Software Review: PhotoMotion 1.5 from GeeThree

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the May, 2010, issue of
Larry’s Monthly Final Cut Studio Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]


Disclosure: GeeThree Software was a sponsor of a recent webinar. Click here to read my review and disclosure policy.

A few months ago, Bruce Gee, CEO of GeeThree Software, demoed to Ken Stone and myself a beta version of a new product he was developing that simplified the process of creating moves on still images. (He got the idea after watching my tutorials on Lynda.com on creating moves on still images; he realized the whole process could be much simpler.)

Both Ken and I were very impressed with what we saw and provided a number of suggestions on ways to improve the beta that Bruce took back to his development team. He released an improved version a few months later, called PhotoMotion.

Since then, Bruce and I have chatted often about this product. I demoed it from time to time in my seminars and am currently using it in my webinar on preparing stills for video.

However, I haven’t put the product under any heavy stress until this last week, when I was asked to create a memorial video using about 100 stills. So, Bruce sent me a demo copy of their latest version for me to work with.

There is no question that Final Cut can create moves on stills, however, the process is cumbersome. And, due to long-standing bugs in Final Cut, if you start to add acceleration and deceleration to your moves, the results can best be described as somewhat erratic.

So, I decided this was the perfect time to put PhotoMotion to the test. This review uses the latest version – 1.5 – of the software, running inside FCP 7 under OS 10.5.8.

THE WORKFLOW

In a nutshell, here’s the workflow:

1. Organize the images
2. Store the images in a place that PhotoMotion can find
3. Start Final Cut Pro
4. Create your moves using either PhotoMotion or PhotoMotion Producer
5. Render your finished effects

What I found works best, when dealing with a lot of stills, is to get them organized before even moving into Final Cut. I use Adobe Bridge (which is bundled with both Photoshop and Production Premium).

The benefits to using Bridge are that:

  1. I can see all the images in light-table mode
  2. I can rearrange images in any order I choose.
  3. I can easily add, move, and remove images.
  4. It is a single mouse-click to open an image in Photoshop for retouching.
  5. I can batch rename the images so that, once I have them in the order I want, I quickly add a number to the beginning of each file name so that all the images sort in the correct order.

Once I have the images organized and renamed, its time to open Final Cut and get to work.

CREATING A SINGLE MOVE

There are two ways we can create moves: one image at a time, or building a sequence of images. This first section looks at how to create a single move, the next section examines creating sequences.

There are a couple of quirks you need to keep in mind when using PhotoMotion:

  1. PhotoMotion is a generator, not a filter. So, it’s located in the Generator menu in the lower right corner of the Viewer.
  2. You can’t drag images from the Browser into PhotoMotion because of programming restrictions with Final Cut Pro. This is why we need to create a folder (or group of folders) that contain our images in the Finder before starting Final Cut.

From the Generator menu, select SlickFX Generators > PhotoMotion.

BEFORE making any changes, edit this from the Viewer into the Timeline. This tells the generator what video format, aspect ratio, frame rate, and all the other technical stuff it needs to match; otherwise, you’ll get an effect that doesn’t match your sequence.

Then, double-click the file to load it back into the Viewer. Click the Controls tab at the top of the Viewer window to display the settings for this effect. Click the Configure button to open up the interface.

The interface is divided into two sections: the Navigation Pane, on the left, and the image controls, on the right.

By default, the Navigation Pane shows images stored in the Picture folder of your Home directory. While useful, I try never to store images, or any other project data, in my Home directory.

So, in the Navigation Pane, just above the gray text stating “Drag additional source folders here” I control click, which allows me to import any folder into the application. I find using this method is easier than reducing the size of Final Cut to see the Finder, then dragging a folder into the interface; though dragging in a Finder folder works just fine, too.

NOTE: Although you would think you can drag folders from the Browser into PhotoMotion, you can’t. You can only drag folders from the Finder.

 

ANOTHER NOTE: I’ve tried putting aliases of folders into the Pictures folder, but have found that, frequently, PhotoMotion doesn’t see aliases.

Select an image from the Navigation Pane and drag it into the window on the right.

Once you’ve added an image, the movement controls appear. Here’s where the fun starts!

The image on the left is where your animation starts. The image on the right is where it ends. The five sliders control:

1. Scale
2. Rotation
3. Horizontal position
4. Vertical position
5. Delay before, or after, the animation

You can use the sliders, but there’s a much cooler way. Just put your mouse in the middle of an image. Rolling the scroll wheel zooms in or out, while dragging the picture repositions it. (Rotation and delay require using the sliders.)

To preview your move, click the Play button in the lower center of the screen. This generates a realtime playback of your effect. Continue tweaking until you are happy.

OTHER TOOLS

Across the bottom are other tools that provide features that don’t exist in Final Cut itself.

You can switch between viewing the Navigation panl or seeing how much of an image you are using in your move.

