Animate With Light




Introduction: Animate With Light

Learn how to make your own snazzy light-animations on the cheap. We made an animated music video with light-painting, stop motion, long exposure photography and lots of patience,

View the full video at Vimeo:


"Ohh so your new song is called City Lights?! I have a great idea for that!"

When I got a call from the band asking me to do a video for their upcoming single I had just recently checked out the many inspirational works of people posting at and found my way to the amazing movies made by the japanese light-painting crew PIKAPIKA. I did a few tests on my own and was able to get the band and a crew on board. We did a few more tests together until we felt confident we could pull it all off. In total we worked two full days indoors, two long nights outdoors and about three days with editing and post production.


Produced by: Benjamin Taft, Johannes Petterson, Jonatan Westman
Main photography by: Benjamin Taft
Additional photography by: Daniel Palmer
Editing & Post: Jonatan Westman, Benjamin Taft
Light-painters: Johannes Petterson, Jonatan Westman, additional work by the rest of the crew and the band, a special shout out to Bjorn Janson (drummer in the band) who did the many of the detailed light paintings.

Music and performance by: Sleeping Beauty-
Showcase of Benjamin Taft:

Step 1: Preparations - What You Will Need

- Darkness (a dark room or from sunset to sunrise)
- A lot of patience and patient friends/collegues
- A camera (any camera will work but I recommend a digital SLR, we used a Nikon D40 and a Canon 350D/Rebel)
- LEDs/Flashlighs of all kinds, the brighter the better
- A video editing application to put it all together into a video sequence (We used a combination of Adobe After Effects and Apple Final Cut Pro)

Step 2: The Basic Principle

The basic principle when it comes to light painting is that you capture the light as it moves from one point in space and time to another. To do this you need to set your camera to full manual mode. Then you set the exposure time to at least a few seconds, we ended up using between 5 and 20 seconds depending how much we had going on in each frame.

To get a sharp image you will want to fix the camera to something, a decent tripod will get the job done. To avoid differences in focus set the focus manually and keep it set for each animation sequence (you can still adjust it manually as your subject moves / do a focus pull). another thing to try is to move the camera a tiny bit in one direction for each frame, in a straight line or rotationg around your subject, creating the illusion of camera motion.

An added bonus of using a still camera is the amazing image quality you can get even out of the most basic digital camera compared to a consumer video-camera, you could make your end video in full HD resolution.

Step 3: Trial & Error

Stop motion animation involves taking a bunch of still frames and making an image sequence that appears to be moving in real time. Try drawing the outlines of an object or a person, you will get the best results by pointing the LED/flashlight in the direction of the camera lens at all times.

To create the illusion of motion try painting a part of the image at a time until you have a complete drawing. Another technique we used extensively was using people as placeholders (in our case the band members), and having them move slightly for each frame/shot to keep the continuity. If you or someone in your team has a talent for keeping track of where they have been drawing in the previous frames, go ahead and draw it freehand.

Make sure you preview your results every so often by flipping through the images you have shot for a sequence, using your cameras display will be the easiest way of doing it but transferring the images over to a computer and making video sequence will give you a more accurate idea of what the end result will be.

Another thing to try is to make regular time-lapse sequences and spice them up with some light painting.

Step 4: Putting It All Together

I used After Effects for creating video files of the images that were easy to work with in Final Cut Pro. These steps require that you have a basic understanding of how to use these applications, I'm sure other software could be used with a similar result.

- Import the images belonging to one sequence as an image sequence in After Effects.
- Create a composition with the resolution you would like to work with (I chose 1280x720)
- Add the image sequence to the composition and make adjustments to your likings (scale, color correction, change blending modes...)
- Render the composition to a format that is suitable for your video editing app of choice. I found that exporting to Apple ProRes 422 in 1280x720 worked flawlessly and the end video was virtually indistinguishable from the original jpeg stills (other than the lower resolution)
- Import the resulting video clips into your video editing software and get creative, sync up to a music piece or what ever you feel like.

Enjoy, and let me know if you have any questions or if you find this instructable helpful and make something of your own!

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    44 Discussions


    Where can I see a preview of your end product? I'm sure it's a good one.

    2 replies

    You can watch it here: cheers!

    other than the fact that adobe after works and the apple program together are around 1500 dollars.... that's pretty cool

    Wohoo, 2600+ views today and counting, it's great to be popular :D

    I'm going to feel really silly for asking this, but how did you make it so the person painting isn't in the shot? I've seen some attempts by other people at still images, and they don't look half as good since there is a blur of a person there.

    3 replies

    A simple way is to flash a light on the person in the shot, quickly, and then get the painter in with dark clothes in once the flash has gone.

    This is one of my attempts at a similar concept. My hand was waved around in front of the camera within the 8 seconds and as mentioned by buenoben as long as you keep moving it does not get seen by the camera especially when in dark clothes (black preferably)


    I guess it's all about making sure the people paining don't reflect much ambient light by wearing light absorbing dark clothing for instance. Another thing would be to use as long exposure times as possible and have the lightpainters try to stay mobile (never stay in one place for long) and hidden behind the subjects when possible.

    What an amazing video! (I liked the song a lot too!) Maybe I'll try something with this myself...? I haven't used my camera in a while. Although I suppose first I should find my charger... XD Thank you for sharing; you did a great job! :D

    I have a Nikon Coolpix S2... does anyone know how to set the Coolpix cameras up because I'm having trouble.

    wow. u made this? wow. gotta appreciate the work put in to it. this is so beyond professional! and a still camera was used? i cant even do that with my high def video camera! i MUST get a dslr! but im guessing this is more the talent of the creator, and i aint got a lot of that. kudos to u!

    2 replies

    A low end dsl will work fine, I used a Nikon d40 with the kit lens. A point and shoot will work too if you can set long exposures in manual mode, but I found the ones I tried to be really slow at processing the long exposure shots (10 seconds as opposed to half a second for the d40)

    GIVE ME THE MP3 TO THIS SONG.... NOW! lol but seriously its a good song