Mar 15, 2016

Why Rendering Motion Graphics Takes Time

Let's bake a cake.  All from scratch. Imagine three golden, fluffy, moist layers all separated by rich fudge frosting. Then, we’ll smother the whole thing with a generous heaping of creamy chocolate icing.


But, before we can start pigging out on our chocolate delicacy, there is a process we must follow. To make our cake layers we need several ingredients: flour, baking powder, cocoa, butter, sugar, and egg whites. If we mix these all in a bowl, following our recipe to a T, we’ll have all the ingredients that comprise our cake layers but no one would come running. Much less recognize our concoction as a cake, right?

All our ingredients in a bowl mixed together are like a motion graphics piece. A typical project or “recipe” consists of a hodgepodge of several hundred layers of:

  • parents and children
  • alpha mattes, luma mattes, and their inverted friends
  • java script based expressions
  • a smattering of keyframes with varying degrees of easing
  • shapes
  • strokes
  • motion blurs
  • curve adjustments
  • an assortment of blending modes
  • particles
  • time remaps

No doubt you are just as confused as your computer would be if I dumped these raw ingredients into it. 

So, how do we transform our cake from inedible to delectable? The oven. And time.

The oven is the motion designer's render. After you take all the ingredients for your animation and arrange the hundreds of layers (just like the recipe calls for) it has to render. It has to bake all the keyframes, codes, masks, effects… It has to take each element and bake them all into one single layer. But once we have our layer or “cake," anyone can enjoy it.

Just like with baking, I can spend as much or as little time prepping the ingredients of a motion graphics piece. I can play with different shades of color or try different timings for keyframes. I can try fading type in versus scaling it in. Once I have it the way I like it, I no longer have control. I have to trust the render gods.

So what happens to your cake if you confused the sugar with salt or used an egg yolk instead of the whites? Back to the mixing bowl. That's why changes can't be turned around in just a couple of seconds. It's really easy to say "this cake would taste a lot better with just a touch more vanilla,”  but it's a lot harder to serve them a new slice with their request granted. 

The next time you ask for a motion graphics piece, keep in mind it’s a process. We start everything from scratch. Once we have our animation all mixed up, we slide it into the oven and have to wait. As it sometimes is with baking, every now and then we run into a recipe that takes longer to bake than it does mix. Just like a homemade cake, we hope the wait is worth it.

Ryan Woolfolk

Ryan Woolfolk