Visual Structure Motion Studies


Sarah Barcelos
Visual Principle Motion Study: Spatial Layering

Rochelle Anne Bernal
Visual Principle Motion Study: Spatial Layering

Level: ,
Duration: 4 weeks
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Project Brief

Following an introduction to basic principles of narrative and animation, students create a series of 10-15 second motion studies to communicate a specific visual principle or structure using abstract type and basic forms. The goal of the sequence is to combine the more static visual language of traditional graphic design (composition, color, shape, depth, tension, and contrast), with the dynamic visual language of cinema and film (pacing, rhythm, and sequence). Elements to be included are letterforms, abstract shapes / forms, and sound.

Students select a principle from the following list — Rhythm and Repetition, Progression, Symmetry and Asymmetry, Contrast, Randomness and Order, Figure and Ground, Spatial Layering and Overlapping, Grid — and begin to research, sketch and plan their sequences as storyboards. Four, 10-15 second rough draft animations are assigned and refined into final animations over three to four weeks. Play, discovery and exploration are encouraged.

Work is evaluated in the context of how well the motion sequences communicate the chosen principle, and how they function as visual narratives over time. Discussion and critique addresses the potential of typography as a vehicle for both denotative and connotative messaging through kinetic \"behavior\" and orchestration with sound. 

Logistical Notes:
* I created a Vimeo Group for the class, and each student created their own account from which they could post their sequences the the Group for critiques. Work was required to be uploaded to Vimeo before class time, which greatly facilitated presentations and discussions.

*Additionally, over the course of the semester, I conducted four AfterEffects Demo\'s which slowly built the students\' skills using the program. Emphasis was on design concept rather than advanced effects or use of the tool. 

*Audio files were provided for this projects of 15 minutes in duration of various styles. This allowed students to focus on developing their concepts, rather than sourcing and editing audio. (Students were also allowed to find their own audio, if they wanted to.)

Learning Objectives

Create a time-based piece that successfully utilizes both “traditional” design attributes (color, composition, shape, depth, tension, contrast) and “time-based” attributes.

– Introduction to time-based design attributes such as progression, pacing, rhythm, sequence, velocity and kinetic behavior

– Introduction to constructing a narrative arc in time and space

– Introduction to the “principles of animation”

– Introduce and explore effective use of music (i.e. juxtaposition of sound and image)

– Introduce using After Effects as a design tool, and develop technical skills and experience


  1. Sketch process (process sketches, storyboards)
  2. Preliminary storyboards (pencil)
  3. Four Draft Motion Sequences of chosen Principle (.mov files, exported using H.264 codec)
  4. Four Final High Resolution Motion Sequences of chosen Principle (.mov files)
  5. High-resolution Storyboard PDFs of each Motion Sequence, created with final screengrabs from final pieces


Excerpts from:
Johnston, Ollie and Thomas, Frank. The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation. (Disney Editions: 1981, 1995)

Carter, Day, Maxa, Meggs, Sanders. Chapter 9: “Typography in Time and Motion” from Typographic Design: Form & Communication, Seventh Edition (John Wiley & Sons, 2017).

1981 Disney Animation Special - The Illusion of Life - Part 1

1981 Disney Animation Special - The Illusion of Life - Part 2

1981 Disney Animation Special - The Illusion of Life - Part 3

The Illusion of Life Principles Demonstrated


I have found this to be an excellent Sophomore-level course, as it not only introduces students to working in motion, but principles of narrative and storytelling essential to much of graphic design. Although final pieces are digital, the project process utilizes a thorough traditional sketch process, and storyboarding of concepts by hand before animation is begun. These aspects help reinforce the kind of skills and design process that Sophomore\'s are still developing. 

At this point I have taught this project for quite a few years, and passed it onto other faculty to use as well. 

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