Making a Cinemagraph

Cinemagraph in Piccadilly, LondonCinemagraphs are still photographs in which movement occurs. They are are usually published in an animated GIF format or as a movie file and can give the illusion that the viewer is watching a video.

Click on the images above to see the cinemagraph. The one on the left is an 10 second mp4 file. The one on the right is a gif of the same cinemagraph but you’ll notice that is runs in a continuous loop. The software I’m using can make a full resolution mp4 or wmv video file but only makes a 640×360 gif which accounts for the difference in size.
(You could use a video editing application like Movie Maker to resize the video)

I decided to try making some cinemagraphs and found lots of instructional videos and articles on the web. The basic theory is that you make a video and then use software to create different layers and masks to show/hide different parts of the video. These are then combined into a gif or video file. People using cinemagraphs in adverts tend to use a gif so that it runs continuously. I prefer to make a video for two reasons a) a continuously running image can become annoying b) the start and end points on a gif need to match as closely as possible to avoid a ‘jump’ when it loops round. This is not very easy to achieve unless you are stage managing your video or tweak the content.

So far as I can tell, for PCs, Photoshop is most often used. In fact it took quite some time before I found an a viable alternative. It has to be the very expensive full version of Photoshop and I am not sure which is the earliest version that has the necessary features but I believe CS4 does. On a Mac there is at least one program dedicated to cinemagraphs – Cinemagraph Pro.

I don’t have a Mac and only have Photoshop Elements and was not prepared to invest in Photoshop for an experiment but I found a free application from Microsoft called ‘Cliplets’.
You can find it here:

There are several tutorials on the Microsoft site so I won’t go into the detail here. I found the software easy to use although it does have limitations. On the other hand I believe it has some functions which may not be possible with Photoshop or may be quite difficult to do. But it is FREE.

  • It is limited to using a 10 second video clip i.e. the movement you want to have in your cinemagraph has to be in a 10 second section of your movie
  • The output – gif,mp4, wmv – is always 10 seconds long
  • The masking tool is a simple and hard edged
  • The number of layers is limited to 7

With cliplets there are 3 ways to add movement to the still image – ‘loop’ a short segment, ‘mirror’ a short segment where the movement is run forwards then backwards in a loop and ‘play’ where the segment just plays for as long as you want it to.

Here’s the Cliplet screen showing the areas I’ve selected for movement over the frame I’ve selected for the still.  You can see that I’ve selected the adverts which was the main point of the excercise but I also saw an opportunity to include extra movement as a loop of the girl moving her scarf.  I selected a still where the girl is virtually clear of any other movement.  Note that cliplet uses a low resolution version of the video while editing but outputs the full resolution.

Cliplet - showing selected areas
Cliplet – showing selected areas
Cinemagraph in Piccadilly, London
There is a jump as the gif repeats

Using a mirrored segment introduces a novelty angle to a clip as the movement is obviously unnatural. You can also see the issue of the loop ‘jump’ as it repeats.  In a video which just plays once you don’t have to worry about this.

Cinemagraph in Piccadilly, London
The jump on repeat is gone but the motion is slower

I was able to resolve the jump but it meant stretching the mirrored loop so the end of the final loop coincided with the end of the video.  The downside is that the girl moves her scarf more slowly.
The moving adverts are not a loop but are the full 10 second clip.



Showing the full 10 second video
Showing the full 10 second video

Here’s the full 10 second video (note another issue with Cliplet – the clip speeds up then slows down. I guess it’s a bug but as development stopped around 2012 I doubt it will be fixed).  You’ll see that the short loop of the girl moving her scarf is taken from the end.

The masked area for the full 10 seconds
The masked area for the full 10 seconds

If you want the movement to use the full clip the key is to ensure that the moving element you want to use can be isolated from any movement that you don’t want to include.  That’s why, in many cases, the movement uses a short loop from the video.

It wouldn’t have been possible to show the girl for the whole 10 seconds as people walk between her and the camera. Here you can see what it would look like.

Once you start playing with Cliplets it becomes a LOT clearer and you’ll soon find various ways of combining loops, mirrored loops and play layers.

You can see more Cinemagraphs in my Cinemagraph Gallery


I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.
Diane Arbus 1923 – 1971

What do you think?

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