"Fishing near Spirit Island on Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada - www.travelalberta.com"
Flixels (or Cinemagraph images) are a mesmerizing melding of the beauty of stills with hints of subtle yet fluid motion, creating an artistically fresh and highly engaging storytelling medium. With their use in a variety of marketing contexts having increased by 400% in 2013, it's safe to say the medium is growing quickly, making motion an essential part of any advertiser's visual message.
With stunning creativity, Travel Alberta recently produced a breathtaking campaign that included living photographs. Their goal: to show off the beauty and majesty of Alberta, one of Canada's most magnificent landscapes.
To edit the living photo content of the campaign, the design team chose Flixel's award winning software, Cinemagraph Pro for Mac. We sat down with the creative minds of Travel Alberta to better understand their Cinemagraph creation process, as well as get their take on how this new storytelling medium is impacting digital advertising today.
"Camping near Crimson Lake Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada - www.travelalberta.com"
How do you see Cinemagraph images contributing or changing digital advertising as a new storytelling medium?
To best understand the use of Cinemagraph images in digital advertising, we need to start with the struggle that advertisers and their clients face on regular basis. The demand and appreciation of motion in digital advertising is no longer a “nice to have” option— it’s a “must”. We know that video consistently offers higher engagement than static media. To be fair, you don’t even need to be in the business of marketing to see that. It’s a simple question of what tells the story better, or what conveys the content viscerally? Is it something still or something moving? The answer is something that moves. Movement catches the eye, it puts us in the moment and it feels authentic. So if motion is almost always the more successful choice for digital advertising, then why isn’t everybody leveraging video? In short, the answer is cost.
"Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada - www.travelalberta.com"
The business of creative advertising is in part, reliant on the media buy. Media buys that allow video are amongst the most expensive of the options given. Traditionally, we use Flash-based coded banner ads that do allow motion, but the motion is “mechanical”— often it needs to be animated illustrations instead of video just to make it acceptable in terms of quality. If you push the quality of animation too far, you will exceed the acceptable amount of data that the media buy will allow. This is where the concept of the Cinemagraph image shines for advertisers. Cinemagraph pictures are derived from video and as such, they possess the authentic qualities of both photography and video. Though the source footage is high quality video, the final output of a Cinemagraph image is often a dramatically reduced file size that retains much of the quality. This happens because technically speaking, you are focusing the area of motion to a far more concentrated space. Therefore, the amount of data necessary to display the file is reduced, yet the output, when handled with artistic precision, still feels authentic and lifelike.
It’s this delicate balance of file size and the conveyance of authenticity through image quality and motion that makes a Cinemagraph photo a superior and highly artistic storytelling medium.
How did the concept for this campaign come about? Why was this medium so fitting for Alberta Travel?
So, let’s put aside the technicalities of advertising for a moment. Alberta has some of the most beautiful and dramatic landscapes on Earth. Naturally, we want to share that with the world on a grand scale and never have to sacrifice quality when doing so. We have gorgeous static photography and it’s well utilized in static mediums. We also happen to have some of the most gorgeous video footage that you’ve ever seen and we wanted to display it online. We certainly didn’t want our authentic landscapes being displayed as interpretive illustrations nor reduced quality video— so we chose Cinemagraph images to create photorealistic "living images". Cinemagraph pictures proved to be the perfect balance. They feel real, better yet, they feel surreal as if witnessing a moment in a dream. The motion is true to the experience and quality of image is photographic. All of this, yet they fit into a standard media buy for even the slowest of Internet connections to allow. We like the technique so much that we’ve taken Cinemagraph images beyond the banner and we’re exploring new locations to display them.
"Alberta Prairie Railway Excursion in Stettler, Alberta, Canada - www.travelalberta.com"
What was the creative approach to each Cinemagraph image?
If the only purpose of these Cinemagraph images were that of art in its purest form, we would likely have chosen Cinemagraph photos that focus on the beauty of the water. The movement of water works so well with the looping structure of a living photo because water doesn’t have a start and stop point that visible to the eye—much like a good Cinemagraph image shouldn’t either.
However, these art pieces were designed specifically to show off the beauty and majesty of Alberta, Canada. With so many attractions in this province it wouldn’t be fair to focus on just one thing. The direction or narrative was based on the top experiences that we can offer to tourists. Each Cinemagraph picture was meticulously selected to be part of a 13-piece collection of the most awe-inspiring things you can do and see here. We explored camping, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, snow shoeing, helicopter tours and even train riding across this epic landscape.
