Motion Lines

I’ve been reading a lot of comics recently and have been interested in the art of drawing movement and how comic imagery has influenced me since enjoying Billy Whizz in the 70s.

In Scott McClouds celebrated comic book ‘Understanding Comics (The Invisible Art)’ he distinguishes 4 main techniques for representing motion within a single frame.

Motion Lines
These are the most used – lines following the paths that objects have passed through (or will pass through) in space. Here’s one; The Thing losing it.

Multiple Images
This is the Marey one, multiple exposures.

Streaking Effects
A mix of the above two. Gene Colan began incorporating these photographic blurring effects in the 70’s. Harder to find these ones.

Background Streaking
The camera / artists moves with the moving object – which stays in focus over a blurred background. This is often used in manga comics and also sports photography.

Scott then asks if there could be any other ways?

I think the continuous studies i’ve been looking at may qualify as a different way. Essentially they extend the multiple images until every position passed through in space is part of the final image. Paradoxically despite showing all the movement these images look still, so they present motion in a less obvious way. You have to infer the motion. This image is a view from below of the final sculpture I plan to mkae. It is grabbed from Rhino and then I’ve added a crude blur to try and represent the kind of image you might see in a continuous motion comic.


Here’s the abstract from a Phd on motion lines, from Takahiro Kawabe1 and Kayo Miura1 at the User Science Institute, Kyushu University, Japan 2006

Artists and cartoonists are able to dexterously depict a running person on paper with the aid of ‘motion lines’. We scientifically examined whether the cognitive system can exploit motion lines in constructing memory representations of the location of a running person depicted in a still image. A target depicting a standing or a running person with or without motion lines was presented to participants for 500 ms. Observers were required to reproduce the location of the target 1 s after its disappearance. Data from depicted leftward and rightward moving persons were collapsed. Memory displacement of the target was shown to be largest in the presence of motion lines and a posture indicating an identical direction of movement. By assessing the absolute localization error, we showed that there was no localization advantage toward a target with a symmetrical (standing) posture over one with an asymmetrical (running) posture. Our findings indicate synergetic interaction between the mechanisms responsible for processing of motion lines and human postures in the representation of dynamic events.

So they work.


Motion lines have been appeared in film too. From the Bionic Man & Woman in the 70s, special effects have advanced up to the present cutting edge effects of Bullet Time as seen in The Matrix and The watchmen (both films heavily steeped in graphic novel tradition)

Bullet time slows down the time-based medium of cinema and allows the camera to pan around the motion, which has an effect of embossing the action on the eye, even more than the long standing use of slow motion. Often these sequences are violent, or involve dramatic changes in position – where the action is faster than the eye. By adding CGI motion lines the effect can be hightened further. Spiderman swinging through a 3D recreation of New York is a good example, where a more blurred image increases the eye’s belief in what it is seeing.


One other thing that struck me about the models i’ve been making is how often the figures themselves look like some strange sort of mutated comic character – or super-hero. By multiplying limbs or extending the boundaries of a body part, or breaking a form apart I’ve often created super-normal versions of the human form. This is the first time i’ve used 3D software and in this regard it has been great fun to be able to experience these mutations and be able to pan around them in the software.

Here are a few examples:


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