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Easy Miracles: Movies from Still Pictures

© 2000 Lawrence I. Charters

Washington Apple Pi Journal, July/August 2000, pp. 35-39, reprint information

Note: all of the images necessary to re-create this project, plus the finish clips themselves, are available on the Pi's Web site. The original photos are located at:


and various forms of the finished QuickTime movie clips are located at:


Feel free to grab the images and clips and experiment. Note, however, that some of the clips are fairly large. Note, too, that you'll need QuickTime Pro to get very far.

How Easy?

Using nothing more than a Power Macintosh and Apple's QuickTime Pro 4.0, you can make movies. You don't need any other software at all. No movie making software, no movie editing software. Nothing else is required. But before we get to that, let's see why you'd want to do this.

Why Should I Care?

When I bought my first computer, all I wanted was a "magic typewriter." I wanted a machine that would allow me to type as fast as possible, without worrying about putting the paper in straight, or having the paper fall out at the bottom of a page, or wondering how to correct mistakes without retyping. (Hint: the key to a good vocabulary is learning how to turn a typo into a word that you really wanted.) My first computer, a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model I, did all that.

By the time I got my first Macintosh, my wants changed: I wanted to draw. A young girl named Emily demonstrated a Macintosh on the top floor of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Yokosuka, Japan, in February 1984. Her father had purchased the machine in Hong Kong a few days earlier and Emily, with only an hour's experience with the machine, was drawing black-and-white pictures of a house, a hill, and the sun, with sheep and cats and dogs and frogs and other things sprinkled liberally over everything. I decided I wanted to draw, too, and the Mac turned me into a (mediocre) artist.

I never really wanted to make movies, on a computer or through other means. Making movies requires a camera, film, time and talent. I had none of those ingredients. But then came QuickTime Pro 4.0. I discovered you don't need a camera, or film, or even much talent, and very little time. But you do need a Macintosh and QuickTime Pro.


First off, make sure you have a Power Macintosh. Any currently shipping model will do, or any Power Macintosh dating back to the very first models. Apple says that QuickTime Pro 4.0 requires a minimum of 16 megabytes of RAM but (ha-ha!) this is more theoretical than practical. If you have a Power Mac and you have less than 64 megabytes of RAM, you are shortchanging yourself and your computer. Naturally, things work more quickly and elegantly if you have a machine with a G3 or G4 processor.

While QuickTime 4 works on Centris and Quadra Macs, QuickTime Pro requires a PowerPC-based machine. And money: $29.99. You turn an "ordinary" version of QuickTime 4 into QuickTime Pro by pointing a Web browser to:


and filling in various blanks on a form, particularly your E-mail address (so Apple can E-mail you a registration code) and your credit card number. If you live or work in Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, or other places (please check the U.S. State Department for an updated list), you aren't supposed to have access to QuickTime Pro, so find something else to do. Growing food would be a good choice.

Once you have these pieces (and assuming you have electricity to run the Power Mac), you're all set. No camera, film, special cables or chemicals are required to make movies.

Step By Step

Making movies without a camera may seem difficult, but it comes from QuickTime Pro's ability to turn any sequence of images into a QuickTime clip. "Sequence of images" sounds like it could be tricky, but it isn't: QuickTime Pro will accept a wide variety of computer image formats, ranging from screen shots to high-resolution TIFF images. Let's start with something simple: screen shots.

Open image sequence

From within QuickTime Player, go to the File menu and select Open Image Sequence. If your QuickTime Player doesn't offer this option, you need to upgrade from the "regular" QuickTime to QuickTime Pro.

To take a screen shot, press the CMD-Shift-3 keys at the same time. [The CMD -- Command -- key has an Apple and cloverleaf symbol.] You'll hear the sound of a camera shutter, which is a nice touch. If you look on your hard drive, you'll see a brand-new document titled Picture 1. Press these keys again, and you'll create Picture 2, Picture 3, etc. These three keys will "take a picture" of your entire screen, but if you press CMD-Shift-4, you can select which part of the screen you want saved as a picture file. CMD-Shift-4-CAPSLOCK will take a picture of the current active window, and only that window.

