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Thread: Cinemagraphy - How I made 'The Shimmering'

  1. #1

    Default Cinemagraphy - How I made 'The Shimmering'

    1. Introduction

    Cinemagraphs are created by photographer Jamie Beck and graphic artist Kevin Burg. It is animated GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format) made from masking out certain areas in a video sequence. This making of is a documentation of how I made this particular cinemagraph ‘The Shimmering’, given my equipment restrictions and shooting environment. We all know that there cannot be just one fixed way of doing things, so I hope this can be a reference for others to explore better working methods.

    2. Tools

    Hardware: Canon 550D, Sigma 30mm f1.4 lens, Manfrotto 682B self-standing monopod

    Software: Photoshop CS4, After Effects 6.0

    I strongly recommend against using Manfrotto 682B for shooting the videos. It is made for still photography. In windy condition it shakes. Use a steady tripod instead. Shaky video footage is unusable, or requires additional effort in post, like in my case here.

    3. Shooting

    As this is a group shoot meant for still photography, it is not the ideal shooting condition. I am lucky that one usable footage out of the five shot.

    In an ideal situation, make sure that:

    • You are using a steady tripod to minimize camera shake
    • You have a plan, or at least an idea where is the moving area in the cinemagraph
    • The model stay as still as possible (in my case, the only moving element is her hair)
    • You take more short sequences of about 5 sec rather than a lengthy 3 min sequence. It makes life easier when u work on the computer later. It is also easier to go through shorter sequences.

    However, in the 9 sec video I shot, I didn’t really ‘do the right thing’. The model is moving from pose to pose professionally for a still shoot, there is camera shake due to wind because I m not using a steady tripod. It is the perfect negative example.

    Original video (downsized)

    4. Selection

    Choosing a segment of the video with a reasonable number of frames for looping is the next hardest thing to do, other than making the loop itself. You will have to sit down and look through everything you shot and pick something suitable. I chose to work with a 9 sec video in the end.

    The actual length for this cinemagraph is merely 30 frames. The illusion of continuous motion lies in the first and the last frame matching up seamlessly. For this purpose, I bring the chosen 9 sec HD video into After Effects. I find it easier to do previews in After Effects than in Photoshop. It is meant for video after all.

    In the ideal case, the simplest way is to mask out the hair from the rest of the image and make it loop. That is the first thing I tried. I tried making the last frame fades over a duration of 5 frames into the 1st frame. That didn’t look good. I then tried doing a ‘ping-pong’ loop (i.e. playing from frame 1 to 30 and then from 30 back to 1 and so on so forth). That does not look natural too.

    5. Making the Loop

    Since the simple way did not work, I have to break the hair into 4 areas and make them loop well individually. There is no hard and fast rule for doing this. It is simply scrubbing the timeline up and down looking for something that works. There is also much trial and error. And because I did not shoot ‘the ideal way’, I have more pain in this process which could have been avoided.

    In the end, I break the hair into A, B, C & D (img5-1 & Img5-2) for the ease of explaining. They are duplicated from the same source video and masked out differently, blending into each other with soft masking.



    HairA is from frame 151 to 182. Due its fast movement, I need not do any work to make it loop. In this case, it is pure luck.

    HairB is a duplicate of A. this is because there is head movement during that range and I need the area in HairB to remain static. So HairB is simply a still frame covering on top of HairA.

    HairC is from frame 90 to 120. The movement for that part of the hair looks the best in that range. I duplicated HairC_Tween to fade into the first frame at the end of the sequence over 3 frames. By fading in like this, it will eliminate the sudden jump when it is looped.

    HairD is from frame 190 to 219. I used Time-remapping to create a ‘ping-pong’ loop, such that it plays from frame 190 to 205 then back to 190.

    As I have said earlier, if you have done the shooting ‘the right way’, you probably need not go through all these pains. One mask one layer may have done the job. Then again, when it comes to random flying hair, nothing is for sure.

    Last edited by gatchaman; 10th September 2013 at 10:25 PM. Reason: broken links

  2. #2

    Default Cinemagraphy - How I made 'The Shimmering'

    6. Output to Photoshop

    The 30 frame long sequence is then rendered to uncompressed quicktime movie. avi should work too. I use uncompressed settings to maintain the quality. But if you are short of hard disk space u can use any of the compressions for a smaller file size. Photoshop should import fine. img6-1 shows how to import video frames to layers in PS.


    Open up the animation panel by Window > Animation. You will see the 30 frames as in img6-2.


