Using Windows Movie Maker for Time Lapse

WMM logo

(This is for an older version of Movie Maker.  Click here for a tutorial of the newest version if you’re using Vista or Windows 7.)

So, you’ve taken a few hundred photos and want to assemble them into a time lapse video.  There are plenty of programs designed to do this, but one of the easiest is probably already intalled on your computer if you use a PC.  Windows Movie Maker 2 (WMM) comes packaged with Windows Vista and Windows XP.  WMM isn’t designed to create time lapse videos, but with a little tweaking it will do the trick.

Where to find Windows Movie Maker

Chances are your computer came bundled with Microsoft and third party software for creating and editing video clips.  To find out if WMM is installed on your computer, open the Start menu, choose “All Programs,” and look for “Windows Movie Maker” toward the top of the list.

If the program isn’t on your PC, you can download it free for Vista .  If you’re running Windows XP, WMM should have been included in Service Pack 2.  Enable automatic updates in order to install the software.


Getting started

In WMM, select Tools>Options and click on the Advanced tab.  The Picture Duration time is supposed to be used for creating slideshows and effects, but we’ll use it for our time lapse video.  Change this setting to 0.125 seconds.  This is the shortest setting and will play eight photos per second.  This isn’t quite fast enough a frame rate to trick the eye into seeing continuous motion, but we’ll adjust the speed later.

I shoot my photos in a wide format because it works well for landscapes, and because even television has moved to a wider format.  To adjust for this, I change the format from 4:3 to 16:9 at the bottom of this window.  NTSC is the format used in North America and parts of Asia.  PAL is used primarily in Europe.  These settings should already be adjusted if you bought your computer in your home country.

Advanced tab

Importing photos

Select Import from the top left of the WMM screen.  Find the folder containing the time lapse photos and import all of them.  If you’re making multiple clips, begin by selecting only one series of photos to make the process easier.

Once you’ve imported the photos, select all of them and drag them down to the timeline.  Click the play button for a preview of your unedited time lapse video.

Photos in timeline

Compression

Even if you’ve been saving your photos as jpegs, the file sizes will be at least a few megabytes unless you’ve already compressed your images.  Fortunately, WMM will compress the original images into a manageble video file for you.  Click on Publish Movie at the top of the screen and a window will pop open and ask you where you want to save the file.  Because this isn’t the final product, save the video to your computer.  Next, select a name and location that you can easily find.  The compression format you use depends on the quality and file size that you desire.  I use Windows Media HD 1080p under the Other Options drop menu.  If you’re going to delete the original photos (and you probably will after a few videos), I’d suggest sticking to a high quality format in case you want to use the video again.

Speeding up the frame rate

Once the video is done compressing, clear your photos from WMM to create a blank palette and import the video file the same way you imported the photos.  If you play the video, it will appear jerky because of the low framerate.

Drag the video onto the timeline and click on Effects at the left of the screen.  Drag Speed Up, Double to the video in the timeline.  The play time will be halved as the framerate goes to 16 frames per second.  This speed works for most of my time lapse videos, but occasionally I’ll use a higher speed.  For the Tahoe video used in this tutorial, I used 32 frames per second due to the distant, slow moving clouds.

Speed up

Final edits

If you’re happy with your finished video, compress and save this clip the same way you saved the previous video.

If you want to create a longer video with additional scenes, prepare each clip before importing them all into WMM to speed up.  This will let you create your video with a minimum of compressions.

WMM also allows you to add music and simple effects to your videos as well as titles and credits.  This may not be the most advanced video editing software abailable, but its simple interface lets the beginning time lapse videographer create videos with little effort.


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