An Introduction to Motion Graphics Software

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An Introduction to Motion Graphics Software

From flying logos to animated shapes to full-length feature films, motion graphics have become widely used today.

It does not come as a surprise then that business owners are also realising the potential of motion graphics for promotional videos. It is versatile in storytelling, it produces professional and eye-catching videos, and it costs cheaper as opposed to hiring a whole film crew and equipment.

As the demand grows, so do the tools needed to accomplish animated videos.

Knowing your way around motion graphics software can help you pinpoint which one would best suit the project you have in mind.

3D Motion Graphics Software

Animating objects in a three-dimensional landscape started gaining traction in the ‘90s when Pixar’s Toy Story came out.

Since then, it has evolved from filmmaking to being used in various industries like education, architecture, and business.

Some of the 3D software used today include:

1. Cinema 4D

Maxon’s Cinema 4D suite is one of the top software you can use for integrating 3D elements into your project. With its simple interface, the usability and learning curve is especially helpful to those who are just starting out with 3D.

If you come from a graphics background using Photoshop and After Effects, you will find the transition fairly smooth. Seasoned professionals find Cineware—a feature that allows for easy integration of 3D scenes into After Effects—a nifty tool to have. The MoGraph toolset is another notable feature, as it makes it easy to create logo animations and abstract effects.

Cinema 4D is best used for 3D animation and 3D modelling. Although big-budget films use it, it’s fast rendering also makes it perfect for broadcast production.

Creating the parallel worlds and characters in The Golden Compass is one example of the use of this software.

2. Nuke

Be it for movies or TV, The Foundry’s Nuke is widely used for post-production editing. It is made especially for high-end and 3D compositing.

Providing an alternative to layer-based editing (where a layer panel sorts the assets in descending order), Nuke is instead built on a node-based system. Nodes are used to represent various elements, and effects are produced by how a node interacts with another node.

The node-based system tends to be confusing, especially if you come from a layer-based software like After Effects. However, its powerful features would be worth studying it, as you can combine live action footage with CG elements, import 3D models to your Nuke project, or create complete scenes from scratch.

The title sequence, for instance, of Marvel’s Deadpool is created using Nuke.

Note that Nuke is created for those who want to produce visual effects. As such, it would not be a good fit if you are only looking to edit videos.

3. Fusion

Similar to Nuke, Blackmagic’s Fusion (previously known as eyeon Fusion) is also a node-based digital compositing software.

Its latest version allows for virtual reality support, on top of the new camera and planar tracking features, advanced keyframing, titling, GPU acceleration, and paint. It is best used for 3D compositing and particle generation.

Among its roster of visual effects for big Hollywood movies and TV shows include The Hunger Games, Dr. Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy, NCIS, and American Horror Story. Nuke is also used for image compositing of Avatar characters.

4. Maya

Before Cinema 4D came out, Autodesk’s Maya dominated the 3D animation landscape. It is used mainly for film, television, and video games, boasting of titles such as Monsters vs Aliens, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, South Park, and video games Halo Wars 2 and Call of Duty: Black Ops III.

It can process high-end 3D renders and animation. The software has a cloth and particle physics engine, as well as a MASH toolset that allows for creating quicker visual effects. It’s also well known for creating interoperability tools with other software.

You can use this for high-end 3D modelling, 3D animation, and texturing. Do note that Maya has a steeper learning curve compared to its counterparts. The good side to this is that starting with Maya means you will find other interfaces easier to adapt to.

5. Houdini

If you want to modify hundreds or thousands of models in the least amount of time, Houdini is the best way to do it.

Created by Toronto-based Side Effects Software, Houdini is a sophisticated and flexible 3D animation tool using a node-based system. Its toolset is best used for animation, modelling, and lighting, making it a powerful tool for visual effects like particle simulations, pyro effects, fluids, and dynamic simulations.

You would not need any plugins as everything is inside the software. However, similar to Maya, there is also a steep learning curve involved. The characters and setting of Walt Disney’s Zootopia’s were created using Houdini.

Here at Ocula, we specialise in using Houdini in producing our video and motion design projects.

2D Motion Graphics Software

Characterised by moving characters and objects in a two-dimensional environment, 2D animation has long been the norm right up to the boom of 3D movies.

A few tools used to create 2D motion graphics include:

1. After Effects

A layer-based software, Adobe After Effects is a combination of video editing and photo editing tool. It is ubiquitous in motion graphics productions, thanks to its features allowing for creating, compositing, and stylizing 2D layers in a 3D landscape.

It can be used for many things, making it a favourite among professionals. For instance, a VFX artist can use it to render 3D footage, a video editor might use it for title design, or an animator can use it to create 2D cartoon characters.

Its massive plugin library is also of great help. After Effects is, however, limited in its footage editing capabilities. You can use this for 2D animation, graphics, animation, or logo reveals.

The HUD visual effect for Iron Man 3 used After Effects.

Flash (Adobe Animate CC)

Flash became widely known for its use in web browsers, although it is also used to develop user interfaces.

It is considered as one of the oldest tools in animation making, with its history stretching back to the early days of online publishing. Similar to Adobe products, Flash is intuitive, easy to use, interactive, and creates small file sizes—perfect for online animation.

Flash is also known to produce cartoon shows. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is animated using Flash.

Various video streaming sites like YouTube support Flash videos. However, Apple products do not support Flash streaming leading to much of the decline in its use. Search engines also do not crawl Flash animations.

Stop Motion Software

Stop motion or stop frame animation is created by capturing an object’s movement one frame at a time. When played back, the sequence creates the illusion of movement.

Dragonframe is gaining rapid recognition as the go-to software when producing stop-motion animation. Its features provide a wide array of animation and cinematography tool, control for supported cameras and videos, as well as a well-organised post-production interface.

The Little Prince, a hybrid stop-motion computer-generated film, is animated using Dragonframe.

Cel Animation Software

Cel animation, or traditional animation, is created by drawing each frame by hand. This is how 2D animation of old was created using the following software:


Flash animation is like traditional animation, except that it adds digital elements to the production.

Take, for example, the Japanese animated TV series Ping Pong. The animators employed the same features of Flash (e.g. motion tweens, symbols), but produced a cartoon that does not resemble an awkward and cheap video; rather, a professional and visually-stimulating anime.


Adobe Photoshop has established itself as the number one photo-editing software. However, it can also be used for creating limited animations and 3D objects that are good for short projects like looping gifs or animated logos.

Lots of photographers and multimedia professionals are already comfortable using Photoshop, so it does not come as a surprise that they would also use it to create videos. Some use image stills coupled with videos, create a digital cell animation video or turn images to animation.

Which Software Should You Use?

Although plenty of professionals tend to pit one software against another, it is important to realise that each tool has its own characteristics.

Remember that using motion graphics to get your message across continues to be a great aspect of any business’ marketing arsenal. Your choice of software should then fall on which one would deliver your project using a process that you will feel most comfortable.

Feel free to contact us and let us know what your organisation needs to establish your brand and promote your product/service.