Creating Motion in Stills: How to Animate a Photo in Post with the Parallax Effect

UK motion graphics artist and Make Productions founder Joe Fellows specializes in bringing stills to life. Using a series of steps in Photoshop and then After Effects, Fellows is able to transform photos into ‘2.5D’ animated sequences that look like slow motion footage shot with a video camera.

Fellows uses the term 2.5D to describe the parallax effect, which is what he’s employing when he creates motion in still photography.

The steps, although not necessarily simple, are straight forward. First, he pulls individual pieces of the photo (in the example above: himself and the ping pong balls) into their own layers. Next, he paints in the background that was obscured by his newly created layers as accurately as possible (shallow depth of field helps make this easier).

Once he’s done this, he pulls all of the elements into After Effects, inserts a camera, creates some subtle movement in his own body, performs a few other minor tweaks, and he’s done. Here’s what the final effect looks like:

Obviously this is a lot easier explained/shown than done. Fellows has years of experience creating hundreds of these animations for the World Wildlife Fund, the BBC, Cartoon Network and many more, so he naturally makes it look very easy. Still, you have everything you need to give it a shot yourself in the tutorial video above.

So take a swing at bringing some of your still photos to life, and feel free to share the results in the comments down below. We’d love to see what you come up with! And just in case you need some more inspiration, we’ll leave you with this montage of images that were brought to life by Fellows for the World Wildlife Fund:

(via Instructables)

  • guest

    maybe it ‘brings the photo to life’ but in my opinion a truly great photo already speaks for itself, is already alive.

  • Helo

    I don’t see it as something you do to a photo make it better, so I agree with you.

    I do see it as a valuable production resource and technique; if the intent isn’t simply to display a photographic image in the video, but rather simulate slow motion movement per the thematic demands of your story, this is certainly cheaper (but more time-consuming) than shooting with a camera that goes at a bazillion frames per second. It’s a cost effective means of using a photographic resource in motion graphics and video.

    As with most things of this nature, it’s far more productive to think of it as an available complement to the craft, and not a production trend that intends to replace it or become the norm.

  • Ronen Goldman

    This is mine..

  • ilo_photo

    The WWF montage was amazing! Definitely inspired; I’ve wanted to try this for a long time with a few projects but never got down to business. I guess I have no excuse now.

  • krod2013

    Wouldn’t it have made more sense to shoot an intentionally out-of-focus, wide-angle back-plate image without the subjects? That way you won’t have to painstakingly clone stamp in the missing background once the subjects have been removed?

    Just a thought…

  • Eugene Chok

    ken burns just lost his mind ….

  • DebG.

    Yes, I agree completely. However, sometimes you only have old, archival photographs to work with and this method really helps.

  • Harry

    Any idea how he moved the shadows on his chest?