Sam Hampton-Smith shows you how to give your still images the appearance of motion using After Effects’ lighting tools

When you’ve only got a still image to work with, it can be tricky to create a sequence that feels compelling. This is especially true with archive material, where there’s no opportunity to revisit the scene and no video footage. One commonly used solution is known as the Ken Burns effect: it’s a pan and zoom across the image that creates movement. This gets tiring pretty quickly, however, and if you try to use more than a couple shots in quick succession you risk losing the attention of your audience.

In this tutorial we’re going to look at alternative approach that goes much further. Instead of zooming and panning around the still image, we’ll project it onto a series of 3D layers to add depth and allow us to recompose in 3D space. This technique works on photos with people just as well as on a landscape image – once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll often see the effect used on documentaries to help bring still images to life. The end result is a pseudo-3D environment that you can use for surprisingly sophisticated effects.

The image that this tutorial is based on is available to download from our site at digitalartsonline.co.uk/downloads.

Step 1 Create a new composition in After Effects. We’ve opted for a 720p project at 25fps, setting it to five seconds long. Download image file 16782302.jpg from the Download Zone, then import it into the project by choosing File > Import.