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Streaming Media
Still Motion
Posted May 6, 2004 Print Version     Page 1of 5 next »

Popularized by documentarian Ken Burns, still image pan and zoom has moved front-and-center in the ever-shifting focus of desktop video editing. Available via two stand-out, standalone products as well as a handful of plug-ins, pan and zoom is also a built-in feature of many popular NLEs. Which leaves us facing a common quandary in software design and purchasing: Specialize or multitask? In other words, should you use a specific tool for the pan-and-zoom task, or can you accomplish what you need to within the software that you already have on hand?

When it comes to naming a task by its function, you really can't pick a more apt title for imbuing photos with movement than still image panning and zooming. Pan and zoom literally involves taking still images and panning (adding horizontal, vertical, or tilting motion) and/or zooming (adding extreme close-ups or gentle highlights of detail) them to help illustrate and enliven a story. This technique is popularly known as the "Ken Burns Effect," in honor of our era's foremost documentarian.

But still image panning and zooming is not just for the documentarians. Many corporations use it for panning around blueprints or flowcharts during presentations. Video producers of all sorts create motion slideshows for titles and openers. Some have even experimented with taking a high-resolution shot of the Grand Canyon and trying to simulate the viewpoint of a plane flying through it.

Nowadays still image panning and zooming can be done within your NLE of choice, depending on which one you chose. There are also a number of plug-ins and standalone products designed specifically for this task; two commonly used in professional applications are Stage Tools MovingPicture and Canopus Imaginate.

So here we're faced with a common quandary in software design and purchasing: Specialize or multitask? In other words, should you use a specific tool for a specific task, or can you accomplish what you need to within the software that you already have on hand? As always when discussing program preferences, it's different strokes for different folks.

What Once Was…
In the analog era, when you wanted to simulate motion in a still image, you had to do it with a camera. That meant renting equipment from animation houses to use their special camera stands, or rostrum cameras, to create this kind of movement. These setups typically consisted of a camera and lights attached to a frame, which could be raised and lowered to zoom in and out, set on wheels that made panning possible. (Some more advanced rigs did include the ability to tilt the camera, adding the possibilities of changing perspective in 3D, but that technique was relatively rare in the animation of yesteryear and has been simplified significantly by the steady, invisible hand of digital production.) While perfectly serviceable, this approach had a major drawback: if the motion wasn't captured correctly during the first session, or the director/producer wanted to adjust the movement after the fact, the images had to be taken back to the camera, adding time and cost to projects that were by their very nature time-intensive and costly.

Many popular NLEs have included the ability to mimic this camera-stand setup for quite some time, but not without their own limitations. When users attempted to import images with resolutions higher than the video (720x480 for NTSC or 720x576 for PAL), most NLEs would automatically scale down the resolution of the image to match that of the video. Not only were the codecs used for this scaling suspect, according to many users, but reducing the resolution of the images meant that zooming was almost out of the question as clarity and pixelation quickly became an issue.

Each Tool has a Task
A few years back, Bill Ferster, founder of Stage Tools, witnessed this deficiency in the built-in still image zooming and panning capabilities of many NLEs and set off to develop a software tool designed specifically for this task. In 1999, he released that product, MovingPicture (MP), which many editors consider the premier tool for adding motion to still images. Ken Burns himself is a Stage Tools customer.

While MP is available as a standalone product called MovingPicture Producer, its real effectiveness in penetrating the non-linear editing market can be seen in the roster of NLE vendors that have certified plug-in versions of MP for their software. "We make tools for almost all the NLEs out there," says Ferster. The list currently includes pro software tools like Adobe Premiere, Apple Final Cut Pro, Pinnacle Liquid Edition, and Ulead Media Studio Pro; turnkey NLE systems from Avid, Leitch, and Media 100; and most recently Pinnacle's entry-level NLE Studio 9. When used as a plug-in, MP can be integrated directly into your desktop editor's workflow.

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