Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pumpkin Pie Stop Action Animation

I took over 1100 pictures of Lori making a pumpkin pie and created a stop action animation using the humble Windows Movie Maker. It turns out that neither of my Windows machines are powerful enough for Photoshop to convert that many RAW files in one action or Windows Movie Maker to render them into a video larger then for an iPod.

I overcame that problem by converting half of the RAW files at a time to 720x480 jpgs, compressing them down to 5. In order to create an AVI file in Movie Maker, I had to create 12 different videos of 100 pictures each and then combine them to make one complete video. For posting on SmugMug, I then saved the video in another smaller format.

Looking back, I could have shot the original pictures in jpeg at the correct resolution saving a big step. And I need to figure out the best format to save it for the web. Still working these things out.

It's not too bad. Click the picture below and check it out. And then read my own critical review below.

More thoughts: I learned a few things here, after repeated viewings.

1 - I observe the exposure changing nearly every frame, as Lori moves her arms in and out of the picture. The cause? I used aperture priority mode. As things move around, especially the black sleeves of Lori's shirt, the "correct" exposure changes and the camera adjusts the shutter speed. While her arms are now correctly exposed a change can be seen in surrounding areas such as in the wooden cabinets.

Once I determined the best exposure setting, I should have worked in manual mode which will lock those settings in. Do not change them! Determining that correct exposure is the trick. Using manual mode, chances are not every scene will be perfectly exposed, (ie; the black shirt moving in and out of the picture and moving to various scenes within the kitchen). You need to experiment and find the settings that balance exposure for the whole of the animation.

2 - I also see the focal length changing, or at least appears to change. Watch the edges of the video as they disappear and reappear. My guess is the autofocus is adjusting as arms and items move around the frame. The solution again is to set the best focus for the scene and turn off the automatic focus. I need to verify this with the next animation.

3 - The color and brightness are dull. I filmed this at night under a mix of incandescent and full spectrum fluorescent lighting. I set the white balance to incandescent and did not use a white or grey card. I thought the colors looked pretty accurate.

Maybe what this needed was more light. A faster lens would help too, enabling faster shutter speeds. It would also allow a smaller aperture and a greater depth of field, bringing more into focus.

To summarize what I have learned, consider using manual exposure settings and turn autofocus off. Bring in more light then you think you need, especially to compensate for low light lenses you may not own. If the project is important, rent the equipment you need. Learn to use the software and know the capability of your computer.

For software, I may look into Adobe Premier Elements. Similar to Photoshop Elements, it appears that Premier Elements provides all the basic tools needed to create and edit video for about a 1/5 of the price of the full blown program.


  1. Not only did I learn an enormous amount about how to use a camera to achieve this result, I was able to capture a short cut preparing pumpkin using the microwave. This was my very first incentive to purchase a microwave. Love learning thru all your first time experiences.

  2. Hi Stuart,
    Took me a year to check this out. Great stuff. I wouldn't dare show any of my first time photo video's. Would I be able to do stop action with my Cannon point and shoot camera?