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What is Pixelation?

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 3/29/2010

Learn the basics of what pixelation is, what to look for when it is being filmed, and what the post-production process is like.

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    Live Action Stop Motion

    For those new to pixelation it may end up not being what it sounds like. Instead of being a lack of clarity in the image from larger pixels this actually refers to a live action filmmaking process that has its roots in stop motion animation. Pixelation, as it is referred to when performing this process, where objects are given motion that do not originally have that capacity on their own. This process is both complicated and difficult and requires a person with extensive amount of skill and patience to perform what is needed to create live stop motion.

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    Video Pixelation

    Pixelation is simply using the principles of stop motion animation to real world objects. To perform pixelation techniques you need a camera that is designed to take images frame by frame. You then will plan out the basic pattern of what is going to take place. This requires scriptwriting in a way that most directors have never done before. Unlike most narrative script creation planning for pixelation requires you to know everything that is going to occur within the frame. You will plan this out perfectly ahead of time because the execution of this is so meticulous. This will also include the specific lighting that is used on the objects, so do a few position tests for the image. This is also a perfect time to perform normal camera test functions.

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    Pixelation Plan

    Once your plan is together you are going to want to clear and prepare the area so that it looks perfect for the digital video image. You are going to be working in this area for quite a while, so make sure it is accessible. You are then going to prepare your inanimate objects to gain their motion, which is going to come in frame by frame.

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    Frame Rate

    The reality of pixelation is that you simply will be moving the objects frame by frame. You will have to try to remain a realistic frame rate, such as 24 frames per second. If you are trying for something like 60 frame per second you are creating an insurmountable task, and the likelihood is that it is not going to look that much more realistic. Pixelation, like stop motion, has its own aesthetic charm that is derived somewhat from the choppy movement it produces in its image. As you go through frame by frame you are going to want to make sure that you chart what you have done closely and make sure that nothing interferes with the set. It there are any changes it can throw off your progress in an almost impossible to repair situation. You have perfect control so you will have no need for effects like fast or slow motion.

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    Get a Professional

    Most people are capable of doing pixelation with their own sense of regular digital video production and standard equipment, but this rarely works out well. The sensibility and technical skills to produce good pixelation are not something that come to people easily, so if you want to make this a substantial part of your digital video production then you may want to bring in someone a little more experienced.

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    Editing Pixelation

    Once you have pixelation footage completed you will have to go through a slightly different workflow during post-production. Depending on the format that you used you are going to have to go through a different log and transfer process, often because you are really just importing a long series of photographs. If the camera you are using is built for this type of work you may have it on your digital storage medium as a full digital file, but this all depends. Once you are in your non-linear editing software you are going to have to add sound as it is impossible to record live sound for this process. This will require foley work of some type and then a syncing process, so you may want to use an outside piece of software like Soundtrack Pro or Pro Tools.