You can save animation styles. Create something once and use it over and over again. (I find this of limited use, simply because the composition in each of the images I use is different. However, if you are using similarly composed images, this could be a real time-saver.)

Switch the starting and ending positions. This is a very cool trick. You decide that you need to zoom out, rather than in. Click this button and everything flips; instantly. In Final Cut, I’d have to move each and every keyframe; painful.

You can cancel out all movement by clicking this button (valuable, I’m sure, but I’ve never used it).

You can minimize thin line flicker by turning this on. I’ve found this works sometimes, and other times I get better results by adding a small – between 0.5 – 1.0 – of Gaussian Blur to the clip.

You can add acceleration or deceleration to the beginning, middle, or end of a movement. This is REALLY helpful because you can start to craft exactly how quickly an image takes off or lands. I use this a lot. The slider to the right of the button allows you to select how much acceleration you want to use.

When you are happy with your move, click OK.

The animation is now a clip in your Timeline that you can edit like any other clip. To go back and make changes, double-click the clip to load it into the Viewer, go to the Controls tab, click Configure and tweak.

CREATING SEQUENCES

For me, the real power of PhotoMotion comes in when creating sequences of clips. In Final Cut, we work with each clip individuall; in PhotoMotion Producer, we can work with clips in groups.

Here’s how.

From the Generator menu, select SlickFX Generators > PhotoMotion Producer.

This loads an empty sequence into the Viewer. This time, DON’T edit it to the Timeline. Instead, click the Controls tab and click Setup Slide show.

What we are doing here is constructing a sequence of images, in the order we want them to appear, adding transitions and default animation, then editing them into either a new project or an existing project.

When I first started using this feature, I dragged each individual image from the left side to the right. As sequences got longer, this got harder and harder to put an image exactly where I wanted it in the stack. A MUCH easier way to work is to select all the images in a folder by selecting the first image, Shift-clicking the last image – which selects all images in a folder – and then dragging the entire group into the pane on the right.

Since we already organized all our images in the correct order by file name (see the section on Workflow above), this instantly creates the entire animated sequence, using default settings.

Using the slider at the bottom, you can change the duration of an individual image by selecting the image then dragging the slider – OR – what I find much easier, select all the images by selecting one, then pressing Command+A, and adjust the Duration slider so that all images have the length you need.

This is a great way to get all your images to sync up to the beat of the music.

Remember earlier I mentioned you can save animation styles? Well, the pop-up menu just above the Duration slider allows you to set an animation style to all selected images.

Change the order of slides by dragging. Remove slides by highlighting and deleting them. Insert slides by dragging from the Navigation pane into the image list at the position you want the new image to occupy.

Very easy and very fast.

When you are happy with your sequence, click Build.

You can either create a new project for your images, or create a new sequence and add it to the Browser of an existing project.

Click Create and your new sequence is created. It automatically adds the default video transition between all slides, adds handles, and adjusts keyframes as necessary.

At this point, you can treat each image as any other clip, or, if you want to adjust the animation, double-click the clip to load it into the Viewer and adjust as you would any other PhotoMotion clip. (We discussed this process earlier.)

THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR

Opening folders containing huge numbers of files can cause problems. What I do, instead, is to copy just the images I want to use into a separate folder, which allows me to organize and rename only the images I want to use.

Creating huge sequences can also cause problems. I try to limit each sequence to 50-75 images. Since I can edit as many sequences as I want to the Timeline, this isn’t a big deal.

Not all image formats are supported. I consistently had good results with PNG (I tend to avoid JPEG for quality reasons, but these are supported too.) Some TIFF formats seem not to be supported.

Also, folder contents are only read when you start the application. Adding an image to a folder after PhotoMotion has started does not update the Navigation Pane.

Finally, I’ve found that the Navigation Pane doesn’t always read image orientation accurately. Slides come in rotated. Since I have rotation control as part of the animation, this, too, isn’t a big problem to fix.

THE REAL BENEFITS

PhotoMotion offers several time-saving benefits when creating moves on stills:

  1. You don’t need to prep your images, or compensate for the differences in pixel aspect ratios.
  2. You don’t need to pre-size your images.
  3. If you are adding transitions, handles are generated automatically and the animation adjusts to accommodate the transition
  4. If you change the duration of a clip, the duration of the animation changes as well, so you never need to reset keyframes
  5. Once edited to the Timeline, an animated clip behaves just like any other clip, so you can add FCP filters, color correction, or motion effects, without changing your animation.

Using PhotoMotion Producer allowed me to create a 100-image montage, with custom moves and timed to the music, in about three hours. The last time I did this using only Final Cut Pro, it took me two days, and I was still wrestling with adding transitions and tweaking keyframes up until I needed to create the final output.

PhotoMotion saves me time and gives me more control, with greater flexibility. Plus, it’s fun to play with.

 


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