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Motion as future and fantasy

Motion as future and fantasy

January 22, 2024

When film and TV set out to create idyllic utopias, futuristic dystopias and magical fantasy settings, many of them find themselves populating their background worldbuilding with a similar thing: marketing that moves.

Moving from where we were, to where we want to be

Whether it’s magic or superior technology, there’s something captivating about bringing an inanimate object to life with motion. So why do we see this so often? Well, technically, there are two reasons. The first is that, when forging alternate fantastical worlds, writers will concoct outlandish settings and strange creatures. But if you go too far, your concept becomes too alien and incomprehensible for the audience.

Case in point, if you were to travel back in time and describe 21st century life to someone living in 1500s England, they wouldn’t have the reference points to start to describe electricity, let alone a phone. So we take everyday relatable things we’re familiar with and boost them.

The second reason works on a more deep-seated psychological level. So much of our collective history was born out of movement. Babies learn to crawl, walk and run, entire peoples migrate and explore, transport sends us further, and film cameras capture it all. Because, over millennia, we have learned that motion is a sign of progress. Thus, the more it moves the more marvellous it becomes.

Motion as set dressing

But the idea of marketing in motion, isn’t necessarily used to reflect the utopian or dystopian nature of the story. This is because it’s treated as background furniture. Something commonplace for the characters but just out of reach for us.

In the 2006 film Children of Men, the world has been hit by a wave of infertility. And with the youngest person on the planet being eighteen years old, many nations have fallen into a wave of depression, hopelessness and misery. It goes without saying, this obviously falls into the dystopia category.

But when the film came out, along with the horrors of the reality of this alternate 2027, you could see traces of a not so unrecognisable future – through the technology. The very opening shot details a report of an assassination, with everyone in a coffee shop watching a TV. For all intents and purposes, this could be our world. It’s only when the lead character steps out into the street that we notice every building, every bus and van is plastered with screens, showing moving images.

Children of Men

Screens as far as the eye can see

Similarly in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002), we are introduced to America in 2054; where telepaths can sense a crime before it has even happened. Again, the world at large, mostly resembles the one we live in today but takes trends of the early 2000s to the extreme. To illustrate the possibility of a not-so-distant future, this now twenty year old film showed Tom Cruise stepping into a shopping mall, only to be bombarded by custom tailored holographic advertising, sweeping floor-to-ceiling dynamic billboards and mobile logos spinning in storefronts.

It comes off as an almost overwhelming cacophony of sound and vision. How could anyone possibly keep up in a world that moves this fast? But the truth is, 2022 moves a lot faster. Look around a busy city these days, anything with a screen moves in a similar way. And that’s before we even talk about the screens we carry around in our bags and pockets.

Enchanting motion

Stepping away from hellscapes and authoritarian police states, let’s talk about fantasy. Let’s talk about magic. If anything, the technology in Harry Potter is archaic. It’s rooted in old, crooked stone buildings on antiquated streets. So how does this apply in the same way as an advanced, cutting-edge city? Simple. Through paintings, posters and newspapers.

For those living in a world of spells and wizards – the same as those inhabiting science fiction settings – copy alone isn’t enough. A wanted poster with a mugshot is brought to life with a furious, snarling criminal. Every headline is accompanied by, essentially, a short looping video. And every painting is a living scene.

And this isn’t a new theory, we’ve been doing this for decades. In Back To The Future Part II the fictional ‘Jaws 19‘ is advertised with a towering digital shark that bites passers-by, gargantuan billboards smother skyscrapers in Blade Runner, and we even see things like videophones from 1927’s Metropolis. Whether we’re talking about holographic projections, slimline screens or enchanted paper, it’s all the same thing – a world full of wonder because of an abundance of motion.

Examples all around us

As the projected future of fiction becomes our past, and technology that once seemed extraordinary is now everyday, what’s holding companies back from incorporating motion more?

Well, there is of course, overkill. For those old enough to remember, the early days of the internet saw personal geocities sites flooded with tiny rudimentary gifs that smothered… whatever those sites were trying to achieve. Ultimately, it’s about finding the perfect balance between elevation and distraction. Allowing all the elements to work in harmony.

And even though we haven’t mastered the perfect way to physically print this sort of effect, the digital space is all over it. A prime example of this, is the rise of animated magazine covers. Take the announcements for Time Magazine’s biggest topics, or the recent Entertainment Weekly cover promoting the latest season of The Boys – which shows a dynamic scene that moves into the eventual static magazine cover.

Tomorrow, today

No matter how cinema and television depict these exciting wondrous worlds going forward, we are all collectively aware (even if only on a subconscious level) that motion is the way forward. It’s just a case of realising how many of these tools are ready at our disposal right now.