3D animation.

Usually, these graphics are put into a production in post, with the rest of the production being planned first. For instance, a slide show would be completed, and then motion graphics would be added in.

But that’s all illustrative motion graphics. What about stop motion graphics? Stop motion photography uses common items and then takes a sequence of pictures of them while they slowly move. This gives the illusion of movement in items that are still, and it’s very similar to illustrative motion graphics.

Stop motion can be used in complete commercials and full videos, but it’s a very lengthy process. Because it takes so much time, it’s also expensive. It can be just as (if not more) expensive than a fully-featured CGI film.

Usually, stop motion uses clay. Clay can be moved and shaped between frames. But other things can also be used, such as electronics or robotics. Stop motion is a skill in itself, and there are many animators who specialize in it.

To use stop motion:

• A complete storyboard will be created for each scene.
• Props will be made and characters and scenery will be tested.
• Characters will be placed in a scene and they will be moved once, photographed, moved once, photographed, and so forth.
• The less the items move between scenes, the smoother they will look.
• Sound will be added to give the scenes more realism.
• The film will be played back quickly, to make everything blend together.

What are the advantages of stop motion? It has a very unique appearance, which is eye-catching, and it can be a more natural way for some animators to work. Animators don’t need to worry about whether something looks “authentic” in 3D space because it is an actual 3D item.

3D Animation: Animating and Simulating, Key by Key

In animation, objects are often animated “key by key,” which means that the animation knows where a figure starts and where it ends up, and it fills the frames in between. In the past, animation was done by hand, and each frame had to be painted separately. But today, machines can usually fill in the majority of movement, and only the key frames are needed.

With 3D animation, living things are replicated, rather than unliving things being given life. People may dance around immaterially, or digital trees may grow. 3D animation is far more expensive than motion graphics, because it requires that individual art assets either be sourced or used, and these art assets are going to need to be made into a message.


Of course, though 3D animation is more expensive, that’s also because it’s often considered to be more impressive. There are many things that you can do with 3D animation that you can’t do with motion graphics, such as things that simply wouldn’t be possible in real life. 3D animation is more likely to show up in things like commercials.

The process of 3d animation includes:

• Storyboarding the entire process, just as any other type of animation.
• Creating characters and “rigging” them, so they can be moved in a lifelike way. Rigging essentially gives a character an internal skeleton which controls how they can be used.
• Animating the characters scene by scene, and capturing the scenes like a cinematographer, by choosing where the camera is positioned and how it moves.
• Adding voices and sound effects to bring the scenes to life.
• Rendering the scenes in high quality.

Often, 3D animation requires advanced technology, as it requires a lot of processing power and memory in order to render the scenes. The more advanced the scenes are in terms of complexity, the more power the system will need to have. Some movie companies take a day to process a minute worth of time!

The Difference Between 3D Animation and 2D Animation

Today, both 3D animation and 2D animation are likely going to be done on the computer. So what makes one different from the other? 3D animation generally involves simulation. It involves creating 3D objects inside of a computer and then modeling how they would react in certain situations, such as if rain falls on them, or if they fall down. A lot of computer processing goes into this, but there’s also a lot of pre-existing content that can be used, such as renderers, ray tracers, particle effects, and so forth.

2D animation, on the other hand, is more akin to traditional animating features. Rather than “simulating” anything, lines and shapes may simply be drawn and moved around to convey a sense of motion. But when there’s a large 3D library, 3D animation actually becomes a lot easier. With the right library, 3D animation can just pull from existing assets, and existing animations can be used. Because of this, many advertising firms and other high volume companies do use 3D animation from time-to-time.


Which Should You Choose for Your Project?

While both of these fall under the blanket term “animation,” there’s likely a clearly better answer for your project. If you’re looking for animation, you’ll know it: you’re going to want a character that moves and looks real. If you’re looking to provide an engaging message, it’s more likely that motion graphics is suitable. If you simply want to convey some information easily, it’s motion graphics. And if you want to create something that really has a strong look and feel, you might want to look into stop motion.

When you can get away with illustrative motion graphics, it’s probably better. Motion graphics are also well-suited to larger and longer presentations, because it’s unlikely to be able to animate a fully-featured film. Animations can be reserved for shorter, high value projects. And, of course, motion graphics and animation aren’t mutually exclusive.

It takes the right project to really take advantage of stop motion, unless you’re doing very simple things such as animating letters on a screen. Stop motion takes such a huge investment of time and preparation that it’s really best suited to video that’s going to feature its unique style. This is mostly arts and entertainment films. But at the end of the day, the difference between all these types of animations is also what makes them so well-suited to specific projects.


Since both motion graphics and 3d animation can be expensive, it’s usually ideal to get a few quotes first. You can then get a feel for about how much this type of animation costs on the open market. Any type of animation is going to start with a script and a storyboard, so you can start there and then try to get a feel for how you want to visualize everything.

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Article by Joe Forte, owner and producer at D-Mak Productions, a Scottsdale video production company specializing in producing corporate, commercial, digital and branded media content.