Film School: Limited Animation – part 1

Examples of motion design in movie titles and music videos.

Limited Animation: Typography – from the master of the title sequence, Saul Bass. While ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World’ titles does incorporate some frame-by-frame animation, the energy and humour is mostly generated by the movement of its static elements: text, stylised illustration.

Limited Animation: Character – narrative sequence, even emotion, can be generated through 2D design elements, composition, typography, and editing. Crictor’s ‘Mr Wurfel’ also features texture overlays, which can both add style and suggest more movement.

Limited Animation: Abstraction – the more complex the ideas, the simpler the symbols used to represent them. Mental health, medication and research individually are never complete or fixed, and together intersect in ever-shifting ways, as elegantly conveyed in this abstract animation on bipolar disorder by Uncle Ginger for TedEd:

Nesting and Repetition –  Peter Bjorn And John’s ‘Young Folks’ music video is a great example of the way that, perhaps counter-intuitively, using the same elements over and over (both objects and their movements) can create style, warmth, even personality, and reduce the workload!

(This video also makes use of the puppet pin tool in After Effects – more on that here)

Rotoscoping – a more complex version of the concept in the ‘Young Folks’ music video: James Littlemore’s music video for Pnau’s ‘Journey Agent’ features more layered nesting and repetition, as well as rotoscoping (tracing frames of live action human actors to create eerie non-human movement).

Vox‘s video essay on the origins of rotoscoping is not only a handy explainer on the process, it’s also a beautiful piece of motion design in itself:

Vector Objects & MaskingSquarepusher’s music video showcases vector elements being revealed and hidden, in time with the music (the “motivator” of the movement).

Collage – the handmade scrapbook aesthetic of American Dynasties – The Kennedys title sequence is achieved through its various treatments of archival photographs: crude masks, textured backgrounds, and blending modes.

CompositingJosh Pyke’s ‘Middle of the Hill’ music video is a mixed-media combination of the techniques examined above – nesting and repetition, limited animation elements – with live-action footage. Through layering and fast-paced editing, more movement is suggested with mostly static objects.

Scaling & Positioning – all this nesting & repetition seeming a bit much? Röyksopp’s ‘Eple’ features only (gorgeous) still photographs, scaled up and down and moved around (with a little nesting) to dizzying effect.