How Motion Graphics Have Changed Over Time

The technology used to create motion graphics and animation in film and television has changed substantially since its invention, we will look at a few of the many ways in which it has changed in that time. Motion Graphics in fact goes back almost to the beginning of film, the exact date or year it was invented is unknown, mostly due to the fact the exact definition of what makes something qualify as a ‘motion graphic’ is often debated (for more about this debate go here). For the purposes of this blog the beginning will be established as the 1940’s when the American writer and animator John Whitney made a series of experimental films using new techniques of his own invention. 

One of the works John Whitney is better known for however is the animated title sequence he did in collaboration with Saul Bass on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 Vertigo. And it is this that will be used as an example of early motion graphics, the title sequence can be viewed here. Now putting this in direct comparison with Deadpool’s (2016) title sequence which can be viewed here, a substantial difference can clearly be seen, though this is hardly surprising given the 58 year time difference. The question though is how did we get from point A (Vertigo) to point B (Deadpool) in terms of technological advancement of motion graphics and animation. The main point of difference is obviously the advancement and invention of new motion graphic and animation techniques. Vertigo, containing the first of many animated (motion graphics) title sequences, needed something which did not previously exist in order for the vision of Saul Bass and Alfred Hitchcock to become a reality, as such something completely new had to be invented.


This process started when “Whitney realized that the gun director could rotate endlessly, and in perfect synchronization with the swinging of a pendulum. He placed his animation cels on the platform that held the gun director, and above it suspended a pendulum from the ceiling which held a pen that was connected to a 24-foot high pressurized paint reservoir. The movement of the pendulum in relation to the rotation of the gun director generated the spiral drawings used in Vertigo’s opening sequence.” (rhizome, 2013). This refers to when John Witney realised that the M5 machine gun could rotate in such a way that the spiral animations could be achieved. In terms of developing the motion graphics and animation today, Stan Brakhage (1933-2003) is a notable figure, he explored a variety of different formats, some of his techniques included, fast cutting, painting directly onto celluloid, in-camera editing, scratching on film and collage film.


This sort of experimentation of different techniques helped other people in the industry develop them into more computer based techniques with the advancement of technology as a whole (triplet3D, 2013). One of which was Norman McLaren (1914-1987) who developed several ground breaking techniques including the synchronization of animations with music and other sound. In fact some of the techniques initially developed by McLaren are still used today, in 2013 the NFB released an app called ‘McLaren’s workshop’ which allows people to make their own films using techniques that he initially developed.


Throughout the years many different notable people and companies have worked on the development and advancement of motion graphic and animation techniques, bringing the industry from hand drawn and basic (relatively speaking) animation and motion graphic techniques to the advanced CGI we see in today’s industry. Without the advancement of technology as whole as well as the tireless work that people in the industry put in, the film and television would not be what they are today.