Friday, August 16, 2019

Chip's Notes on Making Still Frame Animations and Timelapse Movies

About 10 years ago I made a bunch of animations (GIFs and timelapse video) from sequences of still frames.  Now I want to do that again, but have pretty much forgotten how.  So now as I rediscover the procedures, these are my notes.

There are multiple ways to do this. I used Vegas Video the last few times. I still have a current license for Vegas Pro, so I could do that.  Another way is through Photoshop.  Since I use Photoshop more often (but not for animation) in my regular workflow I'm going to start out try it that way.

Start in Lightroom

Either way, my normal still-frame workflow always starts in Lightroom.  Here I would first make whatever image adjustments I want.

I am shooting RAW 5760x3840 images on the 5D-III, which result in 17 MB DNG files.  For several hundred frames, these are too large to conveniently animate in Photoshop. So instead I export them as JPEG or PNG.  This reduces the file size, and I could reduce it even more by reducing the resolution.  Standard 4k video is 3840x2160.  To export as JPEG at full size and 100% quality produces a 10 MB file

If I do this, it is best to put them in a separate folder.

Optionally, I can then add them to the Lightroom catalog, and send them to Photoshop this way:
  • Within Lightroom, select the entire set of frames that you want to use.
  • Right click to open the context menu, then "Edit In > Open as Layers in Photoshop...".
But in order to minimize Lightroom clutter, I prefer to leave the JPEGs out of the catalog.  It's still easy to open them as layers in Photoshop using the Photoshop "File > Scripts > Load Files Into Stack" command.

Still Frame Animation in Photoshop

If you have a lot of frames, Photoshop will take a lot of time, but after a while  you should have a single file with as many layers as you have frames.  Now open the Timeline window (Windows > Timeline) and select "Create Frame Animation" from the dropdown menu in the center of the window.

Note that after you select it from the dropdown menu, you have to actually click "Create Frame Animation". This stumped me, solved thanks to Lindsay Kolowich's tutorial.

Select all layers (Select > All Layers).

Using the hamburger menu at the top right of the Timeline window, first select "Create new layer for each new frame".  This is just a checkbox, it won't do anything yet.

Again with the Timeline hamburger menu, click "Make Frames From Layers". This makes each selected layer a frame of the animation.

For me, the order of the frames was the opposite of what I intended.  My layers were ordered in sequence from top to bottom, but for whatever reason the frames were ordered from bottom to top. Fortunately there is a "Reverse Frames" item on the hamburger menu. Solved.

Photoshop allows you to set the display duration for each frame. A smooth animation needs at least 20 fps. I set the duration to 0.0333, for 30 fps. Select all the frames, then click on and set the duration.

In my Las Vegas animation, the first 20 frames are 4 minutes apart. The rest are 1 minute apart. In order to use these in the animation I tried to create 3 tweens between each of the first 20 frames to simulate the same 1 fpm frame rate.  I could not find a way to do this all at once so I individually selected each of the first 19 frames and tweened it with the next frame.  This creates opacity layers for blending, but I couldn't figure out how to make them work correctly, finally deleted them.

If I wanted a GIF animation I could export using File > Export > Save for Web (Legacy).  But I want a video. So I clicked the "Convert to Timeline" button, which was below the playback controls in the Timeline window.  This worked ok, but the result is confusing -- it looks like I have a separate video clip for each frame and they are all overlaid.  Trying to poke into this led to Photoshop bogging down and becoming unresponsive, apparently while trying to save the file. I finally just killed it.

I don't yet understand how Photoshop's tweening really works. If I did, I could do fades and so forth. But I am more inclined to try this in Vegas.

Still Frame Animation in Vegas

I have a copy of Sony's Vegas Pro 13.0 from 2014, now owned by MAGIX Software. After re-registering it, I used File > Import > Media to load all of my still images.

After a little poking around, I just dragged all the stills onto the timeline.  Now I have a video sequence, but by default each frame is displayed for 5 seconds. This can be changed using Options > Preferences. Select the Editing tab, then set New Still Image Length.  After failing to recall a way to change the duration in the timeline after the fact, I just started over, first setting New Still Image Length to 0.033 (1 frame at 30fps).

It was straightforward, using the Time Stretch/Compress tool and Ripple editing, to extend the first 20 frames so that they were each 4 frames long.  This adjusts the overall duration. Then, turning off time stretch and ripple, I dragged the first 20 events so that they overlapped for a cross-fade. This was all done one at a time.

I also tweaked the last frame for a fade-out. Then File > Render As and I was done.


Here is the resulting YouTube video