Note that, while it is not a requirement, it is a Very Good Idea to make sure that all the images have the same dimensions and orientation. If the images don't have the same dimensions, all images will be stretched, or compressed, to match the dimensions of the first image imported. If the images don't have the same orientation (landscape or portrait), everything will work just fine, but look silly. Of course, you may want to deliberately change the orientation of a picture to make it seem as if it is rotating, but that's a different issue.

One thing that is a requirement: all the images must have a common name. While you can mix file formats (GIF, JPEG, MacPaint, PICT, BMP), the images should all have the same common name, with just the number at the end differing. And yes, if you number the images backwards (Picture59 is renumbered Picture1, Picture58 is renumbered Picture2), the images will be imported backward.

Import window

From the Open Image Sequence window, select the first image you want for your movie, and the rest of the images will be imported as well.

Once you have your images collected, properly sized and oriented, and properly named, place them all in a folder. Then launch QuickTime Player, go to the File Menu, and select Open Image Sequence. Within the dialog box, open the folder containing your images, select the first image in the sequence, and press the Open Button.

Select frame rate

One of the first choices you'll have is: what frame rate do you want to use for your clip? Since the original still images were taken at half-second intervals, "2 frames per second" was selected.

A box will pop up called Image Sequence Settings, and offering a variety of frame rates. "Frame rate" is taken from the motion picture industry; you are being asked how many images should be displayed per second in your finished movie. The options range from 30 frames per second (professional movie quality) to 10 seconds per frame (appropriate for a "movie" consisting, say, of nothing but screen shots, or material requiring a lot of reading). After making your selection, your Mac will (quickly) grab all the images you've selected and assemble a QuickTime clip. You can then play the clip and, if you like it, save it to your hard drive. If you don't like the clip -- say, you'd like the frames to play faster or slower -- you can close this clip and re-import your images at a different frame rate.

Export movie

Saving your new movie is just as easy: from the File menu, select Export Movie. After giving the movie a file name you can simply press the Save button, or you can experiment with the various options presented by the Options button and the Export and Use pop-up menus.


It is one thing to know, in a vague sort of way, that QuickTime can import still images and turn them into motion pictures. It is quite another to actually try it. Usually, you need some sort of inspiration, and mine came in the form of a Nikon CoolPix 950 camera.

As reviewed by John Barnes in a recent Journal article, the CoolPix 950 is a third- or fourth-generation digital still camera that produces exceptionally sharp still images, which it saves as JPEG-compressed files that can be transferred to a computer via serial cable. But it also has one other feature that John didn't emphasize: it can take pictures at the rate of two per second, much faster than most film or digital cameras. It also numbers these images sequentially.

Armed with this knowledge and a borrowed camera, I visited the Wave Pool Park in Silver Spring, MD. Wave Pool Park features a "sculpture" that, through the use of clever mechanical equipment housed underground, can reproduce something like forty different kinds of waves. The waves crash against a stone wall that was allegedly inspired by the Maine coastline. The result is spectacular: you can sit on a bench in the middle of a metropolitan center (just a few hundred feet from the Silver Spring subway station), dozens of miles from the nearest beach, and watch (and listen) to crashing waves.

Export options

While most people will probably want to save their clip as a QuickTime movie, other options exist. In particular, note that you can export clips as a DV Stream, for use with FinalCut Pro and iMovie.

In just a few minutes, I filled the camera's CompactFlash memory card with pictures of the Wave Pool in action. After transferring these to my Macintosh, I made movies.

Slow-Scan TV

The Wave Pool turned out to be an almost ideal subject: it was a "moving" subject, but it didn't go anywhere. With the CoolPix taking pictures at the rate of two per second, the waves "jump" between frames, but still look reasonably natural. The overall effect was similar to slow-scan TV, most commonly seen in security surveillance systems.

