We are now more than halfway through reading Liz Blazer’s book Animated Storytelling and learning all of the steps for creating motion graphics. It’s been such a valuable book, and with each chapter, I gain more insight into every consideration that goes into making a great animation. This week, I’ll share some insights from chapters 7 and 8.
Chapter 7: Design Wonderland
The magic of animation lies on its ability to create a new, exciting world that doesn’t need to follow our societal or physical laws. But just because it doesn’t have to follow our rules doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to follow any rules. It’s actually quite the opposite, as we learn in chapter 7. Blazer explains the significance of defining the rules your animated world will follow and consistently executing them. Blazer says that “these ‘laws’ will provide a consistent foundation for whatever far-flung chaos you envision and will help you give your world a sense of authenticity and verisimilitude.”
Blazer suggests the following laws:
Time and Place Laws
Your story can happen anywhere and at any point in the past or future. Think carefully about how every object in your story ties into your time and place. From technology to clothes and architecture, all of it should help your world come to life. Blazer emphasizes the significance of this category, saying, “Time and place are the first important decisions you’ll make in creating your story wonderland. Choose well since that decisions provides the backbone of the world where the important physical, social, and visual laws are to be established.”
Your physical laws refer to the rules of nature. We universally understand that gravity grounds us here on planet earth, and we rely on water for survival. But, this may not be the case for your world. If not, make sure your reasons for changing these laws are intentional and make sense for your story. Many cool things can happen, but if they don’t make sense, they’ll end up confusing your audience and hurting your story.
There are many laws on planet earth, and they vary based on country, culture, and politics, to name a few. As Blazer admits, they don’t all make sense, and many are far from fair or equal. So, don’t be afraid to create new laws for your world that challenge the way things are here.
If you need help rethinking our laws and behavior, Blazer suggests turning to nature to inspire you. Animals have wild and weird rituals that might inspire a new way of thinking. And, even if what you learn doesn’t work for your current story, you probably just discovered an astonishing fact that you can share at the next dinner party!
Visual elements like color, texture, and lighting can become a part of your story. Maybe specific colors only appear when your characters are happy, or the lighting changes drastically based on whether someone is safe or in danger. Once you decide how visual elements will interact with your story, make sure to keep them consistent. They’ll become visual cues to your audience that enhance what you want them to know or feel.
Blazers’ overall message for all of these rules is simple: create them intentionally and execute them consistently. By doing so, you’ll successfully create a world that may be outrageous but feels real and possible to your audience nonetheless.
Chapter 8: Technique
In Chapter 8, Blazer discusses the importance of blending the animation technique you use with the story you are trying to tell. Each animation technique evokes certain emotions or visual qualities more than others, so choosing wisely will strengthen the impact of your account. Blazer suggests not letting what we know or don’t know from a technical perspective limit our decision.
If we need to learn a new technique, go for it, or reach out for help. What matters is that you work towards building the best outcome for your animation without limiting yourself. Blazer says,” Selecting the right animation technique can be the key to expressing your big idea, can amplify the very soul of your story, and if used inventively can set your project apart from the rest.”
The animation techniques Blazer discusses in her book include hand drawing, 2D and 3D stop motion, as well as 2D and 3D CGI. Each style has its advantages and visual strengths. For example, 2D CGI works well with type and is most commonly used for web, film, and tv graphics. In contrast, 3D graphics have essentially no limitations to how realistic they appear and are popular for creating video games.
Blazer uses the opening title for the well-respected TV show Mad Men as a great example of blending story and technique. The visual style paired with the theme of the show perfectly depicts the contrast in Don Draper’s life—his flashy external lifestyle is at odds with his internal despair. As Blazer describes, “Using flat 2d silhouettes of a falling man, they achieved an ominous, noir mood…Certainly, the sequence would have felt too far removed from reality if a hand-drawn technique had been utilized, and the world would have been to singulalry slick with only 3D CGI.”
Title Sequence Inspiration
Blazer’s example of the Mad Men title sequence inspired me to look at other main titles and explore how animation styles—along with kinetic type and sound—are used to convey meaning. Since I’m currently working on a short stop motion animation, searching for this type of inspiration has opened my eyes to the skill, time, and effort that makes the title sequences just as beautiful as the work itself. Here are a few that I was especially drawn to.
The Facts of Life by Saul Bass
Saul Bass is one of my all-time favorite graphic designers. I love his ability to bring so much personality to the most simple geometric forms and his surprising use of type. In this title sequence, the type dashes across the screen, taking on the identities of objects. I encourage you to see more of his work, as his entire collection is truly unique and timeless
The Morning Show by Elastic Studios
I honestly can’t count the number of times I have watched the title sequence for the Morning Show—it’s so good it’s hypnotizing! So much is expressed through the simple motions of dots, and the music is spot-on (no pun intended!) It truly feels like the animations and the music are synchronous and that the dots are moving to the song’s beat. Everything from sound, clever use of color, animation style, and movement feel like they work together to tell a cohesive story of tension, confrontation, escape, and decline.
This title sequence was created by Elastic Studios, who have done heaps of impressive work, like Game of Thrones, The Crown, and Westworld.
Spider Man Outro by Exceptional Minds
This outro caught my attention because of its modern take on that fun, “school’s out for summer” 80’s vibe. This is an excellent example of how the proper animation style enhances the story and creates a young, innocent, and carefree feeling. 3-dimensional titles would have lost that unique, handmade effect, and drawings alone would have created too much of a disconnect from reality. The combination of visual elements is perfect. The stop motion style is also playful and entertaining and fits perfectly with the song’s upbeat tone and the story of a teen vacation.
This animation was created by Exceptional Minds, a studio that staffs artists who are on the spectrum for autism. The studio has done many great title sequences for Marvel, but this one is definitely a favorite.
Stranger Things by Imaginary Forces
Another personal favorite—and a great example of type and sound working together to evoke a mood—is the Stranger Things opening title sequence. Because we are so close to the letter forms, its unclear what we are looking at until the very end. The sequence’s ability to conceal information from us and hide the “big picture”, paired with eerie music, lets us know the show is mysterious and dark. It’s amazing how much we understand and feel from watching this title sequence, despite its lack of imagery.
The title sequence was created by the same incredibly talented agency behind the Mad Men title sequence, Imaginary Forces.
I could spend hours watching title sequences and have gained a newfound appreciation for what they contribute to my cinematic experience. They not only serve a logical purpose of introducing the cast and characters, they set the entire tone for what you are about to watch. They are a part of the story and a work of art themselves.
Animated Storytelling: Simple Steps For Creating Animation and Motion Graphics. 1st Edition. by Liz Blazer. https://www.amazon.com/Animated-Storytelling-Creating-Animation-Graphics/dp/013413365X