Note: You’ll need the Extended version of Photoshop to do this, as it includes the Animation components. You’ll also need a very basic working knowledge of Photoshop, as I’m not going to explain key concepts such as layers, or how to trash them or make them invisible. Windows users, replace CMD with CTRL, and OPTION with ALT keys in the tutorial.
Movies, Timelines & QuickMasks
Go ahead and open up a video file as you would any other file. If the animation window doesn’t automatically load, turn it on from the Windows menu. Here I’ve chosen a little video I took on my iPhone of a squirrel in St James Park, London.
Find the small icon for the animation drop down menu in the top right of the timeline, as we’re going to be using it a lot. Click it, and find the Document Settings. Change the frame rate to about 15 if it’s higher. Generally, videos will start out at about 30 frames per seconds, which is too high for simple animations.
Next, get familiar with the timeline a little more. Along the top of the timeline is a blue pointer which indicates the current frame in the sequence. Drag it to scrub back and forth through your movie. There are also play controls in the bottom right.
Drag the pointer to where you want your movie to start. Now, drag the blue rectangle that marks the start of the movie to where your pointer has moved to. Hold down the shift key to have it snap onto your pointer location. If you hit play again, you should notice that the movie now begins where you set it to.
Drag the marker again to where you want the movie to end, and do the same with the small blue end marker from the right hand side. Now preview again, and you should see the basic loop of your movie taking place. If everything is good, select Trim Document Duration to Work Area from the timeline menu again in the top right.
Next, you need to find your master frame – this is the one frame of video that will be the backdrop – the bit of your animation that doesn’t move. Scrub the marker until you see the desired frame, then hit CMD-A to select all and CMD-C to copy, then CMD-V to paste. This should create a new layer with your selected keyframe.
Next, hit the Q key to open QuickMask mode. Select the paintbrush tool and a suitable size brush, and begin to paint the areas of your movie that you wish to remain static. In QuickMask mode, you should see them highlighted red when you paint (if not, you’re not in quick mask mode, so undo and try again). Leave the areas which have the moving element of the movie that you want to retain.
Having highlighted all the bits of the scene that you want to stay still, hit Q again to exit the QuickMask mode, then hold ALT and click the Add Layer Mask button on the layer palette. That’s the button on the bottom that’s a rectangle with a circle in it.
This should create a new layer mask on the still image keyframe layer, like below.
At this point you should be able to preview your animation if both layers are visible, just hit play in the animation window. You can also still crop the animation if you wish, as I did in this case. This is now a good indication of what your final Cinemagraph is going to look like – the rest of the steps are simply how to export this into an animated GIF.
Export The Animation
Click the animation menu again and select Flatten Frames Into Layers. This will create a bunch of layers, each a single frame in the movie. Delete the original keyframe image, and the movie layer, leaving only the animation frame layers you just created.
Next, turn the movie into a Frame Animation by clicking this button in the bottom right of the animation timeline window. When you do this, only one frame will be created, but don’t worry.
Next, back to the animation menu and select Make Frames From Layers. This will convert all your animation layers into Frames.
Finally, your frame animation has a long pause at the beginning. Click on the first frame to bring up the delay menu. You can either remove it completely, or start adding different delays on various frames if you want a particular timing effect.
Finally, you want the animation to loop forever, not just play once, so just beneath the initial frame click the drop-down that says ONCE and change it to FOREVER.
Now you’r ready to save. From the File menu, select Save for The Web & Devices. Choose the file-type GIF, and reduce the physical size if necessary. Remember there’s a indication of final file size in the bottom left, so play around with the settings to get this as low as possible. I suggest using a pattern dither, and reducing the number of colours to around 32 or 64, with a Selective colour selection.
Obviously, if your camera was shaking in the original movie like mine was then the effect is going to be a little odd, and it’s also best if it’s able to loop seamlessly. I’m sure you can do better though. If you’ve made your own Cinemagraph, feel free to share a link to it in the comments, and we’ll see who’s the best. You can also read all our other Photoshop articles and tutorials here.