Understanding Rhythm in Motion Design

Understanding Rhythm in Motion Design

Melodious Motif

At the heart of every song is a rhythm, and so too at the heart of every good design is a pattern. Whether making web pages or billboards, designers define a pattern and they create around it. These are different from ‘themes’ or ‘styles,’ as those things usually come before and are more general similar to the ‘genre’ of a song. Interpreting patterns is a basic human skill and we can typically tell when a pattern has been broken.

Our brains engage with patterns. Like watching a pocket watch sway back and forth, we’re hypnotized by consistent motion. Creating patterns in your animation will grasp viewers’ attention; breaking the rhythm will can disconnect the focus your viewer had, causing them to lose focus and interest at the same time.

This seems obvious when it comes to static design but is so often missed in motion design and video production. In this world, the pattern is the rhythm of your animation. It can be easy to think of any kind of animation your creating in terms of ‘what needs to happen’ and stop there. What you end up with can be bland, lifeless, and awkward. Instead, you should define what needs to happen, and then think how that outcome should play out within the confines of a tempo, or the overall time table of how you rhythmic pattern plays out. You’ll be amazed what kind of difference this can make.

The Music Video Method

If you’re like me, you’ve probably searched the web and watched one of those “Official Lyric Videos” when you have found a new song you love. These are great examples of how rhythm in motion impacts our engagement with the medium in question. In these videos, words are revealed as they are sang, which is what our subconscious expects. Bad lyric videos reveal full sentences at a time, so we see words that haven’t been sung yet, which can be jarring and awkward.

With music, the syllables of a word are key to how they are revealed in a song; that isn’t always true of other parts of motion design because of how our brains process words. You still want to maintain a rhythm, but be careful to not get hung up on syllables when animating text, because not every motion will depend on syllables.

How We Read and See

Our brains process words as a whole, meaning it takes nearly the exact same amount of time to read words with a lot characters as it will to read words with just a few characters. Basing your rhythm on word or sentence length is not always the best measure due the brain’s ability to process varying levels of complex information in short amounts of time.

In a similar fashion to word processing, our brains can process differing images at relatively the same rate. It’s estimated it takes the average person between 13 and 80 milliseconds to process an image. Whether it is a simple shape like a box or a complex image like a photo of marine life, we can understand what we’re seeing relatively quickly. It may seem like a no brainer, but again, it’s easy to make the mistake of believing more complex imagery needs more screen time than simple imagery, which is not true and will only cause us to lose our precious rhythm.

Follow a consistent rhythm for how you splice clips together even when you are editing video. Using a background music track to follow along with can make the process easier. This is a great way to make sure you keep with the tempo even if you don’t plan on using a song in your final cut. It can be very tempting to give a shot more screen time, and subsequently break the rhythm, but I always suggest letting go and maintaining the beat of your edit because the video will feel better as a whole if done that way.

Keep the Beat

Always strive to maintain a rhythm with any type of animation you’re crafting. All of our minds are so attracted to nice/neat patterns, and this is just as much true of motion design as it is of static design. We’ve all tapped our foot or bobbed our heads to songs we may not even like, but that’s because we like rhythm in general. When you capitalize on this aspect of user experience, you will keep your viewers engaged much longer. If you need help applying rhythm in motion, then give us a call at Blueprint.

By: Adam Baxter
  • Krista

    This is true! Our brains are wired to create closure even when visual information is missing, which is how optical illusions work. In order for videos to maintain our attention and captivate us, the visual and auditory rhythm must be synchronized or at least complementary.