Create ‘living photographs’ with Cinemagraph Pro — review

A cinemagraph or living photo is a hybrid illustration, partly photograph, partly video. After having created a cinemagraph, you end up with a video or animated GIF looping for 10 seconds. Creating a cinemagraph with a NLE such as Final Cut Pro X is tedious and difficult. Cinemagraph Pro makes it dead easy.

Flixel Photo’s Cinemagraph Pro enables you to create cinemagraphs in the most simple way possible. What isn’t easy is to shoot the video that makes for a great cinemagraph, but everything that comes after that is child’s play with Flixel Photo’s app. In fact, after playing with this application for a week, I only have one point of criticism: the app supports only two movie codecs for import — and I do mean codecs, not wrappers: QuickTime and MP4. If you’re using an AVCHD camera, for example, you’ll need a way to transcode your clip to the right codec. I found that out by trying to import a GoPro clip that I’d first exported to Cineform, wrapped in a Quicktime .mov wrapper. Cinemagraph Pro threw an error message.

Cinemagraph Pro

Cinemagraph Pro is an app that requires you to first import your footage — not a still photo, but video footage — of up to 4K resolution. The footage preferably has a motionless subject that serves as the photo part of the cinemagraph. Part of the scene should move to add back the motion in the living photograph.

For example, a model sitting with her face towards the camera and her wind blowing in the air. For my review, I used a model car that I lit up through its windows using a torch that was facing the camera (see the videos below). I also tried creating a cinemagraph by simultaneously moving the car and the camera. The camera sat on a slider, while I pushed both car and cam with a ruler. The idea was to have a still of the car and only the wheels turning around. This is where I found setting up a scene to be far more difficult than editing with Cinemagraph Pro. I just couldn’t synchronise the car and camera moving forward with enough precision…

The original video clip

The Cinemagraph Pro result

When your footage is imported in Flixel’s app, you’ll end up in the Trim view with the first 10 seconds of your clip looping and the first frame taken to be your still image. Cinemagraph allows you to create 10 second or less loops.

In order to set your scene, you can move the 10 second loop trimmer to anywhere you want in the footage. The still image indicator will move with it. However, you can later move the still image to any frame you want, even if it’s outside the loop. If your still image needs editing in an image editor such as Photoshop, you can export the still from the dedicated image well in the bottom left, edit the image and import it back within Cinemagraph Pro. The new still will automatically overwrite the original. This is incredibly important for studio photographers who want to retouch their model before adding motion to it.

When you’re satisfied with the loop and still image, the Mask icon will take you to the second step of the creation process. Cinemagraph Pro will colour the whole still image — no more looping will be shown in this mode — purple and you’ll be able to paint away the stills mask with a customisable brush. As soon as you start painting, you’ll see the motion from the loop re-appear in the painted areas.

The next step is adjusting the loop. You can have it repeat or bounce and you can set the speed from 0.5 to 2.0 times the original speed. Here you’ll also set a delay before the video starts playing and a fade effect — both of which are only available in repeat mode. Experimenting with these visual controls can enhance the smoothness of your end-result dramatically.

Finally, an Effects mode lets you change the mood of the result by adding a filter. Rendering your cinemagraph is the last step in Cinemagraph Pro, which lets you choose between an animated GIF and a MP4 video. Here you can also pre-set the number of repetitions for the loop.

A Flixel account rounds off the Cinemagraph Pro offering. The account allows you to upload your results to Flixel’s servers.

Cinemagraph Pro really takes the pain out of composing a “living photograph”. The alternative is to create several clips superimposed one on top of the other in a NLE and then try to create an exact mask where the motion takes place. That process takes several hours in Final Cut Pro X and even then some factors may not work out the way you envisioned. For just under €45.00 you can concentrate on the creative process instead of on the technical issues that come with cinemagraph creation.