Motion Stills

Reflecting on the finer points of a new photo app

Marco Paglia
Aug 18, 2016 · 4 min read

Motion Stills is an application from Google released in June, which brings your Live Photos back to life with advanced stabilization and rendering. After using the app for a few months (and working on its development), here are my thoughts on its most noteworthy features.

Magic & Simplicity

Motion Stills is what you call an oxymoron: a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction.

The tension between the terms “motion” and “still” produces something magical, where things are moving and immobile at the same time. The seemingly hypnotic outcome has been described by some as “Harry Potter-like,” though you can achieve the effect without casting a spell.

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Motion Stills highlights the tension between static and moving imagery.

The designer Paul Rand once famously said, “Design is so simple, that’s why it’s so complicated.” In a landscape of apps packed with too many features, we wanted to build an experience that removed visual noise and superfluous elements. An app that did a few things remarkably well. Motion Stills goes beyond far beautiful UI, and takes a stand on how to delight people with a very simple and honest proposition.

The design celebrates each individual clip, while the immersive user interface allows people to enjoy videos while browsing. When opening a clip in its full screen view, the background shifts to the most prominent color of that loop, creating harmony within the experience.

Because Motion Stills is built upon a very typical user behavior—taking pictures with the stock phone camera (which then generates the photos used by the app)—it doesn’t add a new task to your workflow. Instead, Motion Stills enhances a very common behavior by adding image stabilization—or “Google magic” as we like to call it.

Bottles of Time

Rather than spending time fiddling with the device or app when taking videos, Motion Stills saves “bottles of time” (as my dear friend and colleague Matt Jones calls them) in a separate environment, to be consumed later. Opening the application is always a revelation: videos that you didn’t realize existed suddenly come to life in a beautiful, animated format. That element of surprise and excitement is addictive, and keeps people coming back.

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Motion Stills reveal beautiful, everyday details.

The Art of Motion

Typically, people with a passion for photography pay attention to factors like composition and lighting when looking at the world around them. But when you start thinking in 3-second bursts, that focus shifts to new details and subtleties in motion. You start to notice patterns in wind and waves, you can’t stop thinking in loops and imagining how each image might render as a motion still. This new way of seeing the world reveals an appreciation for moments you might have otherwise easily missed.

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Download Motion Stills and start learning the art of motion.
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Turn worldly scenes into interesting compositions. Italy.

Motion Stills is just one of many experiences to come that will turn mobile photographers into mobile videographers. The reason is very simple: making short videos makes taking photos easier. When you take a “video-shot” you don’t need to ask people to smile or keep their eyes open. A small video includes a full moment, which doesn’t need to be perfectly frozen into a single frame. It’s not that Motion Stills make everything look beautiful, but certainly motion and sound—with the enhancement of image stabilization— do help create interesting compositions out of the simple moments in everyday life. Because of this, you may start capturing more moments, and expanding your repertoire to worldly things that you wouldn’t otherwise document as a single photo.

Moving Memories

One day a user thanked the team because he didn’t know about the Live Photos feature, and when he opened Motion Stills for the first time he suddenly saw a long lost video of his infant son. He was moved to write:

“ My wife and I rarely record video of our 6-month-old son, and a Motion Stills video created on the day he was born caused my wife to tear up, because she had forgotten what his newborn cries sounded like. Just wanted to express our gratitude for making this heartwarming moment possible — thank you! ”

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Motion Stills can capture a fleeting moment.

When working on the development of this app, we often asked ourselves how people would react if their dearest memories suddenly came alive with sound and motion. Now we know. Not only is this type of experience here to stay, but the feeling is moving and magical.

If you want to see your photos come to life (and you have an iPhone 6s or SE), download the Motion Stills app and start learning the art of motion.

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