Designing Cinemagraphs (Module Two)

I asked my other half if he knew what cinemagraphs were, and he responded with, “are those like the moving paintings in Harry Potter?”

Well, not quite, but it was a good guess. Cinemagraphs are a moving picture, but a hybrid between photo and video – typically most of the image is static, while one part of it moves in a continuous loop. 

To be honest, cinemagraphs are a really cool way to show audiences an image that exposes more – the moving element brings the photo to life. So, this week, I was on a journey to create my own cinemagraphs while using knowledge I found through readings, research, and tutorials. 


Throughout Chapters two, three, and four of Animated Storytelling, author Liz Blazer describes how to effectively realize a story topic, lay it out, find the narrative, and storyboarding it for pre-production. 

Chapter two: Storytelling, is all about using a story structure. There are classic story structures, and there are non-linear story structures. Either one is fine to use, it depends on the story, and how you want it to be told. 

Classic Story Structure:

  1. The character has a problem
  2. The character works towards the solution
  3. The character solves the problem, typically in a surprising way

Non-liner Story Structure:

This way is to essentially build around your inspiration, and then to build a structure around it. There are many ways this can be done – including beginning the story at the end, or to make it like an interactive puzzle.

Chapter three: Unlocking Your Story, goes into more depth about how to bring the story to its overall fruition by finding the narrative or experimental form. During this chapter, Blazer explains that overall, the goal is to have a clear and prominent topic, the story begins at the right place, and features characters with interesting secrets that motivate them. 

Chapter four: Storyboarding, tells the reader all about what storyboarding is – which finds the visual elements that suit the story in the most effective way, and how to do that. To first begin with the storyboarding, you need to create thumbnails, which are the very roughly sketched visuals that accompany the story. Once these thumbnails are arranged in the order desired, they should be refined as much as needed. Then, the storyboarding continues by adding the dialogue to the thumbnails. 

During the storyboarding stage, composition elements, framing, and staging need to be thoroughly looked at. Is the shot going to be a close up, wide shot, medium shot, other? Always use the rule of thirds to make the framing more interesting. And, staging need to be clear so the audience can truly understand the depth of what’s happening in the story. 

Cinemagraphs aren’t quite the type of storytelling that Liz Blazer’s talking about, as they may not always give the audience a detailed plot, but they can lay out a visual that’s open to interpretation for the audience to see a story.


To first begin my own attempts at creating cinemagraphs, I needed to do some research and find inspiration. Below are a few cinemagraphs that I find very noteworthy!


This Cinemagraph is appealing to me because the liquid in the glass not only glistens, but so does its reflection on the table. The ambiance is also very telling – to me, it looks like the story involves a business man who’s taking a needed break from work, or just finishing up his work day with a drink. 


There are quite a few moving parts in this cinemagraph, which is interesting because it makes me see more the longer I look at it. With two parts, the outside rain and leaves on bushes, to the candles on the inside, again, this cinemagraph sets a distinctive mood that almost feels like I’m in the photo.


I enjoy this cinemagraph because the moving parts are reflections rather than the actual subject itself. The lighting feels like it fits the ambiance of the city with how it’s depicted. It almost feels ironic to what appears to be a quiet street with nopeople, but the reflection is of a taxi. 


This cinemagraph pulled me in because, to me, it looks very complicated. The globe and the womans arm are moving both directly, and in the reflection; then there’s also the curtain blowing in the wind. It kind of astonishes me, it’s intriguing and balanced.


This is one of the first cinemagraphs I saw during my research, and it’s one of my favorites. It’s similar to the look and feel of the taxi’s reflection, but there’s no reflection. Instead, the image is looking into a barber shop. What I really love is that there’s the spinning knob on the outside of the shop on the right side of the photo, and another one inside the shop on the left side of the photo. 

From this research, I learned that all cinemagraphs tend to have a mood or a theme, which is its story. They make the viewer almost feel like they’re there, inside the image. So from this, I knew that I wanted to follow the same thoughts in preparation for my cinemagraphs.


Cinemagraph 1: Wine By Candle

Red wine sets a mood. It’s often drank during romantic evenings or celebrations – in movies, there’s typically candles and a nicely prepared dinner along with it. So, I wanted to portray a similar feeling of the drinks standardization. 

For this cinemagraph, I used photoshop which helped me to modify the lighting and colors to get the darker ambiance that I wasn’t quite able to get in the video alone. 

Cinemagraph 2: Nilla’s Ears

Of course I had to make a cinemagraph of my pup! Last week, I created a GIF of my other dog, Ezzy, so it was only fair that I make a cinemagraph of Nilla this week.

When I began shooting for this cinemagraph, finding my shot composition wasn’t the easiest. I had to retake the video a few times to get the most interesting and best shot – using the rule of thirds, finding an interesting angle, and so on. And of course, with a puppy, I had to stay patient. So, what I found to be better than waiting for Nilla to sit still and do something, I used a fan to make her ears move. 

Because of the fan, I think the overall look is a bit choppy, BUT it does look like her ear is blowing in wind, so I think I got the point across with this.

For this cinemagraph, I used Adobe After Effects – a program completely new to me. But it was the right program for this cinemagraph! The thing I found when using After Effects is that it seems to have fewer steps than making a cinemagraph in Photoshop, but I also needed to make sure that my video shot was as clear as I wanted it to be as I knew I couldn’t edit elements out or in like I could with Photoshop. It just made me think more like a photographer and videographer when getting my shot!

Cinemagraph 3: Mug Reflection

I was inspired by the cinemagraphs that used reflections, so I decided to make one of my own showing a spoon stirring tea directly, and the hand that moves the spoon is seen in the reflection. It’s interesting because with the reflection, the spoon stirring motion and hand moving motion almost looks like they move in an opposite direction!?

For this cinemagraph, I used Photoshop again. I wanted to add a few features to it like the “To Do List” which worked well for me when using this program. 

Something that was challenging about this was the string of the tea bag getting in the way of the spoon, making the transition between frames a little bit more noticeable. It’s not something I would’ve thought of while shooting the video as this is my first time creating cinemagraphs, but now I know to look out for those types of things. If I were to do it again, I’d re-shoot and completely avoid the tea bag string. Learning lessons!

I thoroughly enjoyed making these cinemagraphs! It was a lot of fun, and they’ve helped me on my journey to understand animation, and telling stories/setting themes.

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