What is a Cinemagraph and how to make them? Are they the next fad?

by Keith AlvendiaLeave a Comment

What is a Cinemagraph and why do you care? As you can see by the samples below, a Cinemagraph is a photo (actually a collection of photos) turned into a very short movie by making them into an animated gif (or in a real movie as you can see from the sample way below from fcp.co) – but the key is that the majority of the image retains its “photo” look because it is not moving, but there's a section of the image that moves.

They're cool because there's some extra creativity options for the photographer as well as the impact of the ‘surprise' for the viewer as they weren't expecting a still photo and not expecting part of the image to move.

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Cinemagraph NEW GIF2

Originally coined by Photographers Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck, a cinemagraph is a clever revival of the classic animated GIF. It combines features of video and photography to create a the illusion of a still image but with cool motion effects.

Some of the best cinemagraph examples can be found on the creators’ own website. Their original cinemagraphs from New York Fashion Week capture moments just like an ordinary photograph, but also preserve that living moment in time to re-experience endlessly.

As the popularity of the cinemagraph grew we began to see mobile apps such as Cinemagram emerge, which allows the easy creation of amateur cinemagraphs using the device’s built in camera. These apps provide a quick and easy cinemagraph solution, but as always you can achieve the best results when you have fine control over the whole production process, so let’s take a look at how to create our very own cinemagraph from scratch.


Cinemagraphs require some kind of motion, so while the final image looks much more similar to a photograph than a video, we need to begin with actual video footage. Not all videos are suitable though. A cinemagraph is made from a loop using specific portion of the image, so the scene must feature both stationary and animated objects. Here’s a few tips to keep in mind when filming your own cinemagraph footage:

* Use a tripod. The background of your scene must remain perfectly still in order for just a specific subject to be animated.

* Feature a scene that includes some kind of continuous or looping motion. Cinemagraphs of subway trains or escalators work really well because they move consistently and predictably.

* Sometimes subtle effects result in the best cinemagraphs. A visually intense scene might just work better as a video, whereas the subtle animation of grass blowing in the wind or an intermittent blink of an eye can create a really impactful image.

Want to know how to make this cool Cinemagraph effect? Visit Spoon Grapics for the detailed instructions.

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Here's another cinemagraph masterpiece created using Final Cut Pro and Motion

If you watched the BBC coverage of the final of the Snooker World Championship over the Bank Holiday weekend in the UK, you might have seen the black and white ‘Time' feature. If not, take a look at the piece which was made up using cinemagraphs.

Our site editor Peter Wiggins in conjunction with cameraman Colin Nuttall and producer Tony Davies decided to make something different for the last show of the competition. Peter spent 17 days editing on the sporting event in Sheffield and describes the process of making cinemagraphs. The finished piece took a day to edit.

We had been looking for a way to make an interesting time and stress feature for the top of the last show at the World Snooker Championship. The idea of using cinemagraphs was talked about long before the actual event, but what exactly are they and how are they made? I hadn't seen anybody use the technique for broadcast and there was very little information published on the internet.

Here's how this cinemagraph was accomplished

First step in Motion is to duplicate the clip and the containing group, then toggle off the visibility of the clip in the top group.


Then by using the in/out timing controls in the inspector of the bottom clip, bring down the duration to 1 frame to the exact freeze that you require. Set the end condition to ‘Hold' and then drag the clip out again. This will then freeze the clip at the selected frame for the duration of the project. The scrub filter could be used, but I felt more at home with the frame I wanted to be frozen positioned at the top of the timeline.

The clip and group can then be slid back to the start. Here you can see the freeze extending from the one frame.


Toggle the top clip's visibility on and the bottom clip off. Then draw a mask over the top clip using the bezier tool and drop that into an image mask. You will either want to draw around the action you want to move, or by using the invert control on the mask, reveal what you want to be frozen.

Here you can see that two masks have been grouped and the group used as a mask. A sharp edge was needed to mask out the presenter and a very soft edge for the wall above the presenter's head. The presenter was walking right to left delivering a link and although he didn't encroach past the mask, the soft edge was needed to blend the lighting differences on the wall.


Then make all the layers visible and test out the mask. The mask control points may need to be animated to move around an object. This can be done by selecting and moving the points to edit when the red record button is on. The cinemagraph of the cameraman raising the camera and the crowd frozen needed a complex animating mask as the lens hood overlapped moving people.

To add a more photographic feel to the composition, we added two filters. One to remove the colour and the other to add contrast. You will need to apply the filters to a new group that contains all the moving and frozen groups.


Back in FCP, the embedded Motion project or an exported render can be used for the next stage. After putting the cinemagraph into its correct place on the timeline, a small zoom in or out can be added. In the motion tab, aim for end keyframes placed at 100% and about 104% to add just a hint of movement to the overall effect.

We also added a spotlight plugin effect from Noise Industries' FxFactory to give a bit of shading to the cinemagraph. A vignette would be too clumsy and darken too much of the image.

To see the complete instructions and take away tips from this tutorial, visit Creating cinemagraphs with Final Cut Pro and Motion

(cover photo credit: snap from the post)

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