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CINEMAGRAPHS: The Motion In Stillness for Joe Compass "Back To Me"

A Making-of with Directors Ian And Cooper

Joel Compass "Back To Me"

Cinemagraph. That's the technical term to describe the still/motion effect in last month's breathtaking Joel Compass "Back To Me" video directed by Ian And Cooper, named to Videostatic's Best Of The Month list for March.

Cinemagraphs are essentially a more artistic and strategic version of a GIF, a term coined and technique pioneered  by NYC artists Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg. It's essentially a still photo that has motion in an isolated area, created by layering a series of photos, isolating and exporting the motion from one specific area, and then combining it with a still. Like many video effects, it's hard to explain, surprisingly easy to create via tools like Cliplet, and very easy to appreciate.

"Back To Me" isn't the first example of the technique in a video — Australian director Kris Moyes has been playing with cinemagraphs for a while, most notably in his seizurific Kirin J. Callinan video "Way II War" and Grizzly Bear "Gun-Shy" — but Ian & Cooper use cinemagraph in a narrative framework where it adds a layer of understanding to the action.

Ian Schwartz, co-director "The initial spark for the technique came from the lovely video commissioner Dilly Gent, who referenced La Jetée (a 1962 short film by Chris Marker composed from a series of still images )in her brief. Cooper Roberts and I did a ton of research on cinemagraphs; what effects were possible, what kind of movement was most striking, etc.   We shot-listed everything and specifically mapped out what parts of the frame would be in motion so that we could shoot it correctly.  We knew it'd be a challenge to communicate story using only still images without the help of a narrator, so we also made a really rough animatic of the whole video, so we could test how it paced to the music and came together narratively."

"The shoot itself felt like part photo shoot and part cinema. In each set-up, we'd have our actors pose, holding still in a certain position while we shot about 10 seconds of footage.  Different shots required different post techniques, but in general the cinemagraphs came together in After Effects by layering a still frame over the moving footage and through masking, rotoscoping and stabilization."

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