The Origins of Motion Graphics

story © Michael Betancourt, January 6, 2012 all rights reserved.


​Motion graphics was the last major aesthetic innovation of the nineteenth century to fully emerge during the twentieth. Converging in the final decades of the twentieth century, “broadcast design,” “mobile graphics,” the “absolute film,” “titles,” or even simply “animation” have all been used to identify what would become “motion graphics.” Any history of the field requires a consideration of how its aesthetics and the varied uses common to contemporary “motion graphics” first emerged from experiments with kinetic abstraction in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The nexus of abstract film’s synchronized geometries with live action outside the framework of narrative, the conventions of synchronized sound and image, and finally the development of kinetic typography shows that motion graphics are more than animated graphic designs.

​This field began with the first abstract films made by the Futurist painters in 1909, but these experiments, now lost, did not spring suddenly into being. They emerge from a larger context, one that also produced abstract art generally, and helped establish the foundations for other, superficially unrelated fields such as the ‘light show’ performances common to spectacular events such as the opening ceremonies for the Olympic Games, or the fireworks shows produced nightly at the Walt Disney theme parks. Central to this development is the impact of synaesthesia on art in the early twentieth century: the influence of “visual music” is visible in commercial motion graphics, most obviously in television commercials, animated logos and graphics, and in the title sequences created for feature films. The aesthetic principles that organize and structure the relationship of image to soundtrack, originates with the earliest abstract films, and before them, with color music.

​Motion graphics emerged after centuries of earlier developments and a general cultural aspiration to create a visual art comparable to music: literally a “visual music.” The history of color music, the first attempt at creating such an art, and its more contemporary descendant visual music, established the ways that sound and image can be related to each other in a visual medium such as motion pictures. This connection to abstract art creates that work’s transcendent or spiritual content—by considering the development of color music the origins of these meanings necessarily emerge as part of understanding the development and organization of the abstract films that are the foundation for motion graphics. While the linkage of sound and color is an arbitrary phenomenon, in the most successful examples of abstract animation by artists such as Oskar Fischinger, or in title sequences for feature films, creates the illusion of a direct, natural link comparable to lip-sync between sound and image. The art historian’s term for this kind of connection is “synaesthetic.”

Copyright © Michael Betancourt  January 6, 2012  all rights reserved.

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