Ken Burns: going inside the photograph
August 21, 2008
In yesterday's jazz post I mentioned Ken Burns, one of my favorite documentary film makers and storytellers of our time. He is perhaps most famous to many people for the "Ken Burns effect," a technique for adding motion to still photography. In this technique life is given to a photo by slowly panning or zooming in or out to give emphasis or create drama, etc. Burns learned the technique from his mentor in the '70s and applied it in the making of the documentary Brooklyn Bridge in 1981 (nominated for an Academy Award). The effect first appeared in software (as the "Ken Burns effect" at least) in Apple's iMovie several years ago. Below you can see a good example of the Ken Burns style in this powerful introduction to the documentary Jazz. The first five minutes is mostly old film clips, but after that you begin to see the usage of old photos set to subtle motion. The beauty of it is you really never notice. The modern interviews, the voice over, and the mixing of still images with motion picture footage is smooth and seamless. Like any good art, the viewer doesn't notice the technique. What they notice, and are taken in by, is the whole of the visual experience and the narration, that is, the story.
Ken Burns on the "Ken Burns effect"
Below is a great piece featuring Ken Burns explaining the power of the technique and a funny story of how Ken met Steve Jobs, etc. Really good stuff.
When you think about it, often the photo really is more powerful than video at telling the story. The photo captures a moment in time allowing the viewer to slow down and think and wonder and reflect. Photos allow for greater emphasis and may have less distracting elements, giving the presenter or narrator/film maker more freedom to augment the photo (or the other way around). We can learn a lot from documentary film, especially the kind like those created by Burns which rely so heavily on still images. One tip is to avoid the usage of imagery as ornamentation. What you see in Burns' films is a simple and powerful use of photos and other imagery that support the narrative and illuminate the story on a visceral level, thereby making the experience richer and stickier.
• Checkout this cool app — Fotomagico by Boinx. This is one of the coolest apps out there and can certainly be used for many kinds of presentations. It has many features including Ken Burns effects and text, etc. Really powerful application for the price.
• A couple of years ago I put this slideshow together in about 45 minutes with just some minor tweaking of the Ken Burns effects in iPhoto. It's just your typical wedding album, but with the effect added the set of photos are a bit more engaging.(Youtube version, higher rez version on bliptv).
If you are serious about resolution quality and smooth movement across still images, take a look at Wings 3.6 from AV Stumpfl
Its roots lie in the old slide projector control days, but this stuff is magnificent. You can use either standard sized screens (ie. 1024 x 768) or a custom size (10,000 x 1,500) and use multiple projectors with Wings creating the soft edge masks. Wings is a display medium, not an authoring environment, so slides need to be created in Photoshop. Handles still images, audio tracks, video tracks, and control tracks (for speaker support).
They offer a standard version for free (one audio, one video, one image track. Full functionality is around $1,000.
Presentations out of Wings are just luscious. I don't sell it, I just use it for speaker support. More work than something like PowerPoint, but the results are stunning (and you never, ever, have to show the desktop on your screen).
If it is an important presentation, where visual quality matters, it might be worth the extra effort. This is bigger in Europe than it is in the US.
Posted by: Kevin Hougham | August 22, 2008 at 01:31 AM
I've had great success using Fotomagico. It allows you to efficiently put together an AV slideshow while preserving a lot of control. Here's an example of a retrospective piece for the nonprofit, Education Development Center. After we put together the basic production, we added more sophisticated graphics on the MOV file in After Effects.
Posted by: Allison Daskal Hausman | August 22, 2008 at 01:53 AM
Man, Ken Burns has some weird hair.
Posted by: Wilco | August 22, 2008 at 02:12 AM
I wish I could point to an example, but I have seen some videos that take a still image, apply a slow pan+zoom, and slowly stretch the background of the still image to draw emphasis on an object in the foreground. What is this technique called? Does it use compositing? What tools do this?
I have one slide that I planned on using iMovie to get the Ken Burns effect, but Wings looks very interesting and I will check it out. Thanks Kevin!
Posted by: Brett | August 22, 2008 at 01:43 PM
Ah... its called the Dolly Zoom
Posted by: Brett | August 22, 2008 at 01:58 PM
Hi, there is a very good new add on for Power Point called pptPlex.
Probably, you are already aware of it.
Posted by: Eugene | August 24, 2008 at 08:14 PM
I'm quite new at your blog, really impressive, my compliments.
Regarding your post, here below an example of what and how much a without Hollywoood effects presentation can convey...:
Outstanding photography and deep simplicity are the keys.
Posted by: Nico | August 24, 2008 at 09:51 PM