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Microsoft Research Cliplets offers a new way to capture and present precious moments

09 March 2012, Mike Williams

When you’re looking to capture a moment in time then your first instinct might be to take a still photo. Getting this right is a challenge, though – it takes skill and great timing to produce quality results.

And while taking a video seems easier, you can often end up with too much information – shaky camerawork, noise and background clutter – which only takes away from what should be the real focus of your movie.

But now there’s a third option, in Microsoft Research’s newly-released Cliplets, which produces something that’s part still photo, yet also includes motion in just the area that matters to you.

What are we talking about? It’s much easier to understand once you’ve seen one, so take a look at the project page, in particular the left-hand example and you’ll see what we mean: there’s a shot of square, the people in it are motionless, yet the water still flows from a small fountain.

Now imagine how that might work with your own movies. A wedding video, say, where the bride kisses the groom, or your daughter’s birthday party, where she blows out her candles and smiles to camera? These might just be moments, spoiled in the initial video by people working through shot immediately before or afterwards. But with Cliplets, you can freeze the background, focus just on the kiss, the candles, the smile or whatever, and create something far more atmospheric and interesting.

How it works

The program itself is a tiny download, which installs without any hassle (though only on Windows 7 systems, unfortunately, at least according to the documentation).

After importing your initial video, you get to choose a segment of up to ten seconds, which contains the moment you’re looking to highlight.

Create focused, atmospheric mini-movies in just a few minutes

Next, a slider helps you choose the background frame which will become the still part of the cliplet.

And then you’re able to create a mask by drawing freehand around an area where movement will be allowed. Which can be the tricky part. If you’re drawing around a person, say, and they move during your clip, then the mask will need to be large enough to account for that. But it’s also important that no other person or object moves into the mask, because otherwise you’ll see a head (for instance) materialise in the middle of the cliplet, which will spoil the effect.

Assuming there are no masking issues, though, it’s now just a matter of choosing how you’d like the video motion to be treated (where will it be in the clip, will it repeat and so on), and you’re done. Cliplets will render the results and play them for you, and if all is well then you can export them as WMV or MP4 video, ready for sharing elsewhere.

There are problems here. As we’ve pointed out, creating a mask which captures just what you need while leaving out everything else won’t always be possible. And the program’s interface is less than intuitive (putting it politely), so you’ll need to spend time watching its tutorial videos before you can get started.

Once you’ve mastered the basics, though, Cliplets really can produce some eye-catching, evocative little videos. It has all kinds of interesting possibilities – for both commercial and home users – and we’ll be interested to see what Microsoft does with the concept in future.

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