Costs of War

QuickTime version

“Costs of War” is exactly the kind of thing that makes me believe in motion graphics. For the moment, put the subject matter aside. Maybe you agree with its message, maybe you don’t. Regardless, the method of communication is undeniably powerful. Let’s try to break down why this—and other visual essays like it—are such powerful creations.

  1. Unity. The visuals, soundtrack and writing are united as one. Each is not there to bolster or decorate the other; they are interdependent and inextricably linked. The iconic graphics are instantly recognizable, allowing us to divvy up our remaining perceptual resources between the text and the animation.
  2. Brevity. Two minutes or less. Our world is full of distractions and obligations. Motion designers are among the most attention deficit disordered people on the planet, so they understand this reality all too well. Motion design, in turn, should be short and sweet—or sour, in the case of this particular project.
  3. Intensity. Despite what Michael Bay might think, intensity has nothing to do with NPM (Number of Explosions per Minute). Nor does it have anything to do with the number of elements in a scene or the gusto with which they enter/exit. Intensity increases as complexity decreases. Like any good essay, “Costs of War” focuses on one central argument and then pummels viewers with data to support that argument.

The project was created by Bran Dougherty-Johnson, who has a personal connection to the United States’ ongoing overseas conflicts. There are several startling statistics relating the costs of war available here and here.

But without the all important element of time, statistics alone feel disposable, ineffectual. By bringing them into the fourth dimension, Bran made them undeniable and real. You can feel the money draining away as the video marches purposely forward. The playhead becomes a slow-motion guillotine, along with all its attendant anxieties and urgencies to do something. Now.

About the author

Justin Cone

Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. 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.



One of the most concise and to the point pieces like it. Kudos to those doing personal work for good causes.

John H

Visually clean and to the point, awesome job man… Hats off to Bran!!!


Awesome, very effective! Nice one Bran! :-D


The focus on money is an insult. I believe a mograph piece on the suffering unleashed on the people of Iraq would carry some weight.
The rest of the world does not give a good Goddamn how much your illegal invasion of Iraq costs in monetary terms.
What worries right thinking people is the carnage and obscenity meted out by a misguided and ignorant country on another of greater culture and ancient history.
What is terrifying is the creeping realization that Americans are so in awe of their own corrupt and parochial media that they have lost the ability to focus on the world they live in and act like adults.
The invasion, was and is, about oil and the geo political aspirations of Israel.


hey wiremu,

looks like you need to get to it! when should we expect to see a final?

Simon Robson

I sympathise with your argument, although the “bollocks” bit doesn’t help. I too was waiting for some sting in the tail which would mention the human cost of the war.

I think it’s valid to focus on how much the US is spending, after all, this should be a huge motivator for US citizens to want to pur an end to this farce.

However, i agree that no matter what the US is spending, it is of no consequence, set against the 84,910 – 92,614 documented “civilian” deaths since the conflicts began, never mind the millions of displaced.


Oh yeahs another thing is why do americans focus only on U.S. casualties and money?

How about the 1/2 million+ iraqi deaths since the invasion?

I agree with wiremu. This piece is a self-indulging.


I agree wholeheartedly.

John McCain

Is it ok to Unconditionally Meet with Anti-American Foreign Leaders?


Simon Robson

Also Justin, i totally don’t agree with your “two minutes or less” point, and I’m not sure I suffer from ADD. Although not “motion design”, Adam Curtis’s documentaries can keep me riveted for 4 hours straight. I think the time you take depends on how you want to communicate your message…


I guess my post is a little unclear on that point. I meant that effective *visual essays* are usually two minutes or less in length, not ALL videos/films. And it’s not an ironclad rule, of course. Just trying to make a point that for “get out the vote” messages like Bran’s, shorter is almost always better.

