Posted: 04/12/2007


Motion by Design

by Spencer Drate, David Robbins, Judith Salavetz

Reviewed by Joe Steiff

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So you’ve seen 300 and are in awe. Or you love the Six Feet Under opening credits sequence. Maybe you can’t resist the TV Land commercials. Or you’ve been wowed by the music video for “Good is Good.” What do these all have in common? Motion Graphics.

And the new book Motion by Design is here to feed your “wow.” Drate, Robbins and Salavetz have put together the equivalent of a coffee table book that celebrates some of the more interesting design firms currently working in this blend of filmmaking and graphic design.

At first I was a bit skeptical about how a book was going to document moving images, but the authors/designers use lush captures of individual frames from commercials, films, music videos, TV shows and web media to create a Muybridge-type summary of some of the best work out there. Add to this the bonus DVD that accompanies the book and you have multiple ways to appreciate those people working the field of Motion Graphics.

This is not a technical manual or even a textbook. Motion by Design is love fest of the medium, a document of pop art with beautiful images and design throughout. The minimal written text seems secondary. The information provided by each designer and/or company about their process or techniques varies pretty widely and usually only carries one or two small caveats with little practical understanding of “how to do this at home.” The book is clearly more for inspiration and appreciation, not for know-how.

The book does start with a brief history of Motion Graphics as part of the Introduction, providing a broad overview of the major developments in the field. From there Motion by Design illustrates just how far we have come from simple flying logos, dividing its topic into three major areas: Opening Credits (or what are sometimes referred to as the Main Titles Sequences of motion pictures and TV shows), Broadcast and Commercial (music videos, television commercials) and Web (internet applications of Motion Graphics). The supplemental DVD—a removable portion of the book’s front cover—provides a timeline graph of Motion Graphics history as well as actual clips of the examples documented on the pages of the book. Though heavily weighted towards the United States market, there are several notable international examples.

The most comprehensive section by far is the Broadcast and Commercial chapter, where there is enough material to create a relatively complex sense of the variety of Motion Graphics techniques and aesthetics as applied to music videos and commercials. In comparison, the Opening Credits section is only about half as much material and doesn’t seem to create the same breadth of examples, but what’s here includes several memorable recent examples.

The only part of the book that disappoints is the section about the Web. Maybe the authors feel like their typical reader will already be in touch with Internet-based examples of Motion Graphics. Or that the Web is so dynamic that the examples change daily. But this chapter only includes two examples, neither of which seems to be particularly reflective of the state of the art.

Besides a skimpy Web chapter, the only other quibble I have is that I would have loved to have seen some of the historical examples alluded to in the Introduction and the DVD’s Timeline. What’s here is a great celebration of the recent past in Motion Graphics, but having the history visually represented (instead of simply written about) would give the book more heft.

As it is, this is a beautiful book that is ideal for people who like compendiums of art for their coffee tables or shelves, a book that invites thumbing through and is a feast for the eyes.

From Lawrence King Publishing and available for purchase here.

Joe Steiff is the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Independent Filmmaking and currently teaches film and video at Columbia College Chicago.

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