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You’ve seen them, the commercials that move you, and get you excited. There’s usually a lot of movement from shot to shot, and the editing is amazing. How then would you create something similar for your brand or your client? You might ask questions like, “When do we move what?” and “How should we move it?”. — Is there even a formula for this question?

Well, I think so!

An objective rule in a subjective realm

Let’s first agree that everything creative is subjective until we apply an objective rule to the decision-making process. And we can do this by asking ourselves two important things; why is this scene here, and what are we trying to communicate with this scene?

Have these two questions answered, and you’ll probably find your own secret formula for designing dynamic movement in CGI commercials that work for you, or your client.

So isn’t so much a secret, but a rather lame but also pretty cool understanding that it’s always going to be centered around an objective rule that provides “meaningful movement, where it counts.”

Let’s take a commercial by Audi as an example of a motion design decision that I personally think works very well. See Audi – Welcome to the 8th Dimension on Vimeo

Audi — Welcome to the 8th Dimension

Credit: Agency – Thjnk, Director – Oliver Würffell

So in case you didn’t know what the Q in an Audi Q-series stands for, I’ve done the Google search for you (because I also didn’t know and just looked it up); The “Q” in the Audi Q-series cars stands for ‘Quattro’, as in four-wheel drive. It’s a powerfully versatile car that is able to traverse a multitude of terrains and handle well. — So now you know, Q is Quattro.

Looking at the start of this sequence, you can see the ad starts with a very strong text-based intro provoking your interest assuming ‘you know what Q means’, and just incase you didn’t, the video is quickly followed by an intense montage of the car handling well in all those terrains and situations. It’s bold, it’s dynamic and it works. Why? Let’s look at it.

Why this scene exists: To assume and challenge the audience’s knowledge of “what does Q mean”.

What it needs to communicate: To fully engage the audience in a participative way that allows them to re-live or experience the meaning of the ‘Q’ as the answer to the question.

How: Starting off with big, bold, and static text that is slightly presumptuous invites a challenge. It fully engages the audience into a question. And at that moment of intrigue, instantly cutting to high-energy moving footage whipping the viewer into fully experiencing the answer.

What if it was made differently?

If the director just had the text constantly placed over the video stating “This is Q”, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong, or worse; but it would definitely be less dynamic, as it loses out on the invisible tension between the question and answer.

This type of placement of text-over-video might work better as a scroll-ad that serves as a reminder of the meaning of “Q”, instead of forming an engaging ‘conversation’ with the audience.

I think you get the gist, that every good creative decision is led by a strong ‘why’. So assuming you’ve got all your ‘whys’ down, what are some concrete steps you can take to ensure that your sequence or shot is as dynamic as it can get?

3 parts to designing dynamic motion

Assuming you’ve identified clearly what your intentions are for the movement (or lack of) for your shot, scene, or sequence, here are three parts to designing motion that can help with making it more dynamic.

1. Tension

In some ways, this can also be called the “set-up”. Where we visually set something in motion that puts your audience on edge, in a state of waiting for something to happen. This cognitive tension builds up anticipation and suspense within your audience. This level of ‘intellectual investment’ is really powerful when it comes to making your film feel more dynamic than it actually is physically/visually.

I mean sometimes it literally takes showing the audience nothing, to build up tension. That’s why, although cliché, unveiling a product with a piece of cloth is so effective!

Example: Apple MacBook Air Commercial by MVSM
MVSM’s commercial for Apple’s MacBook Air builds a lot of visual tension as it slowly reveals the laptop over time. This visual tension is slowly released over time as the product is revealed, and each time the viewer gets to see more of the product, there is a dynamic movement of information.

Just imagine this same commercial without the cloth. It wouldn’t be as dynamic as it is now with the cloth. Not to mention the loss of connotation to the lightweight benefit that is constantly being communicated through the cloth itself.

2. Contrast

Hard to soft. Slow to fast. Stationary to lightning speed. Bright to dark. Dull to intense. Quiet to loud. You get the idea. This is an easy idea to implement, and it compliments the use of ‘tension’ very well. Take for example a product that contains a new powerful formula. We can start with a dimly lit silhouetted product (tension), and the camera moves VERY slowly towards the product (also tension).


TIKITAK!? — * BAM! The lights turn on and smash the scene into power and glory. The product reveals itself with a giant burst of energy behind it. Ohh holy shi** yeah. And the camera? The camera has changed it’s focal length and it’s pushing in like a champ, and dropping lower to allow the audience to view this product reveal like it’s a real hero.

Example: Razer Basilisk Ultimate
Here’s another example of tension to contrast through dynamic changes in movement that help to push a narrative. In this case, it’s to introduce a new, hyper-fast wireless technology Razer brought to their Basilisk mouse.

There’s tension at the start, and contrast to amp up the speed and freedom the wireless technology brings as the camera motion starts out heavy-weighted and slow, and later instantly ‘releases’ itself as the wire unplugs. And this is where everything speeds up as we move into the new wireless technology. — Meaningful motion where it counts.

3. Surprise

Unexpected but somewhat logical. This allows the audience to retroactively form a connection between two elements not normally seen together. In some sense also brings tension and contrast, but to be fair, in a uniquely specific manner. It’s got a shock factor that spins off a neurological parallel universe in the audience’s brain. Forcing them to continue watching whatever is happening after the surprise, while simultaneously processing the connection they saw a second ago.

This is powerful and leaves a long-lasting dynamic impression on your viewers. People will always remember the time they were shocked or surprised by something. Whilst people do remember surprises in general, ‘cheap-trick’ surprises are remembered very differently from meaningful ones.

Example: Starbuck’s surprisingly clever use of CGI/VFX on what seems like normal day-to-day at Starbucks. Showcasing snappy, seamless transitions of all the varieties of coffees you can get at Starbucks. It doesn’t matter if you like their coffee or not, this is a great ad that is fun to watch because of all the little sprinkles of unexpected surprises making it positively memorable.

Dynamic movement with meaning

Example: Apple — Focus Mode
In this example, the motion of the camera is solely representing the annoying notifications and attention-grabbing whatever in your life that is trying to ‘disturb’ you through your iPhone. The camera moves to disturb, and it stops when the user presses ‘do not disturb’. It’s a simple but very effective and meaningful approach to personifying the movement of the camera.

All in all

All in all, it all depends on what the narrative is (your why), and how do we create tension, contrast, and surprise in our design of motion that supports and elevates the main narrative. Understanding the meaning behind a movement or effect we are designing might even bring the conclusion that sometimes, less movement is more dynamic when meaningfully placed.

Nicholas Chia

Author Nicholas Chia

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