Cinegram, photographic half life

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A recent iPhone image-creation toy I’ve been playing with is Cinegram. It generates images that are somewhere between a photograph and a very short video clip. They look like this:

The file format is the ancient animated GIF that has been with us since the dark ages of the web. This has the advantage of being playable on all sorts of devices (aka it doesn’t use Flash so you get it on your mobile device).

The process of creating a cinegram is straightforward:

  1. Capture some video.
  2. Trim the video to very short length required.
  3. Draw the part you want to be “alive” on the screen.
  4. Apply the cheesy fake “creative” filters ala Instagram if you must.
  5. Review and save.
  6. Publish to Cinegram, Tumbler, Twitter and Facebook or send it as an email attachment.
Step 3, drawing the part that you want to be live is the challenging part and takes a little bit getting used to. As with other drawing apps you will wish you had a stylus if you’re picky.

Social layer

Unlike other popular image apps there isn’t a very deep social layer to Cinegram. There’s a simple thumbs up/thumbs down you can apply to images that are in the rolling feed of everyone who submits their images to Cinegram.

Other than that there’s nothing much really. No connecting yourself to your friends and subscribing to their feeds and so on. It seems Cinegram is content to just focus on making the content creation part for now.

Using Cinegram

The nice thing about leaving the popularity contest out of the app is that it leaves a little more headspace for just making the images. And since it’s a somewhat novel approach to image making this is probably good.

It’s more work to make a Cinegram than snapping a cheeky photo and pressing a button to apply an emo filter.

For one, if you want to get past the novelty and gimmick aspects you’ll end up putting some time into the concept. Perhaps something to show the excitement and glamour of traveling for example:

You might have to consider locations, weather or subject. And you might want to plan that sort of thing out as well.

The creative work in making cinegrams results in an odd displacement of time and expectations. We expect a photograph to remain still, to not move around on us. And when some small part is alive in the picture while the rest is behaving as it should, there’s a little moment of magic. A sort of “how’d he do that?”

From there it’s just like any other creative endeavor, honing the technique to make the sort of stuff you want to make. It could be large and fairly obvious.

It could be not as obvious.

What I like about the not-as-obvious approach is that it looks like a regular old picture to anyone just blasting past. But if someone spends a little time with it, they get a little reward.

From new media to new narrative

There are a wide variety of ways to create images that have been made accessible to people over the past year or two. The 3D videography of Dot or the filtration-driven iPhone apps for example. Cinegram is just another of these. And more are on the way even as I write this.

For the past ten years “new” media has, to be quite honest, simply been a tale of new distribution. There wasn’t anything new about the media at all. It was still images, text and eventually video; it was all just mixed media. The “new” thing was that it was delivered via a new device (the computer) by new companies that were not newspaper publishers, television broadcasters, film studios or radio stations. That was the “new” in new media.

As we start to encounter and play with actually “new” media like cinegram or Dot, we gain the opportunity to craft new narratives. Just as the haiku poetry format doesn’t fit all narratives, not all narratives will be best served by emerging new media formats.

But some people will play with the new formats and get beyond making gimmicks with them. Some of those people will be able to craft narratives that convey emotional meaning using the new formats.

And you’ll either be one of those people or hire one of those people or just keep doing what you’ve always been doing.

If you want to see where you can go with this sort of imagery (which means leaving the App behind and using professional tools) take a look at a Cinemagraph. (Thanks Matthew Shadbolt for the heads up).