Simon Robson

Bran’s accomplished film is certainly effective at this length. I just wouldn’t want anyone with a great idea to shy away from making it in its entirety, just because it would go beyond 2 mins. But the rule of “Why use 10 words when one will due” certainly holds water, I’ll give you that :)

John H

wiremu, the loss of life has been extremely significant and unfortunate so I don’t think anybody here would argue with you on your statement. But, I think taking the time like Bran did to create a powerful message on one facet of the war benefits those that oppose the war. It’s just one more tool we can use to help persuade the undecided voter. Is it the most significant aspect to the war, of course not and I’m sure he won’t disagree with you.

Another positive note about this project, although this piece won’t fulfill your outlook, this piece will probably inspire many others in the mograph community to take action and create their own animation. So putting visual critique aside, the effort alone makes it worthwhile. Hopefully it will inspire you(wiremu) to create an animation regarding the loss of life instead of taking the time to tell Bran he wasted his time…


Thanks John H!

I am already planning a series of follow-up pieces: at least one of which will focus on more on casualties and the loss of both Iraqi and US Military lives / wounds / injuries. This topic is obviously not finished and there are many facets of it. Focusing on the enormous $$$ being spent on the war was a first step in explaining the magnitude of the problem and also a way to put the focus on a more positive use for that gigantic debt we’re running up. And, no it’s not buying hummers. ;)


Thanks for the calm and considered responses to my rather heavy post.
What I think about the graphics themselves is unimportant, and I agree that I could be making a piece myself…
I also agree that this is, at the very least, a vehicle for thought and discussion on the matter-so hats off to Bran D-J.
I admire the maturity of this forum; thanks again and over and out!

Reality Check

“Last year, spending in Iraq amounted to less than 1 percent of the total economy — about as much as Americans spent shopping online and less than half what they spent at Wal-Mart. Total defense spending is 4 percent of gross domestic product, the figure that measures the nation’s economic output. In contrast, defense spending ate up 14 percent of GDP at the height of the Korean War and 9 percent during the Vietnam War.”

At it’s height, WW2 was 33%



I already mentioned this being a self-indulging piece focusing only on American loss and money.

However i’m not saying it’s total crap at all. I like it.

But i also want to mention something else. Why does it feel as if there’s always some excuse and explanation made here on Motionographer for simple motion graphics pieces like these? Do we really need to compare videos and bash other examples? The list of points Justin has made for this post just proves my assumption. He’s trying to justify the simple aspect of this video in a world full of lush and complex animations with a kind of passive-aggressive attack on other less simple motiongraphic pieces. As if that is really necessary when every piece is different, with a different background and has it’s own reason for why it is as it is.

But in the same breath he’s cheering about Psyop like animations and how he’s in awe of their complexities and technical awesomness.

Really inconsequential at times and i’m kind of tired of subtle passive-aggressive comparisons in some posts on here.

John H

BTW, this video is 5th on the Top 20 Viral videos so again, this goes back to what I said in my above post, “create a powerful message on one facet of the war benefits those that oppose the war. It’s just one more tool we can use to help persuade the undecided voter.”

I’ll say again, GREAT job Bran!!!


I can’t believe its all about money in the USA. Yeah right, leave the mess behind you yanks created to save yourself some money now. What about social responsibilities? And what about all those lost lives, I’m not talking about 4000 US soldiers, I’m talking about tens of thousands of innocent peoples lives. This piece of work has no design value and it only promotes a political idea, what is it doing on a website for motion graphics, please?


How about this:

How do soldiers killing soldiers solve the worlds problems?


Pete: I completely agree with you. I think that Justin likes this kind of pieces because there’s so much more content in them compared to a car any car ad, simple because it is a more important issue. But it’s kinda unfair to compare one thing to another. You can’t make a car ad based on simplicity because probably there isn’t much to be said. :P


I suppose you guys see what you want to see. I don’t think I made any mutually exclusive remarks in my post. I thought I made it clear I was talking about visual essays:

“Let’s try to break down why this—and other visual essays like it—are such powerful creations.”

I didn’t say:

“Let’s try to break down why this—and other visual essays like it—are such powerful creations, and why car commercials suck.”

