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Storytelling

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So in motion graphics, we make films. Short films. Sometimes 1 second long, but films nonetheless. And because we're filmmakers, we're fundamentally storytellers. This isn't spoken of much because most of us come into this through some design track, or vfx, or what have you, so for all of our wizardry porting precomps through plasma channels via AE multimasking tech tree supernodes, we tend to be surprisingly hazy about storytelling. As such, I thought this little nugget of un-haziness might be interesting.

 

Ira Glass is a broadcaster, who heads a superb radio show and does short video interview/stories. This is a quick four-parter, and all of the parts are good.

Ira Glass on Storytellng

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I remember seeing that piece a while back, great stuff in there. I agree that there isn't a lot of talk on storytelling. I feel fortunate to work with filmmakers who make movies and that in turn has improved my own storytelling techniques in motion graphics and design.

 

I also feel like so much of motion graphics feels hollow because of the lack of good storytelling.

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brilliant stuff.

 

thanks for that link.

 

his point is perfect. Especially made me think of that movie, Jonah hex. I loved all the ideas they had in it, all the little things that happened, but there was nothing to tie it all together.

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guy is so talented

 

and great thoughts on storytelling in terms of how to make it interesting

 

presentation-wise - i wonder if Ira's low-fi'ness (lisp and paper rustling) is a parallel of all the twee "hand made" looking spots (i love 'em) that are booming these days. maybe something about organic and handmade takes some of the polished mass media edge off of mass media?

 

haha, i dunno. but over the years some TAL episodes have been so amazingly done

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Okay, but really, how often do we really tell stories? Like Mr. Glass said, there is a big difference between telling stories and making classic arguments. I've always found that to be a fundamental difference between narrative film and graphic design.

 

Narrative film (and all narrative storytelling) starts out small, sucks you in to the lives of the characters, builds to a climax, and ends. Only as the storyteller/audience reflects on what has happened in the "past" do they find meaning. On the other hand, graphic design (and all argumentative prose) gives a thesis statement and then backs it up with supporting arguments. Its always about "this is the best product and here's why." And the best arguments are almost always offered up first. Story makes you wait to see what happens next. Arguments usually lay out all the spoilers at the beginning.

 

Graphic design is very presentational in more than just logical structure. In many ways, it can be seen as anti-story. Words and graphics popping on screen during a movie pull a viewer completely out of a suspense of disbelief. This annoys everyone hoping to be sucked into a story. This is a major reason for the failures that were Hulk and Speed Racer. Comic book panels may be necessary in a comic book/graphic novel. They can help or hinder the flow of the story based on their arrangement and the minimalism/extravagance of their design. But they are a totally unnecessary and distracting element in narrative film. That's why motion-graphics in films are usually relegated to necessary presentational elements such as credits sequences and subtitles.

 

Could motion-graphics be used for more story-telling purposes? I think so. I've already explained how in previous posts. But I challenge you to show me where it is being used now.

Edited by jayfaker

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Could motion-graphics be used for more story-telling purposes? I think so. I've already explained how in previous posts. But I challenge you to show me where it is being used now.

 

 

Would Scott Pilgrim vs the World be a good example? I think there was a clever use of motion graphics to help tell the story. There were times where it was pointless but more times that it was needed to create a mood and feeling in the story. IMO anyway.

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How about Zombieland? I totally dug the text stuff that movie.

 

True that! Stranger than Fiction did it nicely. Unfortunately it wasn't through out the entire film.

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Hmmm. One thought: perhaps a reason we don't see it happening much at all is that most films are not written by the director. Screenwriters aren't likely to write with motion-graphics elements in mind. Otherwise, the motion-graphics are just tacked on with varying degrees of skill. Even with Stranger than Fiction, it was more fluff than it was integral to the story. (I haven't seen Scott Pilgrim yet.) I think a writer/director would have to write specific stuff into a story, specific reasons to use motion graphics / animation to further the story.

