For quick edits to an existing video, see our earlier post “Quickly Customize Your Construction Time-Lapse (iMovie)”
If you work with TrueLook, you know that we automatically render time-lapse videos for you. TrueLook customer or not, you may still desire to create your own time-lapse video from your camera’s images. Editing your own video gives you more control over playback speed (frames-per-second), color correction, stabilization, deflickering, custom graphics, custom text overlays, and more.
In this tutorial, I will explain my preferred method for manually creating a time-lapse video. It may seem like a lot of steps, but it really isn’t too bad if you follow along closely. I use Adobe After Effects, which is NOT free but does offer a free trial. I prefer After Effects for its speed, ease of use, powerful features, and stabilization capabilities. LRTimelapse (Mac/Win) is also fairly popular, at around $135. PhotoLapse 3 (Win) is a free but limited tool for creating time-lapses. iMovie (Mac) is also free but can’t really handle large numbers of photos.
Here are the steps we will go through:
- Import images into After Effects
- Create video composition
- Alter the video length (if desired)
- Stabilize the video
- Color correction
- Final edits or graphics
- Render the final video
1) Import Images Into After Effects
Firstly, ensure your time-lapse images (and no other images) are together in one folder. They should be named in some sort of sequential order. Now launch After Effects. Click on “File” -> “Import” -> “File”.
Now browse to your folder containing your images and highlight the first image only. Click the check boxes for “JPEG Sequence” and “Force alphabetical order”, and then hit the “Open” button.
2) Create Video Composition
You will see your imported sequence in the Project area. Let’s adjust the frame rate. Right click your sequence and select “Interpret Footage” -> “Main”.
Now set your frame rate to 23.976. This is a common frame rate, but you won’t hurt anything if you go with 30fps or 60fps. Click OK.
Now lets turn our sequence into a composition. After this step, we could be ready to export our video! Right-click the sequence file again, and this time select “New Comp From Selection”. You will see a new project file appear next to your imported sequence. This is the video composition, which we will edit and then render into a video.
Let’s adjust our video size. Right click on this composition and choose “Composition Settings”. You can now choose the dimensions for your video. Just ensure you do not increase the dimensions past your starting point – you will only be stretching the photos and losing quality. If you are unsure, you may want to set your height to 720px or 1080px. Anything larger is probably overkill. Also check that your frames per second matches what you set earlier, such as 23.976. Click OK.
Almost there! Now look to bottom half of After Effects and you will see the video timeline. This is where we will spend the rest of our time as we edit the video, but let’s do one final step before moving on. In this timeline area, right-click the footage source name (where my red arrow points) and select “Tranform” -> “Fit to Comp”. Since we just adjusted our video dimensions, this step ensures that our photographs will still fit perfectly.
3) Alter The Video Length
Our video duration is now determined by how many images we are using, and by our frame rate that we set. My 10,000 images at roughly 24fps creates a video running nearly 7 minutes. That is too long for me! If you wish to change your video length, look for the “Stretch” column in the timeline pane. Click on the stretch value (should say 100%) to edit the duration. In my example, I will create a 1 minute video. Input your desired duration time and click OK.
My time-lapse is now 1 minute long, but my composition is still 7 minutes (6 empty minutes). Let us return to the Composition Settings (where we set dimensions earlier) by right-clicking the composition in the Project pane. Now adjust the duration to match what we have previously set. We’re done here!
4) Stabilize The Video
Most videos can be a little shaky, as cameras move slightly over time or in strong winds. You can use the Warp Stabilizer to fix this, or you can skip this step entirely. The process is easy, but there are three drawbacks to Warp Stabilizer – it can take a while to process, it will slightly crop the edge from your photos, and it will occasionally give poor results. To begin, right-click the video in the preview area and select “Warp Stabilizer VFX”. After Effects will begin to analyze your footage, and once completed it will stabilize it.
Change two settings. Set “Result” to “No Motion”. Set “Method” to “Position”. Now wait.
Once finished, if the video seems overly cropped or distorted, simply “Edit” -> “Undo” until you have removed the effect. You can hit the Spacebar to see a rough playback of your video as well, but don’t worry if playback doesn’t feel smooth yet.
5) Color Correction
In an ideal world, we would batch process our images for color and lighting before we ever began this tutorial. But for simplicity and speed, I like to automatically correct colors in After Effects. The easiest way to proceed is to click on the video in the preview area, then use the top menu to click “Effect” -> “Color Correction” -> “Auto Color”. Tada!
6) Final Edits Or Extra Graphics
I’m not going to complicate this any further, but at this point you can play around with adding additional effects. There are also effect plugins such as GBDeflicker that can reduce the light flickering common to time-lapses. You can also create text or graphics to add an intro or outro to your video. There are plenty of tutorials on the web, but you can begin to experiment by using the “Layer” menu to add new layers.
7) Render The Final Video
We’re ready to turn our project into an actual video. I prefer to use Adobe Media Encoder, which is a separate program included in the Adobe Cloud subscription. But if you want to stick with After Effects, just click the composition to make sure it is selected/highlighted. Now click the menu item “Composition” -> “Add To Render Queue”. You can adjust output settings and click “Render” to finish.
If you want more options, use Adobe Media Encoder instead. Just save your After Effects project and close the program. Launch the Media Encoder program. Click “File” -> “Add Source” and select your After Effects file. A box will pop up and allow you to select the composition to import. I usually select the H.264 format, and match source setting to create a .mp4 file. This filetype plays nicely across most computers and on websites, but you may choose to output other formats as well. Click the green start button and your video will encode.
After your video is rendered, just check that you are happy with the outcome. Now that you understand the basic process, you can always return to After Effects to do more involved editing.