Jerry Hofmann reviews StageTools
Jerry Hofmann reviews StageTools’s Moving Picture
A Creative COW "Real World" Product Review
Denver, Colorado USA
©2002 Jerry Hofmann and CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.
MovingPicture from StageTools is a dedicated program made for panning and zooming high resolution photographs for inclusion into projects edited in all the popular NLE's. In this article, Jerry Hofmann gives his impression of this great tool.
Non-linear editors are best used to edit with. Yes, they have tools to do compositing, but stand-alone compositors always will do either a better, or easier job of accomplishing compositing tasks. Yes, they have title tools, but stand-alone tilters do a better or easier job. That said, many editors often have the task of panning and zooming photographs for inclusion into their programs, and yes, most professional level non-linear editors will do the job. Maybe not fast, maybe not easily, but certainly can make a run at the chore.
After using Final Cut Pro since it was a baby and using Avid products for 13 years, Ive been doing this chore within the application, or (much more often) spending the time with a camera to do the moves with by shooting the photos themselves. Of course, not being a great cameraman, and not having a motion control rig at the ready, I often spent a lot of time getting the photos on to tape. The smaller photographs were almost impossible to work with.
Its been a tedious and often unsatisfying chore whether I was shooting it, or whether I was attempting to do the job in my NLE. Spending up to 20 minutes to just get it the way I want it to be, and then many times just buying what I ended up with because I just didnt have more time to tweak in the NLE. Maybe it didnt zoom in quite like Id like it, but I ended up buying something close just because I couldnt stand the frustration any more. After Effects might have done the job just as well, but certainly not easier than what I could do with Final Cut Pro (or Avid, or Media 100, or any other NLE you can name).
After hearing about MovingPicture, I reckoned that a program made to do this sort of work just might make things easier, and possibly better. Guess what? I was dead-on right. Far less than the cost of a single day rental on a computer controlled motion control camera rig, you can do this job easily and with the confidence that anyone looking at the finished product would swear you did this with a motion control camera.
MovingPicture from StageTools is a dedicated program made for panning and zooming high resolution photographs for inclusion into projects edited in all the popular NLE's. In fact you can pan and zoom high-resolution images up to 4,000 by 4000 pixels ala Ken Burns to your hearts content. It renders fast (its dual processor aware), and saves files in any video format you can think of, and programs these moves so much faster and more intuitively than any NLE Ive ever seen. On top of that, its a snap to learn. I dont think I spent 20 minutes reading the simple instructions and was a master of the program on my second try. Shoot, it would take me that long to setup a camera and light to work with! It took me one mistake on the duration of the movie I was making to quickly fix the problem and go again. (You smart folks out there will get it down pat on the first try.)
The image appears on the screen. Dragging and sizing a framing box icon on top of it changes the view, adding key frames onto the timeline. You see the image as it is programmed to be cropped in the Viewer as you go along. You can cut and paste the key frames, drag them to a later location, or delete them all you want. The keyframes hold the position and size information in a single keyframe, unlike most non-linear editors you dont need to program a size change in one keyframe parameter and a position change in another parameter setting, always having to make sure that you are positioning in the same moment as a size change, and making sure youve programmed them both to ease in and out if you wish.
No Rendering Until Youre Happy
You can preview the motion in real time without any rendering, so the design process is very rapid. All motion paths are smooth, splined and tapered. Motion is field rendered to sub-pixel accuracies. What more could you want? Take a look at the interface:
Looks easy, is easy! You can choose to ease in and out or just in or just out as well from the simple menus at the top. Cant get any simpler.
So I gave it the acid test. I programmed the same moves on the same image in Final Cut Pro 3 on OS X, and then mirrored the moves in MovingPicture. I rendered the movie from MotionPicture then imported it into Final Cut Pro. I then programmed the same move in FCP and put them side-by-side in the same sequence just to see how they compared to each other. The MovingPicture movie I saved as a QuickTime movie with the DV NTSC compressor I was using in FCP, so there was no further rendering needed when I dragged it to the sequence.
This is what I experienced when I played them back: MovingPicture was smoother, a lot smoother and although it didnt render quite as fast as the identical FCP moves I made in the same sequence, it looked much better than the FCP rendered moves. There was no doubt which program did the better job of the same task quality wise. Just as important, it took me only about 1/3 the time to finish the job. FCP rendered its version of the move in about 3 minutes, and MovingPicture rendered its version of the movie in about 4. But I only spent about 2 minutes programming it in MovingPicture, and at least 15 minutes programming it in FCP. Overall, I saved a lot of time. If you had a bunch of these photo pans and zooms to do, you probably could do it in much less than half the time and get a much higher quality look to the moves to boot! I will never again even attempt to do this any other way StageTools makes this easier than falling of a log.
