Motion Graphics for One-Man-Bands Part 2: Practicals in Premiere Pro (and After Effects)

by Jeremiah Hall (doddleNEWS)

In PART 1 we learned When dealing with 3D space in video, you need to think of the three axes – X, Y and Z.  X is horizontal, Y is vertical and Z is depth.

So now that you know this, what do you do with it?

Pretend you are at work.  A man has died overseas, and you have to do the family reaction piece.  You go to the family’s house, interview the man’s daughter.  The interview goes well and you grab a few shots of the daughter for b-roll.  Unfortunately, the only video of the man was Super-8 footage shot in 1964, which has vanished.  Dad was the family photographer, so there are only four pictures with him in them.  You shoot them, and return back to the newsroom.  Bad news.  It is a light news day.  Your producer asks you to fill a minute fifteen.  How do you make four photographs fill a minute fifteen?  Make them move.

Motion pictures, i.e., television and movies, are just that – motion.  If you make the still photos move, you can fill more time and make the piece more visually interesting.

So how do you do it?  The three axes.

Ms. Blue, a.k.a. Dot, our pretend interview subject.

Meet Ms. Blue, (“Just call me Dot.”).  She is going to be our pretend interview subject.

For this article, I am using Premiere Pro.  The same ideas apply to After Effects, as well as other non-linear editors such as Avid.  Import your footage and A-roll your story.

A-roll first

Depending on the camera you use and how you import your footage will determine how you make your stills.  If you use a memory-based system, then you probably have already just taken a still of the photographs you wish to use.  Import them in like any other piece of footage.  If you are on a tape-based system and have shot the photographs, no fear.  Premiere Pro has a simple Export Frame button.  It looks like a camera.  It defaults as a BMP, so change your file type to a TIFF or a JPG, save it, and re-import it into your project.

The Export Frame button

B-Roll your story.  Add in your stills like you would any other footage (IN/OUT on timeline, IN or OUT in source window).  When you are using stills, do not set an in-point from the first frame of video.  Go in at least one second’s worth.  This way, you have some pre-roll if you decide to add a dissolve.

Next, open the EFFECTS panel in the SOURCE window.

The Effects Panel

On the timeline, highlight the clip you want to animate.  Click the arrow next to motion.  The first heading is for POSITION.  This is both your X axis (first set of numbers), and your Y axis (second set of numbers).  There is a timeline next to these numbers with only the clip you have selected shown.  This timeline is for your effects keyframes.  There is a stopwatch next to the word POSITION.  Click that stopwatch.  This enables you to keyframe your effects.

The next one down is SCALE.  Scale is what we use for the Z axis.

A keyframe is a marker for the computer.  It tells Premiere Pro, “Hey, this is important.  I want it to look this way at this time.”  The machine will make that so.  Adding in another keyframe later tells Premiere Pro, “Hey, I want it to look like this at this particular time.”  Premiere Pro then figures out how all the frames in between the keyframes should look and makes it when the project renders, thereby animating the sequence.

First I’ll demonstrate the X axis.

I set a keyframe on the first frame of my clip.  Past the X and Y position numbers are two arrows with a diamond in the middle.

The Keyframe button

Clicking the diamond makes a keyframe on whatever frame you are currently on.  Click it again, the keyframe is erased.  I put my cursor over the first set of numbers, for the X axis, click and hold the left button and move the mouse left and right.  As the mouse moves so do the numbers and the still of your clip in the monitor window.  Find the point you like and let go.  Set a keyframe on the last frame of video.  Click and hold the mouse over the X position again, and move the picture the opposite way.

Now go to your timeline and play it.  The first still photo moves along the X axis.

For the Y axis, do the exact same thing, just with the Y position numbers instead of the X position numbers.  I did this for the second still photo.

Working with SCALE

The Z axis is a little different.  For the final picture, I bypass POSITION and click on the stopwatch next to SCALE.  I go to the last frame of the picture first, make a keyframe, and set it at 100.  Then I go to the first frame, make a keyframe, and set the scale to something higher than 100.  In this case, I chose about 164.  Play it back on the timeline and you can see the picture look like you are pulling back with your camera.

Add dissolves

The last thing I do is add fifteen frame dissolves between each photo, as well as dissolves between the interview and each end of the photo chain.  Then export media and we’re done.

The above movie is the finished product.  The first photo is the X axis, the second is the Y axis and the third iz the Z axis.  You can make adjustments and mix the axes together and make some very compelling motion out of stills.

For those on After Effects, the same principles apply.  You can find your POSITION and SCALE controls under TRANFORM in the timeline.

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Example:  Ken Burns

Ken Burns, an American documentarian, has had his work featured on PBS for years.  I bring him up here because of his masterpiece, “The Civil War.”  Burns tells the story of the American Civil War using primarily still photos from the time period.  There were no motion pictures in the 1860s.  He made the images move, making the stills much more visually interesting in the context of a long-form documentary.  His technique is come to known as the “Ken Burns Effect” in several non-linear editors and still photo programs.  If you have never seen it, “The Civil War” brings the conflict to life, using interviews, location footage (and most importantly for this article) pictures moving along axes. Final Cut Pro X has the excellent Ken Burns Effect built-in.

About Jeremiah Hall

I am a videographer living in the Cincinnati, OH area. I have over fifteen years experience, with my name on a couple of Emmys and a Murrow or two. When I'm not in front of After Effects or teaching editing techniques, I like to play with camera equipment and as much tech as I can find the time for.

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