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The Parallax Effect: Bringing still images to pseudo-life
January 20, 2014 7:48 PM   Subscribe

The "2.5D" Parallax Effect: How To Animate a Photo provides a quick tutorial of the methods used to animate still images, as seen in the documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture (see the trailer for some fleeting examples), and clearly employed by this video that utilized only images from the World Wildlife Foundation's photo archives. The technique is also used in what appears to be more standard animation, as seen in this thesis animation project from Arquis B. Silp, and this animation by Frederic Kokott (look behind the scenes).

See also: Rino Stefano Tagiliafierro's Beauty, previously; and if you want more information on the techniques, here is a more in-depth 2.5D tutorial, from the Creative COW collection of tutorials.
posted by filthy light thief (22 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm quite fond of this effect. Nice to see it explained.
posted by flippant at 7:55 PM on January 20


Cool. I saw this effect recently in the Don Rickles documentary (Mr. Warmth), and pieced together in my mind how I thought the effect worked, and it turns out I was close!
posted by not_on_display at 8:00 PM on January 20


I don't see how the "standard animation" examples apply, since they don't use rotoscoped photographs, which is all part of the challenge. Unfortunately, in documentary work (which I do) this effect has been over used to the point of cliche; now we have to find new ways to jazz up old photographs (because no one wants the boring old Ric Burns treatment.)

That film "Beauty" takes it to a whole new level though. I can't imagine how many hours, weeks, months went into that.
posted by fungible at 8:00 PM on January 20


fungible, rotoscoping (as I understand it) is not used in the three examples of still images turned into animated scenes, as there is no tracing of live action footage, but rather turning a still scene into an animated sequence, by creating layers from a single image, then animating those individual layers and shifting the "camera" in the scene.

As for the "standard animation" and the use of parallax or "2.5D," I think they are categorized as such because of the animation techniques used, namely utilizing After Effects or some similar video editing software to set up "layers" and move the virtual camera around the scene as the action takes place, as compared to a traditionally 3D rendered scene.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:16 PM on January 20


This effect seems to be in the spotlight on the net recently. Many documentaries have used it over the years. One of the first tutorials I saw was Andrew Kramer's Virtual 3D Photos on the Video Co-pilot page back in 2007.
posted by rmmcclay at 8:19 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


rmmcclay, thanks for the older tutorial. I'm sure I've seen similar effects in documentaries, but I can't point to an individual one. I wonder who pioneered this effect, and what software they used then. It seems After Effects was the method of choice, at least back in 2007.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:23 PM on January 20


Is there a rebel version for non-mainstream people?

My problem with these projects (another example is the "infinite zoom" effect: example) is that they rely on hugely expensive software. Photoshop and AfterEffects cost a ton of money. Some people can get student licenses or don't mind pirating, but for the rest of us it's a non-starter.

The same effects can be achieved with a bit more work using Gimp and Blender, but instead we are channeled to high barriers of entry.

I see this as sinister. As an amateur artist, I want to be creative. The need to make a lot of money limits creativity. It is no accident that this example creates promotional materials for large corporate clients. I look forward to the day when Gimp and Blender are referenced instead, and we can create art for art's sake.

it is not enough to say "Blender is like AfterEffects, what's the problem?" All programs have their own quirks. You may have to use a completely different technique. Take the infinite zoom for example: Blender can do it, but is really designed for 3D, so it assumes that everything exists in the same scaled universe. So you are likely to hit scaling limits eventually, which means you need to consider behind the scenes scale changes, plus issues with perspective and lighting. Similarly, in this example of making a 3D photo, AfterEffects is happy with pseudo 3D, whereas Blender needs a bit more tweaking. Different software needs different techniques.

tl;dr step one is "earn a lot of money." I would rather "step one: be free"
posted by EnterTheStory at 8:37 PM on January 20 [4 favorites]


Ugh, so tedious! And I don't like the effect at all, reminds me of flash animations. Humbug!