StageTools offers two versions of MovingPicture:
- As a plug-in to a nonlinear editing system
- As a standalone program (The Producer) for creating digital movie files.
I reviewed this program using my trusty dual 533 G4, and found it happily ran in OS X as a stand-alone program.
Some New Features in the Latest Release:
- Centering of Picture on Stage: The picture defaults in the top left corner, but you can have it displayed in the center of the screen by clicking on the" Center Pic on Stage" item in the "Options" menu will center the image on the stage area, for easier positioning of images and rotation.
- Matching Moves to New Pictures: Sometimes it is useful or necessary to create you moves initially with a lower resolution image initially, and then remake the how with a higher spatial resolution image for the final show. To facilitate this, a dialog that will appear whenever you re-load a picture to an existing show, asking if you want to match the current moves to the new picture's size. Saying yes will scale to existing Keyframes to the new picture's size.
- Image Preparation Options:
- Clicking on the "Image Prep" option in "Edit" menu will bring up a dialog box that has the following features: These options are saved with the clip and/or show file, so you can have multiple settings on the same timeline and be assured each will render as they were set initially. Multiple pictures in the Producer version will all share a single setting however. Adding these any of these options should not increase render times on most systems.
- Clicking on the "Video-Safe Color" check box will make sure that the color range of the incoming image when initially loaded is now shaped to the NTSC/PAL color space, rather than the straight RGB color space (i.e. black level at 7.5). For example, an RGB 0 will be raised to 19, and a 255 will be compressed to 235.
- Clicking the "Pre-Blur" option will add a small Gaussian blur to the image to reduce moiré and noise artifacts on very crisp images. If blur is turned on, a notice will appear in the bottom center of the screen.
- You add a colored border around your image by adjusting the slider from 0 (no border) to 100 (100% of the image's width). Clicking on the color option will bring up a color selection dialog that you can choose the color in RGB, HLS or choosing one of the color or grayscale chips. This is useful for zooming beyond actual picture.
- Batch Rendering in Producer: Choosing the "Batch Render Movies" option in the file menu will allow you to render a collection of show files as a QT or AVI movie. A choose file dialog will appear. Select the shows you want to render, using the Shift or Control keys to allow the selection of multiple files. The standard "Make Movie" and codec, and movie file name choice options will appear, as with making a single movie. Each show will then render into it's own file, appending a number to the name you chose (i.e. myMovie01.avim myMovie02.avi, etc...) This is supported in Windows and Mac OS-X versions only.
- Adjustable Eases: You can change the speed of the ease in or out of any particular Keyframe. Right-clicking (Control-click on the Macintosh) on a Keyframe in the timeline will bring up a dialog box that will allow you to control how the move will flow from that key to the next. The "Ease Speed" slider sets the speed in which eases in and out will occur. Drag the slider from 0 (slowest) to 100 (fastest).
- Camera Alignment Keys: There are some new keys to make aligning the camera to a picture faster. Control-Left Arrow will align the left side of the camera to the picture's left side. Likewise, right, top and bottom arrows move the camera correspondingly. Control-Home will center the camera to the image. Control-PageUp makes the camera the image height and Control-PageDown make the camera the image width. The stage must be clicked on before these keys will be active.
The MovingPicture Plug-in works from within most major nonlinear editing systems to enable you to create smooth moves directly from the editor's timeline. There are no movie files to import and the moves can be instantly changed and saved with the show. The plug-in is available for the following editors for $199:
Theres nothing quite like an application thats made to do a specific task. Yep, I guessed right, if you need to do moves on high resolution stills, and you need to do it very often at all, youll be very happy with MovingPicture. At $199, its certainly not going to break the bank, and will save you a lot of time. In fact, if you have been doing this sort of work with your NLE, one job with 50 photos will more than pay for the software in frustration savings alone. Simple, easy to use and produces absolutely professional results.
I give it 4 cows.
- Adobe Premiere 5.0 / 6.0 (Win/Mac)
- Adobe After Effects (Win/Mac)
- Apple Final Cut Pro
- Avid Media Composer / Symphony / XPress (Win/Mac)
- Canopus RexEdit/ DVEdit / DVStorm
- Discreet edit
- DPS Velocity
- Fast Multimedia FASTStudio
- IMC Incite
- In-Sync SpeedRazor
- Media 100 (Win/Mac)
- United Media Online Expres
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