The Digital Journalist
Curing the Still Animation Headache
Moving Pictures from Stage Tools
January 2006

by William Campbell

Size really does matter when it comes to creating high-quality animation on still photos for broadcast. In order to do good zooms and pans on a still image you need to be able to work with large digital photos - and that means lots of pixels.

In the old days a Rostrum Camera was used to animate stills. With a Rostrum Camera you get the best results panning and zooming on large, sharp images. A small photo restricts the camera moves and a grainy enlargement looks awful. Working with stills in Final Cut and Avid is like using a digital Rostrum Camera.

A 720x480 pixel dimension is the base size for working in DV. Unfortunately, a 720x480 pixel frame is not large enough to create serious zooms and pans using the Motion feature within FCP. You can import a 1440x960 pixel image if you want to try some simple 2 X moves. But, if you want a tight 3-4 X zooms you will need at least 2000 pixels to keep the picture sharp. If you start importing 2000 pixel images into your timeline, FCP will crash.

If you are just adding a few stills to a production you can get by working within FCP. But, if you are working with lots of stills and want Ken Burns-style animation the Motion feature in FCP is clumsy and frustrating.

Adobe After Effects allows you to work with large photos. But, AE is expensive and more than you need for still animation. With AE you have to work outside FCP and import the animated stills back into your timeline.

Moving Picture from is a dream come true for still photographers working with FCP or Avid. It is a plug-in that allows you to work with stills up to 8000 x 8000 pixels in your timeline in an extremely friendly interface. At $199 it may seem expensive, but that's $400 less than After Effects, and once you get into the grove with Moving Picture you will discover it is worth every penny.

As a FCP plug-in Moving Picture works as a video filter effect. You place a small still or a dummy video clip in the timeline and then open Moving Picture as filter.

When you apply the Stage Tools filter the Moving Picture screen will appear. Load your large pixel photo and use the yellow box frame to create zooms and pans. The process is very intuitive. A timeline at the bottom lets you adjust the timing of the moves. A preview window lets you see what the animation will look like. When you are done click OK.

Back in the timeline, render the clip and Moving Picture will apply the moves using the large photo in your media files. The small photo in the timeline is unaffected and stays there to remind you of the name of the still clip with a visual thumbnail.

If you want to change your move: Go back to your still clip, apply the Moving Pictures filter, change the timing of the pan or zoom, and then render.

Creating a good digital workflow is helpful. Here is one that I use for working with Final Cut Pro:

  1. Collect all the original high-res photos that you will be using in one folder. If you have been working in 35mm these will most likely be 50mb+ slide scans or 17mb digital camera files. You won't need files that large.
  2. Create a "Stills_large" folder for your FCP media files. Prep your original pix in Photoshop by:
    • A: Resizing pixel dimensions to 2000x1330 for a full frame 35mm. Save as a Tif file. The size can vary. The 2000 pixels width for a horizontal or 2000 pixels height for a vertical is the important number. This size will allow Moving Picture to do a 3- 4 X zoom. If you know you need to zoom in tighter than 4 X you can go up to 8000x8000 pixels. Try to keep most of your pix in 2000 pixel range. It makes it easier for FCP to render.
    • B: You don't need to crop any of the large photos for Moving Picture in FCP. Leave them full frame. They will be cropped for your 4:3 or 16:9 timeline on the Moving Picture screen. Moving Picture and FCP will take care of all the square-to-round pixel issues when you render your animation. This feature is helpful because trying to keep track of the different frame sizes for DV, SD, HDV, and HD will drive you nuts.
    • C: If the project is for broadcast set a 1.2 gamma for each photo. It might look dark on a computer screen set for 2.2 but on a TV monitor that reads 1.2 it will look great.
  3. Create a "Stills_small" folder that you will use in the FCP still bin that you will use in the timeline. They all should be 720x480. They don't have to be perfect. They are just little dummies. In Photoshop take the first pix in your "still_small" folder and go to "image size." Clear "constrain proportions," enter 720x480 pixels and save it to the "Stills_small" folder. If you know how to work with "actions" in Photoshop you can save the "Stills_small" resizing as an "action" then apply the "action" to the "Stills_large" folder. If done right the action will resize all the large photos to small and put them in "Stills_small" folder.
  4. Place both folders with your FCP media. Use the "Stills_small" in your FCP media bin for you timeline. When you load photos into Moving Picture get them from the "Stills_large" folder.

If your project goes to an uncompressed online edit use the same folders in your online system. Your Moving Picture EDL will travel from offline to online.

Moving Pictures makes working with stills in FCP at lot of fun and a lot more productive. You can get a demo download from They have good help and tutorials. Give it a try.

© William Campbell

William Campbell is one of the original platypuses (class of 1999). A former Time magazine photographer he has produced shows for Discovery Communications, National Geographic, Nightline, NBC, and CNN. He is currently trapped in the Northern Rockies working on a PBS documentary.