Cinemagraphs and Digital Signage are a Natural Fit


Cinemagraph pioneer and popstream Founder Stephen Knifton caught up with Digital Signage Connection to explain why Cinemagraphs are perfect for Digital Out-of-Home (DOOH) and other digital-signage-centric spaces.

Cinemagraphs, whether you’ve heard about them by name or not, are fairly self-explanatory. As a medium and potential form of expression for the digital signage industry, a Cinemagraph is a hybrid of cinema and still photography incorporating subtle and precise elements of motion instead of full animation to catch the eye for any given purpose. Around 2011, New York-based photography team Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg invented them using less-advanced versions of Photoshop and After Effects. By applying masks, layering and blending, Beck and Burg were able to sweat out the early, beta versions of Cinemagraphs for the ad-based Internet age, although rockstar Renaissance man and proto IoT trailblazer David Bowie supposedly deserves some credit for the crude Cinemagraph employed during the 1980 video for “Ashes to Ashes.”

This is all according to Knifton, the sole proprietor and chief creative of popstream, which is a scalable designer and provider of Cinemagraphs stationed out of Toronto. After starting out the in the TV business and working as a senior news producer in both Canada and New York City, Knifton saw the insatiable thirst for digital content growing, and he channeled that instinct and initiative into founding popstream more than a decade ago.


The Cinemagraphs that popstream deals in have loads of potential across a myriad of digital signage-friendly verticals, and Knifton has established himself as a creative pioneer of sorts thanks to DOOH implementation and innovative use of tools including Photoshop, After Effects, stop motion, multiple exposures, time-lapse, layer blending, Flixel and more.

“Flixel is a software company that built and designed an application to create Cinemagraphs (and provide backroom storage, distribution and playback support),” said Knifton. “I use Flixel, and it’s a great product. But I don’t settle for the out-of-the-box Cinemagraphs that the Flixel software helps you create. Flixel provides a solid base of operation where you shoot video, freeze a frame and unmask the video around that frozen frame. But I found that, in creative Cinemagraphs, the motion part sometime shouldn’t be so obvious or literal. So I’ll shoot time lapses and frame-blend them to give the motion an abstract look instead of just having people walk down the street or cars driving down the road. And with Cinemagraphs, you’re asking (or compelling) people to delve into the image a little longer (and they do; the engagement attributes of Cinemagraphs are off the charts). So I figured, as long as the audience is a little bit hypnotized by the combination of motion and still, why not make the ‘still’ part of it even more interesting? So that’s where I bring in the color or parallax manipulation via Photoshop.  And After Effects is just a machine. Instead of shooting a 30-frames-per-second video of a car driving down the street, shoot a time lapse burst of a car going down the street and start playing with a stack of raw files in After Effects instead of just manipulating the video. You’d be amazed at what you can do.

According to Knifton (and apparently the CMO at Flixel), science has shown that the brain is hardwired to understand full motion or no motion and very little in between. So, when asked about the science and/or psychology behind attracting attention with subtle movement as opposed to an all-out assault on the senses, Knifton explained that the understated combination of a Cinemagraph creates a mesmerizing effect that creates cognitive overload and draws the viewer in. Essentially, they can’t look away.

“I’m a serious believer in the new micro-video storytelling approach. When I began producing these, a friend of mine that works for rapid transit said they’d be PERFECT content for OOH screens, and I think he’s right. This content really turns heads, and it isn’t often you can say there is a new creative technique that absolutely raises the level of engagement with an image. 3D? Maybe the View Master? I see uses for Cinemagraphs just beyond OOH or DOOH screens in that I can see a brand using a branded Cinemagraph in a subway screen ad, and then that brand can use that same Cinemagraph online and/or in a social campaign. Because if they’re done well, they benefit from the shared media effect. People will virally share them because they’re a cool-looking image. You’re not going to get that with a static shot of a Mountain Dew can.”



About Author

Jason Kushner is a videographer, editor, writer and filmmaker living in the Greater Atlanta Area. With an educational background combining film and journalism, Kushner has shot video and written for a myriad of publications and multimedia projects including Creative Loafing Tampa,, Starline Films and Digital Signage Connection. His 2009 documentary American Colonies: Collapse of the Bee became an Official Selection at 12 international film festivals, won Best Documentary at the 2009 Central Florida Film Festival and a John Muir Gold Award at the 2009 Yosemite Film Festival.  In 2015, he became Digital Media Editor for Digital Signage Expo, LightShow West and LED Specifier Summit and has since become Digital Content Manager for those shows’ parent company, Exponation.

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