Simulating the 4th Dimension

We've talked about several drawing techniques that can be used to cross boundaries into other dimensions and sensory realms to create the illusion of space and volume. In this session, we will continue breaking boundaries by now simulating motion through various visual cues.

Creating Motion

It's amazing what the human imagination is capable of, especially when given certain visual cues. As we saw in the previous chapters, design elements are constantly used to trick our minds into seeing more than what they really are. The same is true about creating an illusion of motion. What we've seen in this chapter, and what we will further see through the examples in this lesson is that there are just a handful of visual elements that can create this illusion. So, let's dive in.

Motion Blur

Motion blur the technical term for any sort of smear or directional blur that we see in a photograph that is a result of a motion happening faster than a camera's shutter is open. A camera takes a photo by opening a shutter for a short period of time and exposing the film or sensor to the light that comes through the lense. If something moves from one spot to another within the time that the lens has openned and closed, we see in the photo a continual blur from point to point of that objects path of motion.

As a result, whenever we see motion blur in a photo or image, we assume that something has moved quickly. In the example below, you will see a photo that has a much slower shutter speed, meaning the shutter was open longer in order to let in more light. The resulting image is this blurred bus which appears to be flying by.

What is Video

In this video, Michael expains in much more detail how video creates the illusion of motion.


Speed Lines

A technique used frequently in comics and manga is the use of speed lines, which help create the illusion of the background moving all around us. You will often see the lines converging towards a single point and also tapering off at the ends.

Sequential Imagery

 Another way we are tricked into thinking there is movement is when we see the same object repeated multiple times. In our minds, when we see the same thing repeated in different positions, somehow we automatically understand that we are witnessing the passage of time rather than clones of the same object or person.

Strobe Photography

To acheive this effect in photography, we leave the shutter open for a much longer period of time and then turn on a strobe light. This only works if the room is pitch dark and the strobe light is the only source of light. This causes the object or person to be lit and exposed on film multiple times within a single shutter exposure.


To create a "smear" in animation is to actually draw the speed lines, multiple images, or motion blurs into the actual drawings to create the illusion that things are moving even faster. Below is an example of a gif followed by some still frames of that animation. You will see in the still frames that in some cases the character has three arms and in other cases the arm has become stretched out.

Comic Strips

Here is a very clever example that plays with this concept of sequential imaging to incorporate a sort of time-travel element. Traditionally in comics, each cell is considered to be entirely seperate from the others, however, here we see the artist has created a fun interaction between the cells.

Homework: Creating a Comic Strip

Now that we have seen some great examples of how to create the illusion of time passing and motion, I would like you to create your comic strip. Even if you don't have the best drawing skills, it is still possible to create a clever, thought-provoking sequence.

Here are some examples of online comic strips that don't necessarily have the best drawings, but are very popular and have huge followings for the content and comedic value.


To get complete credit for your comic, it must meet the following criteria:

  1. Incorporate motion blur/smears and speed lines at least once.
  2. Fill an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper.
  3. Be comprised of between 2 - 12 cells (individual images).
  4. Be drawn using ink pen, marker, or colored pencil.
  5. Must NOT contain any words.
You will be graded on quality, originality, creativity, and how well you follow directions. Remember - this of this as a PORTFOLIO PIECE. You should spend at the very least an hour on this. Don't save this for the last minute!


As always, please email me if you have any questions!