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StageTools MovingPicture Producer
Posted Jan 9, 2004 - October 2005 Issue Print Version     Page 1of 2 next »

Like Canopus Imaginate, StageTools MovingPicture is a $199 prosumer-level software tool dedicated entirely to panning, scaling, frame-shifting, and keyframing still images for producing the sort of effects Ken Burns achieved in his documentaries. You're most likely to encounter MovingPicture as a plug-in to your software editor of choice. StageTools also sells a standalone version that's intuitive, easy to learn, and powerful, and well-equipped to integrate into the digital studio post-production workflow.

Someday soon, some zeitgeist-mongering journalist will refer to "the enchanting of children through storytelling" as "J.K. Rowling Effect," and it will stick, even though the practice is older than wizardry itself. Likewise, "the use of frame-shifting to animate still images for documentary or other purposes" seems to be generally known as "Ken Burns Effect" these days—Apple went so far as to create an eponymous feature in Final Cut Pro--even though it was done earlier, better, with far less dependence on technology, and with much more dextrous camera mastery by the many pioneering video documentarians from whose work Burns learned his craft.

Call it what you like, it's a great effect, and its expert use in Burns' documentaries is, visually, at the core of their success, providing a fluid lens ideally equipped to frame a reinvented past. Without the so-called Ken Burns Effect, his often hyperbolically narrated epics (with their hit-and-miss narrators—for every wondrous Buck O'Neil, there's a Doris Kearns Goodwin or Billy Crystal) would never have left such a deep imprint on the consciousness of the American viewing public, or brought the documentary form to a bigger TV audience than ever before.

Last March Jan Ozer reviewed Canopus Imaginate (www.emedialive.com/Articles/ReadArticle.aspx?ArticleID=5069), a $199 prosumer-level software tool dedicated entirely to panning, scaling, frame-shifting, and keyframing still images for precisely the sort of effects Ken Burns achieved in his documentaries. Significantly, Ozer lamented the increased difficulty of producing those effects in recent editions of Premiere, and the resulting need for tools that could get the job done more simply and straightforwardly. Imaginate does it well, and outputs DV-quality AVI files suitable for importation into Premiere or other editors.

StageTools offers a similar product, MovingPicture, that accomplishes many of the same feats as Imaginate, and is, if anything, even more simpler than the Canopus tool, though its feature set isn't quite as rich. You're most likely to encounter MovingPicture as a plug-in to your software editor of choice. At present, plug-in versions exist for Final Cut Pro (FC Express does not support plug-ins), Xpress DV/Pro, Pinnacle Edition/Liquid, Adobe Premiere, and Ulead Media Studio Pro. At press time, Pinnacle and StageTools were putting the finishing touches on a plug-in for the "Pro" version of Studio 9.

StageTools also sells MovingPicture as a standalone product, available for Mac and PC, called MovingPicture Producer, which serves essentially the same purpose as the plug-ins. Import your images from wherever you've produced them (MovingPicture accepts most popular file formats, though it prefers TIF over BMP, and the Windows version requires a downloadable driver to work with JPEGs), work your magic on them, and output a video file that can then be imported directly into the timeline in a project in the video editor of your choice. The interface is so concise, MovingPicture seems almost too simple at first. And although there's quite a bit of sophistication in what it does and can do—MovingPicture respects Alpha Channel values, does 3D camera "moves," and boasts a rendering mode optimized for multiprocessor systems—but it's easy to master with little knowledge beyond how to manipulate rudimentary vector controls (which aptly describes your reporter here).

Move it on  Over
The first thing one needs to understand about a tool like MovingPicture Producer is that it's not an goal line-to-goal line product like, say, Studio 9, that will take you all the way from capture to DVD output. Rather, it meets you mid-journey and advances you to the next stage, so it's important to know how it will fit into your workflow.

It's easy to imagine all the types of tools that could be used in conjunction with MovingPicture. First and most obvious is a video editor like Studio on the consumer end and Final Cut or Premiere in the pro/prosumer domain. Export a grabbed frame from your video stream or a still image from a slide show or multimedia documentary project and bring it into MovingPicture for scaling, zooming in on particular component of the image, in sequence, to accompany narration or any other audio track. Using vectors to scale (upper right, lower right, and lower left corners), rotate (upper left) and move within (axes in the center of the scaling box) the image, you select the parts you want to highlight, keyframe them in the MovingPicture timeline (always at the bottom of the screen), monitor your "camera moves" in the viewer, and time your keyframes to match the audio or the progress of your narrative.

MovingPicture will also space your keyframes equally, automatically if you choose the options. All keyframes can be moved or deleted from the timeline after they've been set. By dragging a tiny green arrow atop the keyframe in the timeline, you can also add and set duration for dissolves between images if you've loaded multiple images into your "show." But since most, if not all, users will be rendering their show into an AVI file to be imported into a video editor, they'll probably want to ignore that feature and leave the transitions to the richer palette of the destination NLE.

You can import a "soundtrack" (a WAV file on your hard drive) to play along with your "movie" in the viewer (the soundtrack doesn't export). Make sure every camera move is where and when you want it, that the images you create shift appropriately, render your "movie," and export it as an AVI file for easy interchange with other programs.

It's easy to see where you might take your project next: back to your video editor, or into an audio-specific tool like Adobe Audition to manipulate your audio in sync with the movie, or into Sony CD Architect to tweak and stretch your narration without altering pitch to make sure it matches your MovingPicture movie (e.g., so that the face described in the narration is in fact discussed while it's on screen). Then back into Premiere, Edition, Final Cut, or Studio for placement in the timeline and integration into the full project.


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