    7. Working in Photoshop

    In the layer panel, I grouped the 30 layers into one group for a neater workspace. Then I duplicated the first layer (which is also the first frame) and placed it outside and on top of the group (img7-1). Next I masked out the area around the flying hair (img7-2). This defines the area where the gif is animated. Although you can get the same gif without this mask, the file size would be larger.



    The rest is just photoshop retouching work, like you would do for a still photo. One thing I believe is that a cinemagraph has to be a captivating still photograph first, and the motion only come in later to breathe life into it. My major dissatisfaction with this shot is the lack of depth in the image, even though I do find the repeated background interesting. Thus I composited part of another photo to create the depth I wanted. I also cropped it to improve the composition.

    The final output will be in 256 colors so I cannot be over ambitious in the color scheme. For this one, I introduced an overall pinkish orange tone to create the feel of sunset. Unfortunately, my monitor is not doing that great in terms of color accuracy and I find that on some screens the cinemagraph is leaning more towards an orange tone.
    Last edited by gatchaman; 3rd June 2012 at 11:06 PM.

  3. #3

    Default Cinemagraphy - How I made 'The Shimmering'

    8. Exporting to GIF

    Before the exporting I reduce the image size to 1024x578. I think this is considered a little too large. But I did it because I want to keep the consistency with the other stills in the series. In some cases, the resulting GIF is so big, or the color reduction look really bad in this resolution, I will compromise with a smaller size. Again there is a much trial and error in this process to obtain the optimal result. You have got to play around with the settings.
    Export to GIF using File > Save for Web & Devices.


    The export interface window will pop out. img8-2 shows the settings I used for this one.


    Do play around with the other options as shown in img8-3.


    The final export is 1.23Mb which is pretty decent for a 1K GIF. On Tumblr, you will have to reduce it to 1 Mb so it can play on the dashboard.

    9. Conclusion

    You can view the series The Shimmering and cinemagraphs on my livejournal

    I am also on facebook and deviantart.

    For Clubsnap members, the forum thread for the 'The Shimmering' series in the Portraits & Poses section.

    Hope this article is useful to you.

    10. Credits

    Thanks to Ed from Clubsnap for inviting me to do this article.

    Thanks to Winnie for introducing me to the world of cinemagraphs.

    Model credits: Jee

    Lighting credits: Ivan S

  4. #4
    Moderator ed9119's Avatar
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    Mar 2002
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    Default Re: Cinemagraphy - How I made 'The Shimmering'

    wow that is so cool !!

    Thanks for making it easy to understand
    shaddap and just shoot .... up close

  5. #5
    Senior Member sinned79's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2009

    Default Re: Cinemagraphy - How I made 'The Shimmering'

    nice tutorial!

  6. #6

    Default Re: Cinemagraphy - How I made 'The Shimmering'

    Thank you for sharing.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Cinemagraphy - How I made 'The Shimmering'

    Quote Originally Posted by ed9119 View Post
    wow that is so cool !!

    Thanks for making it easy to understand
    Thanks for inviting, Ed. otherwise i won't get my lazy ass to start on it

    Quote Originally Posted by sinned79 View Post
    nice tutorial!
    hope it is useful to u in one way or another

    Quote Originally Posted by Vickon View Post
    Thank you for sharing.
    no problem, Vickon! hope it isn't too complicated

  8. #8

    Default Re: Cinemagraphy - How I made 'The Shimmering'

    great tutorial and great cinemagraph... just wondering though: the body is a bit oddly static... maybe just a hint of diaphragm breathing, just at the tummy, not too much to make it distracting, just enough to hint at natural fluidity?... though I guess it would mean the clip would have to be longer, and thus a bigger file

  9. #9

    Default Re: Cinemagraphy - How I made 'The Shimmering'

    Quote Originally Posted by theRBK View Post
    great tutorial and great cinemagraph... just wondering though: the body is a bit oddly static... maybe just a hint of diaphragm breathing, just at the tummy, not too much to make it distracting, just enough to hint at natural fluidity?... though I guess it would mean the clip would have to be longer, and thus a bigger file
    Hey RBK thanks for dropping by! i think by doing that it won't be a cinemagraph anymore but more like a anime sequence. i don't really like defining what is and what is not, but going in that direction, the eyes shld blink once a while as well and other things come in too. anyway i don't have any sequence of her remaining still and her tummy moving subtlely to make that. this is not 3d animation. i can't add in things that didn't appear in the video : )

    nevertheless, thanks for the suggestion! ve a good night!


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