The Magic of Crop, Pan, Zoom, and Rotate

by Craig Anderton

When Ken Burns did his Civil War documentary for PBS in 1990, there obviously wasn't any video footage available-but he had assembled photos, letters, and other documents. To add interest to the video, he used extensive cropping, panning, zooming, and rotating to make those static images come alive.

This trick has served me well, too. For example, when covering trade shows it's not always possible to take videos of screen shots, or sometimes even products, if the lighting is a problem. The solution: still shots (sometimes from press materials) with crop, pan, zoom, and rotate to add interest.

Vegas software provides these four options in the Event Pan/Crop window, which you open by clicking on the square Event/Crop button located in any video clip. Although these functions may seem obvious, there are a few tricks involved, especially when rendering to a data-compressed format.

First step: Unlike videocam footage, it's unlikely a still image will have the proper output aspect (i.e., the image's aspect ratio is the same as the video frame). To fix this, right-click anywhere on the Event Pan/Crop window image, and select "Match Output Aspect" (Fig. 1). The dashed frame now has the correct aspect ratio. Drag this frame over the desired part of the image.

Figure 1

Fig. 1: Matching the output aspect insures that the image will fill the frame. The other buttons mentioned in the article are in the toolbar toward the left.

If you can't show everything you want within the frame, you can show the full image against a background (like another image) so you don't just see a black band. Better yet, zoom or pan across the photo. For example, if a landscape image is much wider than it is high, start by showing the landscape's left side, then pan to the right until the right side of the landscape comes into view. Or, zoom in on a close-up of something of interest, then zoom out to reveal more of the image (or vice-versa).

When zooming, I usually create the final keyframe where I want the image to end up first, and place that late on the timeline. I then copy that keyframe to the timeline's beginning, and zoom out (or in) proportionally from the same center point to obtain the initial zoom position. (To retain the same center point, enable the Size About Center button; override this by holding Alt as you size the image.) You probably want the Lock Aspect Ratio button enabled too, so that the image retains the same aspect ratio while zooming. The resulting zoom will be smoother than if the center point varies between the initial and final zoom positions. Also note that the Move button lets you lock to vertical or horizontal movement, as well as move freely.

Speaking of smooth, the Keyframe Interpolation smooth setting defaults to maximum (1.00). With this, the pan, zoom, or rotate operation "accelerates" from the initial point and "decelerates" toward the end point. However, if you're combining pan or zoom with rotate, it's possible that the corners of the image will extend past the frame boundary because smoothing "rounds off" the path. Setting smooth to 0.000 prevents this.

Bottom line: Spend some time with the Event Pan/Crop window, and you can add a lot of interest to static images.

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