- I hardly ever stretch the canvas before painting.
- —Jackson Pollock
As a motion graphics designer, you often have to work harder than other types of designers. Unlike those in the print world who can usually get by with a white background for the printed page, you must put more thought into your projects.
Motion backgrounds have become a staple of broadcast and motion graphics design. In fact, entire companies exist just to create and sell backdrops. The use of backgrounds (whether static or dynamic) is essential to good motion graphics design. Fortunately, certain features in After Effects and Photoshop can be combined to create some fantastic "wallpaper."
Approaching Background Design
When creating backgrounds for a motion graphics project, you might be surprised at how much thought can go into the process. It's important to realize that you are creating the foundation for the completed project. Just as you can't build an architectural masterpiece on a swamp, you'll need to find a solid base for the rest of the animated layers to come.
Role of Backgrounds
The greatest challenge when it comes to creating and using backgrounds is that you need to show proper restraint. A background is just that—a background. Would you expect to see a gaudy patterned print at an art museum? You need to find the proper balance between an interesting background and preserving the visual hierarchy of information.
We understand why the challenge exists. As the stock animation industry has grown, competition has led to more and more companies trying to "stand out." This means that designs have become busier, louder, and generally obnoxious.
In contrast, let's look at the print industry. Sure, a designer might use a patterned paper or a colored backdrop but never in a way that negatively impacts the readability of text or diminishes the value of a photograph. Creating a background is truly an invisible art. The goal is to make something that adds to the overall design but does not stand out.
Creating backgrounds is a varied process. We find that the best backgrounds use source ingredients (as opposed to just combining effects). We recommend you consider the following options when designing them:
Footage plates. Footage is one of the easiest sources to use, because it's already moving. Often, abstract or soft-focused footage works best (Figure 7.1).
Figure 7.1 We'll explore footage creation strategies in Chapter 13, "DVD and Blu-ray Design."
Patterns and textures. The use of patterns or textures is an easy way to create complex blending (Figure 7.2). These can include photos of natural items, scanned images, or generated textures.
Figure 7.2 You'll find an assortment of pattern layers in the Chapter_07_Media folder and can experiment with creating more in Photoshop.
Vector shapes. Many backgrounds are created with repeating geometric patterns (Figure 7.3). These can be made using Adobe Illustrator, but you'll find the Shape Layer feature in After Effects to be robust as well.
Figure 7.3 Shape layers are easy to use and very versatile. You can create complex geometric shapes in just a few minutes.
Photos. A well-composed photo can also serve as a background (Figure 7.4). If you're shooting your own photos, be sure to think of balancing negative space with the subject of the photo.
Figure 7.4 A well-composed photo creates a natural frame. Here a skyline photo blends with a background texture and some color to create a pleasing background.
Importance of Looping
When creating an animated background, it's considered necessary that motion repeat seamlessly (called a loop). Looping ensures that a background can repeat infinitely, which can be highly desirable because it gives you design flexibility. Some uses for looping backgrounds include the following:
- DVD and Blu-ray Discs typically use motion menus. These often feature animated backgrounds. A seamless loop ensures a pleasant viewing experience.
- Digital signage (such as signs at airports or retail stores) is designed to be viewed in passing. The viewer often joins an animation "in progress." Ensuring that the animation repeats smoothly creates a less jarring moment for the audience.
- Broadcast and live events often depend on backgrounds. Unfortunately, the required duration may be unknown. Having a background loop means that it won't run out on you when it's playing back live. Animations can be repeated many times over to create any duration (or even an infinite one).