But thanks for the link, helped me explain it to someone who was curious about it.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 8:49 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


EnterTheStory, it was rumored that for a long time, Adobe wanted their software to be pirated so it would be the defacto standard. I don't know if that is actually true or not, but that's how myself and almost all the other designers I know got involved with the Adobe programs; pirated copies. And so tutorials were made, and a generation of creative "grew up" using the pirated version. Thus ensuring that when they went to work, they demanded Adobe software.

Now, two decades later, they tighten the screws, hoping everyone who got it for free will get stuck paying for a copy of the software.

That's why tutorials like this are all in Adobe products. Now is a bad time - the "standard" software is difficult to pirate, and no other open source or cheap software has taken its place. In a few years, that will change.

Meanwhile, amateurs like yourself need to be figuring it out and creating.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 8:53 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


EnterTheStory: "The same effects can be achieved with a bit more work using Gimp and Blender, but instead we are channeled to high barriers of entry."

I don't understand. You're saying, there are free alternatives out there (you mention two by name) but you're upset because you'd rather use the professional software that costs money, but you think that professional software should be free? Or are you upset that the tutorial is for the industry standard software products, rather than the free ones that a tiny minority of people use?

It... sounds like you have several options actually? You can use the free stuff for free. Or you can use the paid stuff for like $30/mo for a single app?

Isn't this just tantamount to complaining that the cost of acrylics is preventing you from becoming an amateur painter, and there should be free paint in the world, somehow?
posted by danny the boy at 9:46 PM on January 20 [4 favorites]


As far as I'm concerned, animation reached its apex with the one-two punch of Art Clokey* and Syncro-vox (CC-4-EVA). Much like music, animation is at its most appealing when there's human factors blended in with technological techniques.

*seriously, if you haven't seen the Clokeys' Mandala, give yourself six and a half minutes to do so. Oh, and before you start, now's as good a time as any to dig into your freezer and eat that hunk of mushroom-infused chocolate your cousin brought you from his last Phish concert. Don't worry about work tomorrow - I'll cover for you. I promise. Your boss will understand and if he doesn't, well, do you really want to be wasting your life toiling away for people like that?
posted by item at 10:17 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


traditionally 3D rendered

I get what you mean, but those words make no sense together. My lawn. Get off it.



I think what fungible was trying to get at was that if the standard animation uses illustrations instead of photographs, why define it in relation to the animated photographs? And I'd chime in that illustrated multiplane animation predates After Effects by decades.

EnterTheStory, the rebel version for non-mainstream people might look more like this which doesn't have the smooth parallax, but you can cut out all the photos you want. If you're really committed, you can build your own multiplane table. I know some people who built animation tables with two or three planes of glass; their work definitely has a wiggly hand-made look to it.
posted by RobotHero at 10:39 PM on January 20


Enter The Story, it's not free, but if you're using a mac, then you can do this reasonably well with Motion (you don't need final cut along with it) and it's about forty bucks.
posted by bunglin jones at 11:11 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


danny the boy - yes, anything is possible. But I look to a tutorial to make life easier, not harder.

A tutorial to use method A on software X only works with method A and software X. Trying to use method A on completely different software Y leads to blind alleys and frustration.
In the past I have wasted literally years trying to do things the recommended way, but on other software. I would have saved a lot of time just working out a new way to do the thing I wanted.

I like Blender, my criticism is of the tutorial for choosing an inferior product (from my point of view: it's too expensive to be useful). If I were to follow that tutorial's methods, rather than work out the Blender way for myself, the odds are that life would be harder, not easier.
posted by EnterTheStory at 12:06 AM on January 21


I would have saved a lot of time just working out a new way to do the thing I wanted.

I think you’ve answered your own question.
posted by bongo_x at 12:31 AM on January 21


By the way, The Kid Stays In The Picture was a landmark doc aesthetically, and a great film (also due to a great character and great archive material).