I love all motion graphics. I couldn’t have maintained this site for nearly five years if I didn’t. I was merely trying to point out why this one (and similar pieces like it) are effective.

At any rate, thanks for trying to go meta on the discussion. It’s always good for me to step back and look at my posts a bit. Keeps me on my toes. :)

Reality Check


You find this effective because you agree with it, as do the majority of your readers. I’m looking forward to the visual essay on the horrors of Islamic terrorism, abortion or that takes a critical look at gay marriage. I’m not holding my breath.


Thanks for telling me why I like this. I had no idea.


Why not drop the attitude and do it yourself?


Worst powerpoint presentation ever.

The war is not about oil it’s about selling green cars.
Bush did it.he made sure oil prices got up .And now people won’t think twice about buying a green car.
By the time yo read my reply another green car ad was made.
Visual essay = Buck’s AAA spots

Simon Robson

And you back up this rather “interesting” claim with what evidence? Do you have any articles / evidence that you can refer us to? Or is this just another m’ographer comments “hit & run”…


Some people are so impressionable :)


Just do a search green car ads @ google . Then try Car ads.
When you see the results you could almost feel the earth cooling down.

Simon Robson

but the George W. Bush administration reduced funding for research into cleaner, more efficient vehicles, and proposed a 27% reduction in renewable energy research and development. How does that figure with your argument?


Money should be last reason to leave Iraq, You reap what you sow. Take responsibilty for what you’ve done.

As for the vid, pretty straightforward with tedious and repitive sound and the idea itself? not exactly ground breaking is it?


I completely agree with you. The focus on the military budget in this video is purely because it can be quantified. There is no way to put a price or a number or anything tangible on human life.

Thousands of American soldier’s lives, IMHO, have been wasted in this war. Hundreds of thousands more have been wounded and are now going to struggle with their injuries for the rest of their lives. 1.2 Million Iraqi lives (by the best estimates) have been wasted in a struggle over what? Oil? Democracy? Ancient tribal / religious / feudal differences? To make KBR and Halliburton CEOs more money? Bush’s Oedipal complex? I suspect its a little bit of all of these.

I take none of this lightly. And as an American citizen and voter I feel responsible for it. I regret it mightily.

As for the video, yes, it’s not at all groundbreaking. And it’s not at all intended to be. Tedious, repetitive and dull. Statistics and war. Death and taxes. All I want to do is get the information out there. Do with it what you will.


Welcome to the now Political Forum of Motionographer. I applaud Bran for taking this step and opening the door to more important issues in our community today other than buying the next playstation and making “cool shit” for people to buy. This comment list is proof that politics is an important issue to many of us, wether it belongs on Motionographer or not is a totally different kind of politics. If half of us made something as meaningful as Bran did we can persuade thousands of people with our simple or complex visuals. Bravo Bran! You took an important issue you cared about and turned it into a visual piece of political art to share with the world and persuade change.


Agree with Nick.

Yeah screw those 1 to 2 million dead Iraqis, innocent children, refugees, Abu Ghraib style torturing and chaos created by bringing them “democracy”.

Let’s rather think about how many American flags we could buy and how many SUV’s we could fill up instead.

Oh and i’m American by the way.

How about we do some PSA’s for the impeachment and imprisonment of these sons of bitches? The propaganda to invade and bomb Iran is in full gears. And it seems as if they will get away with that one too because we only focus on statistics and we still pet these war-criminals with velvet gloves.

At least make it less U.S.-centric.


I think you missed the point. The point is not to actually to buy every American a flag lapel pin, but to do something useful with the money we’re incurring a ridiculously large debt with. I’d rather see it spent on education, renewable energy policy or healthcare. I’m a liberal. I make no apologies for that.And obviously I’m American, I’m talking about American policy and to American voters.

So, write to your Senators and Representatives. They just passed another War Funding Bill, but we don’t have to re-elect the same idiots in November.

That’s the next step.


Sorry to change the subject, but is that the AE tone filter? :) Congrats for putting it to use!