The only criteria were to keep the experiences authentic and select only the most breathtaking landscapes. Considering that’s pretty much everything in Alberta, our job was easy.
This is what it takes to achieve a typical Travel Alberta video shoot. Needless to say, the final output looks incredible.
"Wheat field near Carbon, Alberta, Canada - www.travelalberta.com"
What challenges did you face working with Cinemagraph images?
It should be noted that our Travel Alberta video shoots were never intended to be output as Cinemagraph images. We shoot our content with the intent that it will be “evergreen”— That means, it’s intended to be general enough to be a TV spot/web video and in some cases, derived as still photography. That means there were some challenges when selecting the right footage to transform into a Cinemagraph picture.
Much of our footage leverages camera movement. That means the camera is moving around the subject matter causing subjects to shift their position in the video frame. Backgrounds are often parallaxing from the dramatic lifts of the helicopter flight and simple dolly slides or pans look great in traditional video but aren’t conducive to Cinemagraphs. With that in mind, we focused on finding those key moments where the subject matter moved, but the camera was still. With those shots found and catalogued, we had a library of Cinemagraph-ready files just waiting to be mastered.
Travel Alberta has certain experiences that we feel are more entertaining and alluring to the masses than others. In addition, some things look more appealing as a Cinemagraph image than others. For that reason, we often chose footage that possesses a combination of both lakes and mountains, prairies with enormous skies and natural formations and phenomenon’s like waterfalls or the Northern lights. This type of subject matter is why tourists come to Alberta, Canada and there is plenty of it here to visit and enjoy.
Describe your experience using Cinemagraph Pro as a new post-production tool for living photos? Have you experimented with other software?
By itself, Cinemagraph Pro is a complete and pro level solution for creating commercial grade Cinemagraph photos. The standalone software doesn’t require you to have a suite of other products to complete the job with detail. As long as you have an adequate video file, you can trim, mask, animate, loop, color correct and export your Cinemagraph image at up to 4K resolutions. With export choices such as animated GIF or video, you’ll have everything you need to create brilliant Cinemagraph pictures that are ready for distribution online and offline.
We used a combination of Adobe Premiere, Adobe After effects and Photoshop to make our prototype Cinemagraph photos. That software works well and can really do anything, but at the cost of a heavy learning curve and a significant investment of time. Flixel’s Cinemagraph Pro was so easy to use we were able to give it to design teams that had never made one and it was self-explanatory. It’s so intuitive and literal that you’ll know what to look for in source footage after using it only once.
Mountain Biking at Tangle Falls in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada - www.travelalberta.com
"Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump UNESCO World Heritage Site in Alberta, Canada - www.travelalberta.com"
What gear did you use to create these living photographs?
The original source video footage was captured on locations across the Province of Alberta, Canada. Cinema quality video equipment was necessary to capture the depth, color and movement of this untamed and beautiful landscape. The following video equipment was put to use:
- Red Epic
- Red One
- Phantom Flex
- Arri Alex
- Canon 5d
- Phantom Flex
- Arri Alexa
- Cineflex helicopter with Sony 1500
"Fishing on Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada - www.travelalberta.com"
"Bicycling on the Peace Bridge in Calgary, Alberta, Canada - www.travelalberta.com"
Finally, what pro tips can you share when shooting and conceiving hybrid images?
We’d suggest shooting specifically for Cinemagraph images if your budget allows. This means, your subject matter is instructed or purposely captured where you have the intention of only showing a certain area of movement. It’s really not as structured as you might think because you can’t tell nature what to do. You will find that everything, no matter how organic, does have hints of a pattern. If you look close enough at a leaf blowing in the wind or the movement of water, you can find the loop and capture that perfect sequence. If you didn’t find it, a little bit of crossfade in Cinemagraph Pro will heal it up and find the loop for you.
If your shoot must be a hybrid (Cinemagraph image and video/still output) you can simply make sure to keep the camera still at the beginning and end of takes. You really only need approximately 1-3 seconds of footage without heavy camera movement to achieve a library of Cinemagraph images similar to Travel Alberta’s. If your shoot is already set and Cinemagraph photos were not the intention at all, you could first stabilize and treat your footage in a non-linear video editor, then import that file into Cinemagraph Pro for superior results.
"Northern Lights over Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta, Canada - www.travelalberta.com"