At this point, the technique is getting a little stale, which happens to all innovative techniques, because docs are trying to find new ways to breath life in to stories, especially from the past, and archive material. And this was a new way to bring life to still images in a cinematic form. For me, when producers have the time (in postproduction) to craft a story, it works well. Note the new Big Star documentary, Nothing Can Hurt Me. Such a scarce amount of archive material, they did a great job with what they had. But when copied and pasted into formula cable tv filler docs, it can look a little unoriginal.

And yes, Adobe copied Final Cut on the piracy/student route into the market place. Just ask Avid.
posted by C.A.S. at 1:18 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Ugh, so tedious! And I don't like the effect at all, reminds me of flash animations. Humbug!

Gotta say, I'm not a huge fan of this effect, either. I understand the utility of it, but, for me, there's something...very frustrating...about watching it. My brain knows it's still images, but the effect teases you into expecting real movement, but it never delivers actual movement. And it's wholly dependent on short, fleeting clips of the effect. As I said...frustrating.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:33 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


My problem with these projects is that they rely on hugely expensive software. Photoshop and AfterEffects cost a ton of money. Some people can get student licenses or don't mind pirating, but for the rest of us it's a non-starter.

I wasn't sure which alternative packages could do what AE does, so I didn't investigate further. But searching for blender parallax comes up with some videos and tutorials (YT is blocked at work, so I can't verify that the videos are doing the same thing as the first tutorial in the OP). And the PhotoShop part is dead simple: "deconstruct" an image into layers, which you can then import into the video-editing software , staggering the images in 3D space in such a way that you can pan and zoom around and create the feeling of "real" distance between the objects.

That's why tutorials like this are all in Adobe products. Now is a bad time - the "standard" software is difficult to pirate, and no other open source or cheap software has taken its place. In a few years, that will change.

Meanwhile, amateurs like yourself need to be figuring it out and creating.


Yes, it's tough being someone without access to the standard, really expensive software, but there are people putting together tutorials and figuring things out on the OS side. It looks like there are more communities around OS software, sharing what they learn and discussing the methods and merits, whereas Adobe tutorials are a dime a dozen, and you no longer have to pay for most tutorials, as used to be the case.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:18 AM on January 21


Thorzdad: My brain knows it's still images, but the effect teases you into expecting real movement, but it never delivers actual movement.

That's because you can nudge elements of an image a bit and get the feeling of life-like movement, but to do more would require people to fully animate the scene, either creating new 2D "frames" or modeling elements in 3D, and both take a lot more time than the images you see in the tutorial. It's easy to make new smoke movements, the blink of an eye in an otherwise still face, or water falling, but more complex shapes quickly look fake if the shadows don't move with the image.

In short, this is generally a quick way to make a still image more interesting, not a full-fledge animation method (though some people do put in the time to animate scenes of still images, which makes those scenes all the more impressive.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:23 AM on January 21


This was used a lot in the recently posted Oliver Stone documentary, and I was wondering how it was done. Thanks!
posted by Acey at 11:01 AM on January 21


"Adobe copied Final Cut on the piracy/student route into the market place."

Adobe After Effects and Premiere existed well before Final Cut.
posted by bz at 2:27 PM on January 21


They existed well before Final Cut, but as to making inroads into the nonlinear editing market, Premiere followed Final Cut in the sense that its market share as a main editing platform was negligible for years, until recently. AfterEffects always had a good market share anyway, as an add-on tool.

Final Cut was the first to actually take share from AVID, via both piracy and marketing to students aggressively with student pricing. Premiere only started to gain share as well from both Avid and Final Cut as the Final Cut X debacle unfurled, and pouncing.

Actually, to be accurate, Premiere made inroads by being bundled into a box for some time with Photoshop and AfterEffects, both industry standard supplementary tools for editors. Most editors ignored the Premiere component. But the Adobe marketing people are on the ball, and they aggressively marketed cross grades, and had been adding features for some time to be credible as an alternative NLE to Final Cut (and Avid)
posted by C.A.S. at 10:59 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


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