Yes, yes it is.


interesting piece.

wiremu, you mention “What is terrifying is the creeping realization that Americans are so in awe of their own corrupt and parochial media that they have lost the ability to focus on the world they live in and act like adults.” first, i think you’ve got it wrong. it’s the media that is in awe of themselves. they have the world believing the average american is a gun-toting, bible-thumping, bling-wearing lout. not true. get to know americans — and not just those of college-age — before you make such a sweeping statement.
second, what exactly does it mean for americans to “act like adults?” would it be the adult thing to do to clean up the mess in the far east, middle east and africa begun by european and eastern imperialism? perhaps an adult thing to do would be to liberate those suffering from religious and ethnic persecution throughout the world. perhaps an adult thing to do would be to send more aid to africa than any other nation on earth. sure, the USA has faults and has made grievous errors (what nation hasn’t?), but we accomplish a hell of a lot of good as well. at the very least, we try to clean up our own mess. in other words, consider the totality of our actions as a nation before condemning us as a whole.


hi ya, I realise that not all Americans fit the “Dukes Of Hazard” template, (my favourite American band is 9 Pound Hammer, though), I grew up in Harvard Mass. and New York.
I love New York and I miss the generosity, humour and openness of Americans…
What I should have made clear is that I feel many Americans have trusted their media far too much and have been burnt for it.
I mean this literally. Far too often one hears the depressing accounts of US soldiers in or after Iraq service and their attempts to come to terms with a cynical political decision to invade a sovereign nation and the devastating effects that have ensued, both to themselves and to others.
A more aware population would have reduced the frequency of complaint, I feel.
Imperialism has to be seen in historical context and without global and trans-national media networks and the interweb, world powers and economic chancers got away with hideous crimes; crimes, that you rightly point out, are still resonating…


thanks very much for the cool-headed reply. i wasn’t looking to poke the beehive, but i felt it necessary to point out that we (americans in general) are not all mindless when it comes to reading the news. the story of the current war is so much more comprehensive than most would care to know or believe, for that matter) and the media — ALWAYS looking to poke the beehive — cannot resist ratings at the cost of logical, responsible reporting.

you mention the “depressing accounts of soldiers.” while there are many stories of soldiers’ struggle to re-integrate into society, this is not the case with all of them and this sort of thing is not limited to the current war in iraq. this problem is as old as war itself. the additional problem again falls at the doorstep of the media. how often do you see positive stories about soldiers returning home or the progress being made in iraq? not nearly as many as those with a negative connotation since happy news (in the eyes of the media) apparently is not news and therefore it seems that all the news coming from iraq is bad.

don’t get me wrong, i’m not saying the situation in iraq is all rainbows and unicorn farts. it’s a terrible, ugly, costly (and not just monetarily) business filled with unimaginable horrors, however, please keep an open mind to the possible future benefits to the people, the region and the world as well.
no war is ever “worth it,” but neither is standing idly by and imposing toothless sanctions on a state whose leader commits genocide, terrorizes his own nation’s populace as well as those of surrounding states, and abets terror organizations. this could be said about many leaders throughout the world, but saddam was the dictator du jour and his deposal will hopefully serve as an example of how the US is not a “paper tiger.”

you seem like an intelligent, well-read individual and i very much appreciate your candor. take care!

El Gordo

“What worries right thinking people is the carnage and obscenity meted out by a misguided and ignorant country on another of greater culture and ancient history.
What is terrifying is the creeping realization that Americans are so in awe of their own corrupt and parochial media that they have lost the ability to focus on the world they live in and act like adults.
The invasion, was and is, about oil and the geo political aspirations of Israel.”

-Oh well – not surprising we see one of these posters again.
What is it with the political left and their hatred towards Jews? (usually disguised as hatred towards Zionism or Israel)This conspiracy theory that USA somehow is controlled by Israel is laughable.

Wiremu, you are a very narrow minded and full of prejudice. I don’t agree with the reasons for invading Iraq either, no one in their right mind would, however it must be mentioned to the benefit of the Americans that the Iraq invasion seems to be turning out quite well…

And why are we discussing politics on a graphics forum anyways?
– I like this piece – its simple and effective.
Well done.