 

An example I see is a film where the protagonist makes very bizarre choices that don't make sense on the surface, but as the movies enters that character's psyche you see what the character thinks about / struggles with through motion graphics / animation. Then all those choices begin to make sense. The protagonist even interacts with those motion elements, sifts through them like evidence, fights them, and then finally takes action in the real world. I thought that's sorta what Sucker Punch could have been. Not that I ever followed the project very closely, but of the little I knew about it during the weeks before release, it seemed like a plausibility.

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Also, I didn't just mean films. They are long format, but Binky also mentioned short format things, even 1 second things. Any examples of those you can think of that really do tell stories? Not just arguments?

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Okay, but really, how often do we really tell stories? Like Mr. Glass said, there is a big difference between telling stories and making classic arguments. I've always found that to be a fundamental difference between narrative film and graphic design.

I take narrative and storytelling in the broad definition of connected events presented over time. So technically, a lens flare flitted from left to right across the screen is storytelling, albeit a little boring. It flares up on the left, makes the journey across the screen, providing a little detail in its visual form in the meantime, and then sputters out or exits off the right. Similarly, "I crossed the painted crosswalks from 4th to Broadway" is a boring little narrative. Each has a beginning, middle, end, and a character to go on that journey. But you're right to say that there's a lot of stuff out there that uses these little moments to construct arguments instead of larger stories.

 

I suppose I take a hint about what we're collectively interested in by looking at what we put in our reels, and that tends to be full-framed sequential bits of narrative, as opposed to lower 3rds and billboards and other largely argumentative or presentational stuff. We tend to like unfolding endtags and journeys through impossible spaces and transformations, etc. We tend to be more enamored in the work of others when it takes us somewhere or affects us emotionally. Which is not to say that "visual essays" can't do that, nor that they have to in order to be interesting, although even those are using collections of small narratives to make their arguments.

 

The point though, is that it seems like most of us generally aspire toward narrative excellence. It's only human. It's a large part of the foundation for our communicative capacity. And yeah, I may be confusing the issue with a broad definition of storytelling, but I don't know that there's much debating the idea that a flare going from left to right, or a logo exploding on, is a story in and of itself. The question remaining is "how interesting or valuable is that story?", and it's not typically very interesting or valuable. But I think that's why I posted the link. It may help some people to start thinking about what they do in terms of narrative, as opposed to thinking about it in terms of "wow" or "crazy transitions" or "write-ons" etc. So if learning about storytelling and figuring out how it applies to what you're doing subsequently helps you make better stuff for the rest of us to watch, I'm sooooooo down for that.

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. Even with Stranger than Fiction, it was more fluff than it was integral to the story.

 

I totally disagree. The motion graphics were a huge part of Will Ferrell's character. They were used as a method to show the workings of his mind, and emphasize his dull routine. The reason that motion graphics aren't present through the whole movie is because the character changes. They start to disappear as he begins to live a richer life.

Edited by Trione

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Can I throw in the last Splinter Cell game? The way text integrated into the world, giving you assignments was a nice bit of mograph to me.

 

 

skip to about a minute 1

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Stranger Than Fiction was incredibly well written.

The mograph was fantastic, but the mograph didn't make it a good story... the plotting of the action made it a good story.

 

Never confuse motion with action.

 

-m

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Stranger Than Fiction was incredibly well written.

The mograph was fantastic, but the mograph didn't make it a good story... the plotting of the action made it a good story.

 

Never confuse motion with action.

 

-m

 

The mograph made it a better story. It enhances the viewers understanding of the character.

 

In the case of Stranger Than Fiction, I think arguing that the mograph didn't improve the story is a lot like arguing that costuming and set design don't improve a story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Also, I didn't just mean films. They are long format, but Binky also mentioned short format things, even 1 second things. Any examples of those you can think of that really do tell stories? Not just arguments?

 

I think the shortest story structure is the joke (setup -> punchline). So yes, even very short things can function as stories. I don't know about 1 second, but certainly there are millions of 15 or 10 second commercials that communicate a story.

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A really great photograph can tell a story within seconds. The viewer is usually the one connecting everything together in their mind, but it's still a story.

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True, but it still has to have some kind of structure or sequence to it right? Like the viewer notices A, then notices B, then puts two and two together and deduces C and the lightbulb goes on.

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