Cinemagraphs – Part 1 – Single Image Animations
Cinemagraphs seem to be all the rage at the moment so here’s my take on some software that can produce them. This article deals with single image cinemagraphs, part two will look at cinemagraphs created from a video.
What is a cinemagraph?
A cinemagraph is either a still photo that has been made to look like it is animated in places or it is a video combined with a still frame from the video with just some of the image in motion and the rest kept still.
The key difference between a cinemagraph and a video is that on a section or a set of sections of the image is in motion. It can lead to either really wacky effects or some very clever and subtle looking images.
When posted to social media platforms such as Instagram, the video plays as a repeating loop and a well made cinemagram looks incredibly arty and clever, and I do like clever!
Still image videograms
These can be produced using several tools, three of which I’ll mention and one I’ll look at in more depth.
Here’s the photo I want to animate – I want the clouds to move and the river to flow:
If you have Photoshop then you can create a still image cinemagraph using the Cinemagraph Kit, which is a set of Photoshop Actions that you can use to create a Cinemagraph from both a video and a still image. It works well but, being based on Photoshop Actions, there are quite a few steps you need to take when using a still image. I think this set of actions is better suited to creating them from videos and I’ll talk more about it in part two. The main downside, of course, is you need Photoshop to use them. The current cost is $49 USD and there is a decent Facebook group where you can share your creations and get help.
Another Photoshop add-in is Artymate, which can be used both with single images and, with a bit of fiddling, videos. It has an extra twist in that it can add video overlays to an existing picture and combine them nicely, such as adding rain to an existing image.
You can use Artymate to create so many effects on an image that it is really more than a Cinemagraph package. Objects can be selected and made to move around, fall or fly, for example. When it comes to animating a single image, Artymate works by turning your image into a 30 second video and creating a still layer above it. You then select the area you want to move and Artymate then creates a Transformation area on the image, which you drag around in the direction you wish to animate. Artymate then does the rest. You can easily add a Layer Mask to the layer and exclude areas from being animated.
As with the Cinemagraph Kit, the main downside is that you need both Photoshop and Photoshop skills to use Artmate effectively. It is priced at $49 USD but an extra $35 is needed to purchase the video overlays.
I wan’t able to make the river flow and the clouds move with Artymate. It was one or the other. The motion looks good, but I couldn’t prevent the little rocks from moving and to keep the large rocks still I had to exclude the water in front and behind them.
Corel Photomirage is a Windows only, standalone software that does just one thing – create cinemagraphs from still photos. It is the easiest to use of these tools and has the advantage of not needing Photoshop. It is also a one-off purchase, which may appeal to those who dislike subscription models. At £49.99 GBP it is neither cheap nor expensive.
The interface of Photomirage is a joy to use. Unlike the other tools mentioned in this article, there are no limits on the number of areas that can be animated and no requirement to make all animated areas flow in the same direction. Unlike the other tools, areas can simply be excluded from the animation. With Artymate and the Cinemagraph Kit, the layer mask cannot always prevent the animation from affecting areas that you want excluded.
To create a Cinemagraph in Photomirage you just draw arrows on areas you want animated and you then exclude areas from the animation by placing ‘anchor points’ around objects or painting a mask over them, or both. It’s so easy to do this a child can do it. Indeed, my 4 year old granddaughter sat with me as I did one and she learnt to use the software in less than 10 minutes. At one point she told me to ‘paint the sand red’ (apply a mask) to stop it moving.
You can set the length of the video when outputting it as well as its dimensions and you also have complete control over the animation speed.
Photomirage let me animate the sky as well as the water and I was able to exclude the large rocks from the animation without preventing the nearby water from moving.
Here’s the Photomirage interface with my animation settings:
I could have spent more time on this and excluded more of the rocks, but you get the picture…
All three tools produce different results and the result depends on the original image and your use of the tools. Personally, I prefer Photomirage for single image Cinemagraphs because it offers so much control with almost no learning curve. It being able to output videos optimised for almost every social media platform is a bonus.
Artymate is a much fuller package but it is not as powerful for animating things such as clouds and water as Photomirage. However, its ability to add video overlays and perform specialised animations, such as floating, flying and flapping makes it an incrfedibly useful tool. There’s a bigger learning curve than with Photomirage but it does offer more.
The Cinemagraph Kit is a decent attempt at creating Cinemagraphs using just Photoshop Actions and its results are best with a video rather than a still image. See part two for examples of it in action.