In the 1920s, a fat, shirtless man in dress shoes somehow discovered the ability to survive being shot at close range by a cannon – and did so with a smile. To better display the feat to viewers, a videographer intentionally cranked his camera faster than usual while filming the cannon man so that when the reel was played back, the footage appeared to be slower; viewers could better take in what has happening on screen.
More than half a century later, the same filming method was applied to discover the samurai sword’s ability to survive being shot by a pistol. Though, this time the overcranking happened inside the camera, and the slow motion effect was aided by video editing software that duplicated frames to prolong the scenes.
As new methods emerge and old methods are refined, slow motion video has become a regular feature in videography of all kinds, from the awe-inspiring close-up slow motion sepia intro to Girl Skateboarding’s “Yeah Right” to this disturbingly cute super-slow-mo video of a kitten frolicking in the grass.
But it’s not all in the realm of professionals. Many cameras and camcorders nowadays offer multiple frame rates for video, and more hardware and software options are hitting the market every year. With a bit of instruction, it’s easier than ever for the everyman to pop the effect into their own YouTube productions. Emphasis, emotion and Baywatch reminiscence, slow motion is a valuable tool for those looking to add a bit of pizzazz.
Consider the Casio Exilim EX-FH20. Released in 2008, the SLR-style camera boasted super-slow-motion video recording at 1000 frames per second. Considering playback often sticks to 30 fps, every second of video shot at that speed could be stretched out to more than half a minute without looking jerky.
Even Casio’s slim TRYX point-and-shoot camera from this year’s CES offers 240 fps, which doesn’t seem impressive until you see the size of the camera.
But this internal overcranking isn’t the only way to slow a video. In fact, the whole process can happen during the production and editing process regardless of the camera’s frame rate. It does have limits and often won’t look as good, but for an 80 percent speed, it does the job.
Older video editing software used to simply duplicate every frame, or certain frames, to drop the playback from normal to slow speed. But if a clip is filmed at 30 fps and essentially played back at 15 fps, it won’t look very smooth at all.
That’s why video editing programs such as Final Cut Pro developed a sidestep to this problem by “blending” frames rather than duplicating them, which allows natural-looking slow-mo similar to overcranking. The same technique was employed for the Matrix’s rotating bullet-dodge scene, but each frame was a photo taken by a separate camera on a spiral scaffold surrounding Keanu Reeves. Video software then created blended frames in between each of the photos for smooth transitions and crisp-looking playback.
As new technologies emerge and prices fall, you can expect to see more HD and even 3D high-speed cameras on the consumer block over the next years.
Let us know your all-time favourite slow-motion scenes or videos in the comment section below.
Last but not least, the cannon man. Reproduction rights permit us from embedding this video, but you can check it out on Google here.