Oct 12, 2021
At this point, motion graphics are almost a part of YouTube’s DNA. Subscribe to any popular channel (or even a less popular one) and you’re pretty much guaranteed to see a snazzy intro or highlight reel.
These animated pieces serve multiple purposes for content creators. On one hand, they hold a viewer’s interest. But they also meet audience expectations — because they’re so popular, these days you almost have to have motion graphics to prove you’re a legit.
To help you start tapping into this resource, we’ll go over the popular uses of motion graphics for YouTubers.
But first, we need to set some boundaries. What are motion graphics? Aren’t they the same thing as animation?
Just because something is animated doesn’t qualify it as “animation” — at least not in the traditional sense. Both motion graphics and animation have artistic elements and visual design, but the roles they play (and the creation process) really set the two apart.
Think of motion graphics as a graphic design element that moves. Usually there’s text involved or a logo, like a title sequence. (The Star Wars opening scroll counts.) And motion graphics are much simpler than, say, a hand-animated character in a Disney-Pixar film.
This video gives a pretty succinct look at the five categories of animation used by most visual artists.
To pull a quote from Bloop Animation’s video, “Motion graphics is the art of creatively moving graphic elements or text.”
While artists can use the same software to make both, motion graphics can also be made in plug-and-play templates or web apps. That makes them more accessible and has helped establish motion graphics as a popular tool for YouTubers to make their channel stand out.
I could write a series of articles about how motion graphics are used on YouTube, because pretty much every channel uses them a little differently. But we can group all of that into four larger buckets that most popular examples fit into.
Let’s break those four examples down.
Pull up a video from your favorite channel or creator and you will almost definitely see some sort of animated intro, whether it’s a 1-second screen or a 5-second montage straight out of an MCU film.
This is where motion graphics became a recognized (and, in some ways, expected) piece of YouTube content creation. YouTubers know that the first few seconds will make or break a video.
Motion graphics provide a recognized “branding” and visual interest right off the bat. For YouTube, that usually means a logo or unique UI element — things that can carry over to the look of your channel, or even your social media and merchandise.
This video highlights a few dozen ways that a logo can be transformed (via motion graphics) into a cool YouTube intro.
...which leads us right into the second most popular use for motion graphics on YouTube.
We associate successful channels with recognizable branding. And that makes it the second most popular use of motion graphics for YouTubers. (You could argue that technically an intro is part of a channel’s brand, but it’s worth separating them anyway.)
Animated logos, notifications, and lower-thirds are all major indicators of a good YouTuber brand. Even if a video never includes your face, or even features a guest or collaborator, people will still associate it with your channel.
Here’s an example of how a company used motion graphics to connect its brand with some creative and memorable video content.
That’s the power of good visual branding, and it’s a pretty easy way to turn motion graphics into the “look and feel” that makes your channel unique.
Longer videos that cover multiple subjects need some sort of visual cue to line up with any change in topic. They’re things you often see in vlogs, but that sort of content is known to set trends that the rest of YouTube eventually follows.
Motion graphics give YouTubers an easy avenue to create interesting transitions that hold audience attention, even when the conversation changes.
And if you can incorporate your visual brand into these transitions, you’ll be knocking out two goals at once. You get to remind the viewer whose channel they’re watching (and give them a chance to subscribe and hit that bell) while also impressing them with sweet motion graphics.
Explainer videos, whiteboard videos, animated tutorials — they’re all different (and often confused) names for the same basic idea. And all of them use motion graphics.
A lot of popular educational channels rely on motion graphics to illustrate something or add humor to a topic that some people might consider boring.
The fact that this video is called a “motion graphic explainer video” doesn’t really leave a whole lot of room for me to tell you what it does.
My personal favorite is Kurzgesagt — In a Nutshell. (Crazy name, but the use of motion graphics keeps me watching even when it’s a topic I have zero interest in.) The channel’s 2D animation style is fairly similar to a lot of motion graphic styles you can use yourself.
And speaking of finding motion graphics...
Now that you know what motion graphics are and how people use them on YouTube, the next obvious question is: “Okay, and where do I find them to use on my channel?”
(You can get free motion graphics in our YouTube Creators Pack.)
The easiest way to find motion graphics is to hire a graphic artist to make them for you. Of course, that’s also the most expensive route you can take. And if you’re just starting your YouTube channel, you may not have a thousand dollars to spend on a sweet intro.
But you aren’t backed into any corners here. You can find a few different tools online, like Behance or Motion Array. You can even use something like Canva to try and build something yourself with existing tools, but that can be pretty time consuming if you don’t have graphic design skills.
These online marketplaces and tools don’t sell custom motion graphics for YouTubers, which might be a little disappointing. But they can be great places to start your search before you’re able to invest in something totally unique.
That’s the end goal, of course. No content creator is happy using second hand assets. So if you really want all the benefits that come with motion graphics, you’re going to have to drop some cash and get 100% custom pieces that help you establish your channel on YouTube.