Stuck In Motion – A Cool Video Technique

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Introduction

This is an exciting new combination of hardware and technique that is now available to everyone – from hobbyist to professional – you’ll have a great time.

I enjoy experimenting and then sharing techniques and how-tos with people.  I did the same thing with my HDR Tutorial, which you can have a look at if you are new to the site!  (by the way, welcome!)

The Effect in Two Minutes

You’ll get a good idea of the technique by watching this video below. It’s called “The Moments Between: Seeing the Edge”.

“Stuck in Motion”

I first released this “video” called “The Moments Between:  Episode 1: Japan“.  There was a very positive response to it, and I asked people for names.  I got all kinds of suggestions, but, in the lack of anything better, I kinda like “Stuck in Motion”!  Anyway, on with the story.

Japan: Heartbeats of Time

Here is another example — I integrated several techniques, including Stuck In Motion, to make this video.

Sometimes people just want to know the specifics, so here you go:

Hardware:

Software:

  • Graphics and Special Effects:  Photoshop and After Effects:  See the Latest Deals on Adobe Products.
  • Note that you do not need these products at all.  You can simply use iMovie or any video editing product.

In the video, I interchaged scenes shot with those three cameras.  You can probably easily detect the slow-motion footage from the Casio EX-FC100 from the regular-speed D3S footage.  Below, you will see more detailed information on the “technique”.

The Moments Between: Tokyo Dream

Here is a more recent “Stuck In Motion” video for you to enjoy…

The Moments Between, Episode 1

This is the first video I made when I began experimenting with these techniques.

The Science and Math Behind the Technique

Okay, stick with me for a minute here. I think an important thing to “think about” is the nature of human memory. We live life a certain speed. We are only immediately, consciously aware of about 30 frames per second. However, our brain does not record and react at 30 frames per second. It can do a lot more than that.

Our brains record memories like tiny fantastic movie reels, networked together by feelings, associations, and experience. As a photographer, I always have to remind myself that the brain does not store memories like a computer stores JPGs. We DO NOT take millions of snapshots and file them away. Nor do we take hour-long TiVo recordings of the day and store them for later retrieval. The truth is somewhere in between — fleeting thoughts of moments that grabbed you and will never leave.

We do certainly sense the world at greater than 30 frames per second. You know by experience that you can pick up on the micro-emotions that appear on people’s faces when you talk to them in person. You lose a lot of that over TV or Webcams. Those means can suffice, but, given the choice, in person is always better. Case in point, I’d wager to say some of your deepest memories were experienced in person rather than on TV or over a webcam, which take an arbitrary 30 (or 24) slices of time.

Think in Orders of Magnitude

I’m fascinated by powers of 10. My background is in Computer Science and Math, so I got into thinking about numbers a long time ago. Orders of magnitude are commonly seen the Richter Scale and other scientific formulas, because they can help express patterns that are otherwise unwieldy to the human mind, which is only comfortable in one scale of space and one scale of time.

Thus, there are two things of math happening here. One, the video is shot at 10x time, and the camera itself moves at 10x the human head. When the two are juxtaposed, it creates something gripping that can hit the viewer on a deeper level.

What has been invented here?

Nothing!  This stuff has been possible for a while, but you needed a tens of thousands of dollars, rare hardware, an experienced crew, and possibly an expensive set.  This technology and technique has been democratized.  That is, now, everyone with a spare $200and a mind for adventure can do it.  You can too!  Let me show you how.

The Hardware

Update!  Now I am using a smaller, more compact camera that is just as good.  It’s the Casio EX-FC100.  It should be about $200 – check the latest prices at Amazon.  Note this is a big update because the camera I used to use cost over $1,000.

The EX-FC100 is a tiny point-and-shoot camera.  It does all the same photo stuff as every other camera, plus it has this high-speed mode at 210 FPS.  It has many other modes too, but that is the one I use the most.  The BAD news is that 210FPS can only capture at 480×360 – not exactly HD!  But, I think this will get better with every generation… Comon Casio!

However, don’t worry too much about that low resolution…  Really, think about it.  95% of your work will be viewed over the web. For the next 3 or 4 years, this will be fine.  As you can see from my video, the last thing on your mind is how small it is.  Besides, soon we will see another generation of these cameras that will shoot in higher res.

Now, you could probably up-res it to 1024×720 using something like Streamclip, but I did not find it necessary.

Another nice thing about this camera is it is quite small and handy!  I had no trouble carrying it around along with my Nikon D3X.  It was very handy whenever I saw something I wanted to grab!

The Technique

While there is no “one-way” to do this, keep the following points in mind:

1) Move the camera 10x as fast as you think you need to

This is a counter-intuitive technique.  You’ll stop doubting when you see your results. Now, you are going to look like a damned fool doing this, so get ready!  When you are shooting, you need to move the camera 10x faster than you think you need to!  We are all used to seeing video cameras making nice, smooth pans.  Forget that!  Keep it non-shaky, but move it 10x as fast as you think!

2) Get at least 2 layers of independent motion (and have the 3rd layer in motion be the camera)

Here is a wonderful thing.  Your brain lives in a 3D world and records it so.  It uses cool tricks like parallax and relative movement to make sense of z-space.  A photo has trouble doing that!  A still video camera has trouble doing that too.

The best shots in that video, you wlll notice, are ones where there are many layers of motion.  I think the top ones were shot from a car or a train, where there was one layer of motion on one plane, organic elements on another plane, and non-organic elements on a third.  The brain wraps around that to make 3D sense of placement, and the brain enjoys that because it needs to figure out where the heck things are.  You may also notice that I used this technique handheld a lot too.  For example, the girl with the big watch, the water falling down, and a few others.  I was moving the camera extremely fast in each situation.

3) Record humans, animals, water, or other objects that have Newtonian expectations

I’ve tried recording all kinds of things that I thought would be cool, but they just ended up boring. We expect humans to move in a certain way, water to splash at a particular speed, and horses to trot at an expected gait. When you slow these down, your brain has a wonderful time appreciating all the little things you’ve always subconsciously known.

At first, I tried shooting cars or panning landscapes. But, frankly, you can’t really tell if the car is in slow-motion or just going slow!

Now, if you are a videographer, you know a lot of these tricks already.  I advise you keep doing this stuff, just speed it up by 10x.

4) Shoot in bright light

This camera does not record video well in low-light situations.  It’s best to be outside or a well-lit interior.  If you do end up in poorly lit areas, you get a flicker effect that you probably noticed.  I happen to think that is really cool!  You will probably deduce that the 300 FPS is capturing scenes faster than the light is flashing (interesting to think about… how some light sources work…).  I look forward to future versions of this camera (and competitors), where the sensors get better and the resolution increases.

Interview on This Week in Photography

I was honored to be invited to guest host TWIP by Frederick Van. On that show, I talked all about the technique and the hardware. It’s about 50/50. To hear more, just go grab TWIP Episode 115.

Conclusion

I hope you all can use this hardware and technique to make some amazing stuff!  Please put links down below to your work. I post my stuff on Vimeo, since that seems to be a great community for serious video and experimentation.  Do not post it on Flickr.  The video quality there is really bad.

If nothing else, this may re-invent the way you capture your family.  If you have kids or grandkids, this will capture those micro-emotions and small moments that stick with you.  Better yet, if you have gotten those cool e-starling picture frames for your family, now tiny stuck-in-motion videos can show up in their picture frames remotely.

Any questions about the nature of these posts? Visit my Ethics Statement. It’s all quite simple!

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