Why Audio Is the Unsung Hero of Motion Graphics

How to tell a compelling visual story through voice, music, and sound design

Josh Miles
Oct 25, 2019 · 4 min read
Motion Graphic Audio Creation
Motion Graphic Audio Creation
Illustration courtesy of the author.

One of the most powerful tools for this type of storytelling is audio. I believe audio is the unsung hero of any successful motion graphic. While it’s easy to focus on the most immediately apparent element in a motion graphic (the visuals), crafting the right audioscape for your motion graphic is a critical component in achieving the video’s goals.

Our goal is to tell a story so compelling that the audience is moved to take some sort of action.

When thinking about the composite elements of a motion graphic audioscape, we look at three core components:

  • Voice-over
  • Music
  • Sound design

Voice-over provides an opportunity to build a relationship with the viewer. Music establishes mood and provides swells and dips to complement the narrative. Sound design unites all elements of narrative with ambient location sounds and direct-action sound effects to create a robust, immersive experience.

Here’s how to successfully weave these three elements together.

Voice-over

The voice-over in this motion graphic from Kurzgesagt is authoritative and trustworthy, while also employing a humorous tone to maintain engagement.

Before putting out a casting call for voice talent, you need to really understand your audience. Ask yourself:

  • What type of narrator will they best respond to — male or female, old or young, authoritative or conversational?
  • Does your audience want a trusted companion to guide them through a difficult problem? Or perhaps an experienced elder providing wisdom and guidance?

It’s helpful to run demo recordings by members of your target audience to see which voice actors they best connect with.

When it comes to recording and mixing, work with your audio engineer on the technical details. Will the audience respond better to a voice-over with boosted bass and reverb to create a sense of authority and trustworthiness? Or will the audience prefer a softer, more intimate voice-over, like a friend sharing a secret?

Your voice talent and audio engineer both have an incredible amount of control over the mood and tone of your motion graphic. That’s why it’s so important that you direct those abilities properly, in a manner that will best resonate with your audience.

Music

The music in this motion graphic from Chromosphere swells with emotion and matches the pacing of the visuals.

The custom music your composer creates must match and enhance the mood and pacing of your motion graphic. Take the time to share your knowledge of the audience, goals, and vision with your composer so they may gain a complete understanding of the narrative needs of your motion graphic before composing the soundtrack.

Light, acoustic, and upbeat instrumentation will create an inviting and uplifting environment — but can also come across as a faux-friendly corporate jingle. Softer ambient or electronic tones will generally establish a darker, more urgent feel.

Whatever mood the music track should evoke, it is critical that your composer craft a track that matches that mood and flows dynamically with the narrative to build energy at key moments, while allowing for softness and reflection during narrative dips.

Sound design

The sound design in this motion graphic from Killer Visual Strategies situates the viewer in the shifting time periods the narrative moves through.

Sound design often flies under the radar, but it’s actually one of the most versatile tools in your motion graphic toolbox — and it can make or break your motion graphic.

Ambient landscape sounds can fill out a scene with noises like cars passing on a street, wind in the trees, photocopiers in an office, or passersby engaged in conversation. Specific, direct-action sound effects should be employed to draw the viewer’s eye to key moments of animation, such as a button being clicked on a web form or an icon animating into the frame.

Sound design is one of the most versatile tools in your motion graphic toolbox.

Just like the music track, sound design can establish either an inviting and upbeat atmosphere or a moody, subdued environment. So, in order to properly capture the essence of your message, your sound designer must have a thorough understanding of your audience, goals, and vision.

Final mixing

A successful motion graphic requires balance and precision. It creates an audiovisual experience that engages the eyes and ears while delighting the viewer and moving them to action.

Focusing too much or too little on any one piece can cause the narrative to unravel and your audience to lose interest. So when it comes to the final audio mixing, every element must be in harmony with the others.

Ambient location sounds must be strong enough to create a sense of place, but soft enough to not draw overt attention. Music must be sufficiently loud and emotive to establish mood, but not so loud that it overpowers the voice-over. Most audio engineers will employ a limiting effect to subtly squash the music and sound design outputs at the precise moments of voice-over output.

Modus

Helping designers thrive.

Josh Miles

Written by

President & Chief Creative Officer at Killer Visual Strategies | Contributor to The Visual Marketer | killervisualstrategies.com

Modus

Modus

Helping designers thrive. A Medium publication about UX/UI design.

Josh Miles

Written by

President & Chief Creative Officer at Killer Visual Strategies | Contributor to The Visual Marketer | killervisualstrategies.com

Modus

Modus

Helping designers thrive. A Medium publication about UX/UI design.

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