4 ways “Don’t Blink” is a masterclass of type and rhythm

Editor’s note: Apple restricts how its creative partners promote the work they create for Apple. We have omitted the name of the studio responsible for creating “Don’t Blink” at the studio’s request.


“Don’t Blink” is a breathless, high-stepping dance between word and image set to a percussion-heavy soundtrack befitting a trailer for a summer blockbuster.

Intended to recap the highlights of Apple’s September 7th press event unveiling the iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus and Apple Watch Series 2, the piece sheds Apple’s usual cooler-than-thou aloofness for a visual language intent on communicating one thing above all else: swagger.

Here are some of the techniques that contribute to the project’s emotional impact.

1. Animating at the speed of perception

Apple’s marketing style has long been “less is more,” a mantra that applies equally to copywriting and image-making.

Vintage iMac ad (circa 1999)

Vintage iMac ad (circa 1999)

The on-screen text of “Don’t Blink” is comprised almost entirely of one- and two-syllable words, a crucial constraint for sustaining the break-neck reading pace throughout the film. Most words appear on screen for only five to seven frames. With a 29.97 framerate, that’s roughly two tenths of second per word, give or take a few hundredths of a second.

The average adult English reader consumes around 300 words per minute — or five words a second. Again assuming a 29.97 framerate, that’s roughly one word every two tenths of a second, right in line with the animation’s pace.

So even though the words appear to be popping onto the screen at the edge of comprehension, they are in comfortably in line with most people’s normal reading speed. It’s the one-at-a-time animation that conveys a sense of urgency and excitement. Simple but effective.

2. Animating the signified

Part of the appeal of typographic animations is their ability to collapse the dichotomy of signifier and signified.

In this sequence, “the design has been” is visually re-engineered into the word “re-engineered”

In plain English: You can animate the meaning of the word or phrase using the word or phrase itself. The result is a witty underscoring of select messages that functions like a mini-puzzle, spicing up otherwise predictable patterns of verbal presentation and keeping the viewer engaged.

3. Employing time as a character

If “Don’t Blink” maxed out its speedometer and simply stayed full throttle for all 107 seconds, we’d get bored, no matter how much clever imagery is packed on the timeline.

Thankfully, time itself becomes a supporting character in the project, even supplying an erudite punchline here and there. To illustrate the point, let’s look at two sequences.

The first sequence uses slick sleight of hand to transform the word “to” into a water balloon as time melts into slow motion. After a moment of anticipation, the temporal curve is flattened out, dipping us into a delightfully surreal moment of metamorphosis as the balloon’s latex magically gives way to water.

The second sequence comes much later in the piece, after a crescendo of sound and imagery has built up our expectations to near orgasmic heights.

Expecting an explosive resolution, we’re instead dumped into an elegant product lockup of AirPods accompanied by a door bell chime. The sudden stop in this minimal whitespace is so unexpected, it’s refreshingly — dare I say it? — funny.

4. Breaking the plane

Although there are ample CG product shots throughout “Don’t Blink,” nearly all of the action occurs in 2D space on an XY plane, like a cocaine-addled Keynote presentation with all the animations set to stun.

But there’s one moment that z-space drops in to say hello, again with humorous effect.

This gag didn’t come cheap. But as a grin-inducing way to interrupt a dizzying litany of technical specs, it pays off. Just when we might drift off like some hungover college student, boom! — we’re back in.

Doing it better than everyone else

There is nothing earth-shatteringly new or ground-breaking in “Don’t Blink.” The animation and editing techniques are decades old, and you’ll find dozens of other similar works online.

But the level of craftsmanship is superb and rare. It’s a singular study in balance: details versus storytelling, cleverness versus clarity, tension versus release.

In less refined examples of typographic animation, you often see unrestrained over-animation, baroque attempts to jam cleverness into every nook and cranny with no concern for the gestalt. Or worse: animation curves so divinely smooth that the type appears to slide around senselessly like jelly beans on ice, regardless of the meaning conveyed by the words themselves.

“Don’t Blink” shows what maturity and mastery look like in the realm of motion design. Type, image and sound are inextricably linked in a powerful troika that feels effortlessly confident, despite the hard work behind it.

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About the author

Justin Cone

/ justincone.com
Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer and F5. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.

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  • jg1

    Great work by someone! What is the mindset behind large companies restricting their creative partner’s ability to promote their work?

    • Stephen Kelleher

      Yeah, why would a company founded by Steve ‘The Original Genius’ Jobs want to omit credit for the incredible work done by others?!?! Oh wait . . .

    • navysisomphou

      This phenomenon is not exclusive to Apple

      • No one said it was. But okay.

        • navysisomphou

          was referring to jg1’s comment, not the article

          • jg1 said “large companies,” meaning more than just Apple. So still a little confused by your comment. Oh well.

          • navysisomphou

            oh, i didn’t catch that part. i guess that’s on me. thanks for clearing that up. sorry for the redundancy…

  • jds580s

    “Most words appear on screen for only five to seven frames. With a 29.97 framerate, that’s roughly two hundredths of second per word”

    Check that math again. The smallest increment of 29.97 video (a single frame) can only be as little as roughly one thirtieth of a second. Multiple frames make that time longer not shorter.

    Great piece though, excellent use of type and timing.

    • Oh dear. Math. Okay, let’s see here.

      So as you say, 1 frame at 29.97 equals 1/30 of a second, or .03 seconds. Five frames is .15 seconds, six frames is .18 and seven frames is .21 seconds, no?

      The average of those three is .18, rounded up to .2 — or two hundredths.

      I can feel I’ve done something wrong… I just don’t see it. Gulp!

      • jds580s

        No biggie, just off by a decimal. The .2 is two tenths of a second not two hundredths.

        • Insert giant facepalm here. Thanks for the heads up on this, though!

  • Neerav Doshi

    Beautiful deconstruction and breakdown of this piece. Thanks Justin. Your masterclass critique shines here as an example, just like the video itself.

  • Very nicely executed

  • David Lowdermilk

    The mic drop at the end wasn’t cordless – WTF are they thinking?!!! ☺

  • Donavon Brutus

    Back when I and everyone else was only doing Kinetic text my preference was 5 frames per syllable at 29.97. Sometimes 8 if w/o VO.

    Enjoyed this dissection, almost more helpful than the standard making of. Would be cool to see on future pieces.

    • Ty

      I wouldn’t be surprised if, in recent years, our ability to absorb information at this pace (5 frames per word, as stated in the article) has increased. I wonder if the 2004 version of myself would have been able to follow this visual language?

      Also agree that this article was well done and would love to see more pieces like this.

      • Donavon Brutus

        That’s a good question. So often I watch great older movies, and still feel like they’re slow paced.

        In sharing this with some of my older editor coworkers they felt it was way too fast. Younger ones loved it.

  • Jason King

    Well said! I’ve shared this article with my college’s facebook page :)

  • Michelle Higa Fox

    Gretel defenitely made the technique their own, but I want to give a shout out to Motionographer Classic “Dakota” by Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries (Marc Voge and Young-hae Chang). Made in 2001 and still strong – http://www.yhchang.com/DAKOTA.html (Warning: swearing)