Yeah, is it not a shame that we are not concentrating on motion graphics?
Imagine how tedious that would get.

Perhaps I do “hate” Zionism, I find it’s path upsetting.
When the founders of Zionism (ben gurion?) were debating the location of a proposed Jewish state, heimatsland, an utopia; Guyana was put forward as a very serious proposition…
The British government considered Zionists a terrorist group, and members of same, (even a future israeli leader), were directly responsible for the murder of British troops.
In New Zealand, several years ago, two mossad agents were caught red handed as they stole the identity of a dead, crippled child, (amongst others), in order to make New Zealand passports and new identities. They were deported, but their faces were never seen-they covered them up.

I did not say that the US was “controlled” by israel, but if you deny that the jewish lobby in America is powerful or that they had input in the illegal invasion of Iraq then, um…keep in touch, (as woody allen said to the jailor).

Maybe I have misread you but, “it must be mentioned to the benefit of the Americans that the Iraq invasion seems to be turning out quite well…” er yeah… but not if you have watched your 3 year old daughter have her face ripped off. I suppose the ultra-tight US troop guard around the Oil Ministry, (one of very few public buildings in Baghdad not to be ransacked), has worked out to the “benefit of Americans, but looking at all the complaints about gas prices in the US one could be forgiven for a sense of confusion.

If a motion graphics piece is a stimulant for discussion, of any quality, surely that is a good thing, and kudos to all. I wonder what justin and Bran Dougherty-Johnson think…


@El Gordo

Its a fact and its called AIPAC. Have a google and you should come across a documentary film about the Israel lobby and the influence of AIPAC on U.S. Foreign policy.

If you think its gonna get any better with Obama you should’ve seen him speak at a recent AIPAC summit.


Well said.


jewish people and the government of israel are not the same

israel is very much like in the u.s. with very low popular approval of the warmongering military interests, or those sympathetic to these interests that run the executive of the government. Calling any critique of the state of Israel ‘anti-semitism’ is bullshit

i agree, personally i think Obama is way better than MCain by many times over, but for some reason I get this feeling like he could be our Tony Blair

and blanket labeling of ‘conspiracy theories’ is ‘narrow-minded,’ bro. you want a CT, try my link, which now that enough time has passed people will eventually just slowly acknowledge probably WAS a conspiracy.

back to the subject, this is a great thread. it’s encouraging that this many people are sympathetic to the HUMAN cost of this horrible war/era – its just there is so much GOOD QUALITY MEDIA that we comment on all the other days mostly selling us a basically selfish and ignorant lifestyle. nice reel by the way El Gordo

El Gordo

“israel is very much like in the u.s. with very low popular approval of the warmongering military interests, or those sympathetic to these interests that run the executive of the government. Calling any critique of the state of Israel ‘anti-semitism’ is bullshit”

-Trying to debate the whole Israel issue is impossible. Both sides are right and both sides are wrong. And obviously its not antisemitism to critique Israel – I never said that. Grand ideas of Zionist conspiracy theories usually are however, especially when they stem from rednecks in Alabama or the very confused European left.

Checked your link by the way.
I think pretty much the whole world would agree that the Kennedy assassination was a conspiracy – its the mother of all conspiracies.


El Gordo
It is you who brought up conspiracy, and you who are now discussing same.


does anyone fancy a pint?


or six.

Marc B.

By the way today’s headline

“Israel Prodding U.S. To Attack Iran”



El Gordo

“El Gordo
It is you who brought up conspiracy, and you who are now discussing same.”

-Two different things.
One was a succesful conspiracy to murder a US president.
The other is a perceived conspiracy of one nations “geopolitical aspirations”.
Basically, one is real, the other is a fiction of socialist imagination.

Im happy to debate this at another forum. I come here to view cool graphics.


And Did you also know how much the US earns because of the war. The US are not losing money they are making a profit from war so no need to worry.

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