Ken Burns effect

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The Ken Burns effect is a type of panning and zooming effect used in film and video production from still imagery. The name derives from extensive use of the technique by American documentarian Ken Burns. The technique, previously known as "animatics", predates his use of it, but his name has become associated with the effect in much the same way as Alfred Hitchcock is associated with the dolly zoom.[1][2]

The feature enables a widely used technique of embedding still photographs in motion pictures, displayed with slow zooming and panning effects, and fading transitions between frames.


The technique is principally used when film or video material is not available. Action is given to still photographs by slowly zooming in on subjects of interest and panning from one subject to another. For example, in a photograph of a baseball team, one might slowly pan across the faces of the players and come to a rest on the player the narrator is discussing. By employing simulated parallax, a two-dimensional image can appear as 3D, with the viewpoint seeming to enter the picture and move among the figures.[3]

The effect can be used as a transition between clips as well. For example, to segue from one person in the story to another, a clip might open with a close-up of one person in a photo, then zoom out so that another person in the photo becomes visible. The zooming and panning across photographs gives the feeling of motion, and keeps the viewer visually engaged.


Burns has credited documentary filmmaker Jerome Liebling for teaching him how still photographs could be incorporated into documentary films.[4] He has also cited the 1957 National Film Board of Canada documentary City of Gold,[5] co-directed by Colin Low and Wolf Koenig, as a prior example of the technique.[6][7][8] Winner of the Palme d'or at the Cannes Film Festival and nominated for an Academy Award,[9] City of Gold used animation camera techniques to slowly pan and zoom across archival still pictures of Canada's Klondike Gold Rush.[10]

America's television audience had seen extensive use of the technique in NBC's "Meet Mr. Lincoln," first telecast 11 February 1959.[11] This one-hour Abraham Lincoln documentary used period photographs, illustrations, artwork, newspapers and documents "animated" by the camera on an elaborate flatbed motion picture apparatus, and the descriptive term "stills in motion" for the technique was used in NBC's publicity and in the trade by the early 1960s.[12]


Demonstration of the Ken Burns effect in video form.

In film editing, the technique may be achieved through the use of a rostrum camera, although today it is more common to use software. Virtually all non-linear editing systems provide a tool to implement this technically simple effect, although only some software, such as iMovie and Openshot for Linux, specifically call it a Ken Burns Effect; it is usually simply referred to as pan and zoom. Final Cut Pro,[13] Apple TV and Apple's iMovie video editing program include a photo slideshow option labelled "Ken Burns Effect".[4]

On the Windows platform, 4K Slideshow Maker by 4KDownload, AVS Video Editor, Windows Movie Maker, Pinnacle Studio, Serif MoviePlus, Avid Media Composer, Sony Vegas Studio (and Movie), Ulead VideoStudio, Adobe Premiere, and PicturesToExe also have pan and zoom features built in or available through third-party extensions which may be used to achieve the effect.

Microsoft Photo Story is a free application that creates videos with both random and customisable Ken Burns Effects automatically from selected images. ProShow Gold/Producer from Photodex is a favorite application by still photographers that use this effect to great measure. Another free multiplatform Ken Burns effect application is PhotoFilmStrip.

On the Mac platform, Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Express, iMovie, Adobe Premiere, and others also have the ability. Particularly, Adobe and Apple products (excluding iMovie) allow the user to set keyframes to further customize the process.

The mobile video editing app KineMaster (for Android and iPhone) has "Ken Burns / Crop and Pan" as the default setting for photo cropping.

The effect is found in a great number of screensavers and slideshows. Apple uses it in their screensavers. Windows PCs can use Greg Stitt's "MotionPicture" and Gregg Tavares's "Nostalgic", among others. The effect can also be seen in the N73 smartphone by Nokia, applied to the slideshows the phone creates from the pictures stored in it.[14] Many seventh-generation video game consoles also feature versions of this effect, including Nintendo's Wii Photo Channel, Sony's PlayStation 3 and within the app for Xbox 360.

Use by Apple[edit]

Full Ken Burns effect using Apple's iMovie.

Steve Jobs contacted Burns to obtain the filmmaker's permission to use the term "Ken Burns Effect" for Apple's video production software (the description had been Apple's internal working title while the feature was in development). Burns initially declined, saying that he did not allow his name to be used for commercial purposes. Instead, Burns had Jobs give him some equipment (which he later donated for nonprofit use) in exchange for permission to use the term in Apple products.[15]

In February 2014, Burns stated in his AMA on Reddit that Steve Jobs "asked my permission. I said yes. And six billion saved wedding, bar mitzvahs, vacation slideshows later, it's still going. But our attempt to wake the dead relies on a much more nuanced and complicated relationship to the photograph (the DNA of storytelling), as well as the soundtrack.[16]"

Burns says that on occasion, strangers will stop him on the street to enthusiastically describe how they use the Ken Burns Effect on their Apple software or ask him questions. Burns, who writes his speeches longhand and calls himself a "Luddite", claims not to really understand what these Apple users are telling him and tries his best to make a quick escape.[15][17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ This Is How A Dolly Zoom Works-Fandor on YouTube
  2. ^ Mastering the Art of The Dolly Zoom-Filmmaker IQ on YouTube
  3. ^ Green, Tom; Dias, Tiago (2010). "The parallax effect:traveling through space". Foundation Flash CS5 For Designers. New York: Springer. p. 512. ISBN 9781430229940.
  4. ^ a b Kennedy, Randy (2006-10-19). "The Still-Life Mentor to a Filmmaking Generation". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-11. In fact, spend any time watching the films of Ken Burns, or those of the legions of documentary makers he has inspired, and you will see Mr. Liebling’s work, in a sense, even if you have never laid eyes on one of his photographs.
  5. ^ City of Gold on YouTube, full movie, uploaded by the National Film Board of Canada.
  6. ^ Vause, Mikel (Fall 2006). "Capturing the American Experience: A Conversation with Ken Burns". Weber Studies. 23 (1). ISSN 0891-8899. OCLC 11872924. Archived from the original on October 13, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-12.
  7. ^ Williams, Charles (1997). "Historical Photographs and Multimedia Storytelling". Archived from the original on 2007-10-13. Retrieved 2007-10-12.
  8. ^ Tibbetts, John C. (c. 1997). "All That Glitters: City of Gold Revisited" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-10-12.
  9. ^ "City of Gold (Capitale de l'or)". Canadian Film Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on 26 December 2013. Retrieved 25 December 2013.
  10. ^ Glassman, Marc (1 December 1999). "Filmmaker of vision". The Free Library. Retrieved 24 December 2013. Take one's interview with Colin Low, part 2
  11. ^ Adams, Val. "News of TV and Radio." New York Times, 1 March 1959.
  12. ^ Bluem, A. William. "Documentary in American Television: Form, Function, Method." New York: Hastings House, 1964.
  13. ^ Kobler, Helmut; Fahs, Chad (2003). Final Cut Pro 4 Dummies. For Dummies. Wiley. pp. 73, 311. ISBN 0-7645-3753-9.
  14. ^ "Nokia N73 Data Sheet" (PDF). Nokia. 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2007-10-12.
  15. ^ a b Dave Gilson (24 August 2007). "Ken Burns On "The Worst War Ever"" (interview). Mother Jones. Retrieved 24 December 2013. Filmmaker Ken Burns discusses The War, a different kind of World War II documentary
  16. ^ [1]
  17. ^ "Ken Burns, 2005-2006 season". De Anza College, Cupertino, CA: Celebrity Forum Speaker Series. Retrieved 24 December 2013.

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