One group of 34 photos looked particularly promising, so they were all placed in a folder and sucked up into QuickTime Player. As the photos were taken at two frames per second, the frame rate was set at two frames per second, too. The resulting clip was outstanding, but also very large 4.6 megabytes), since the original images were medium-resolution 640 by 480 pixel photos.

Half size

If your source material consists of fairly large images (in this case, 640 by 480 pixel photos), selecting Half Size from the Movie menu will put the entire clip on a diet. Not only do larger clips take longer to download (and take up more room on your hard drive), but they also tend to "break up" when seen on older or slower computers.

Selecting Half Size from the Movie Menu, and saving the clip again, greatly reduced the overall size, from. This worked so well that other options were tried, such as saving the clip using different compression schemes, and seeing the effect on file size of various streaming (video over the Internet) options.

Compression settings

Buried as an option under the Options button are a number of choices for compression, ranging from a sliding bar for image quality to a choice of frames per second to a throttle on the data rate (useful, in particular, if you want your clip to play on older, slower machines). A variety of compression schemes are also available; experimenting with all these options will easily occupy an afternoon, even for short clips.


Pleased with this success, I then tried another sequence of images. While the first set of photos were taken in landscape orientation, the second sequence was taken in portrait orientation. When these photos were sucked into QuickTime, I ended up with a very nice little clip -- but rotated 90 degrees. If you were living in Brazil, a quarter way around the world, it probably would have looked fine.

Movie settings

The Options button allows you to set up your movie clip for streaming across the Internet. If you don't have a true QuickTime Streaming server, Hinted Streaming won't do you any good, but the Fast Start and Fast Start-Compressed Header options allow your clip to start playing while it is still being downloaded.

Inspired by this mistake, I then tried importing the same images, but at too high a frame rate. This resulted in a nice clip, still rotated 90 degrees, of waves banging back and forth at high speed. I think of it as the "Wave Pool seen from Brazil, after too much coffee."

Documentation? What Documentation?

Some time later, I learned that it is easy -- very easy -- to correct the orientation of my "Brazil" clips. I might have stumbled on the secret myself, but instead I stumbled on something else: documentation for QuickTime Pro.

Streaming options

One of the last things you should do as you export your movie to disk is: select a streaming option. If you are saving a clip for use on the Web, there are lots of options for high-speed, medium, and low-speed connections, "tweaked" for different material, such as music or voice, mono or stereo. There are also several options for saving clips for use on CD-ROM. The most "compatible" option would be "1X CD-ROM (Cinepak video)", since this would allow the clip to be played on older, slower CD-ROM drives using older versions of QuickTime. "Streaming 40kbps - Music (stereo)", in contrast, would produce a clip optimized for computers with stereo sound and high-speed Internet connections.

Apple provides no documentation at all: they'll let you upgrade to QuickTime Pro for $29.99, but this price doesn't include any additional clues on how to use the software. But Judith Stern and Robert Lettieri have stepped into the gap with their excellent Visual Quickstart Guide: QuickTime Pro 4. Very well written and with an excellent index, I learned all kinds of new tricks, such as --

Come to think of it, these new tricks would best be covered in another installment. In the meantime, go out and get the Visual Quickstart Guide: QuickTime Pro, and upgrade your copy of QuickTime to QuickTime Pro 4. (And if you don't have a Power Macintosh, pick up an iMac, or iBook, or PowerBook, or Power Mac G4).


Judith Stern and Robert Lettieri, Visual Quickstart Guide: QuickTime Pro 4. Peachpit Press, 1999. xxiv, 359 pp. $17.99. ISBN 0-201-35469-1


QuickTime Pro 4


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Revised July 1, 2000 Lawrence I. Charters
Washington Apple Pi
URL: http://www.wap.org/journal/