So you can use slow motion and high frame rates in your film and video projects professionally. Dive in and learn to use it.
Let's face it, slow motion is cool. The slowing down of time is definitely something fantastic. Whether in a huge action sequence on an IMAX screen or in the tiny moments of your favorite YouTube series on a smartphone – the slow motion effect always seems to work and delight audiences of all sizes.
However, taking slow-motion footage can obviously be quite difficult, as it requires both the right equipment and a solid knowledge base of how to do slow-motion or high-frame-rate photography to look good.
While there are plenty of tips and tricks out there for recording slow motion and high frame rate, we'll dive into more of the theory of slow motion and the different ways you might want to use it in your movie and video projects. Let's begin!
Slow motion for action and stunts
When you think of slow motion in the movie, you probably skip straight to the big budget blockbusters and the spectacular stunt sequences that occur at high stakes and in slow motion. And that's certainly true, since slow motion is a signature look that is featured in these big budget sequences. As you can see in the video demonstration above, slow motion is a great tool for making these quick actions seem dangerous and dramatic as it really gives the audience more opportunity to appreciate what is going on.
In fact, recording slow motion for action and stunts is perhaps one of the most technically challenging accomplishments in any production, and partly why we see it more often in the biggest big budget films compared to indie features and DIY shorts. It is important to consider both safety and practicality when using slow motion for stunts, as you need to be in control of every element of the situation to make sure your camera is properly framed, in focus, and is recording the exact high frame rate movements that You planned carefully and carefully.
If you want to learn more about this type of slow motion videography, head over to The Slow Mo Guys channel and read more from these helpful articles on stunt choreography and safety.
Slow motion to highlight cinematic moments
After high octane slow motion stunts, the second most common use of slow motion in film and video is to simply highlight cinematic moments and add another layer of emotional meaning.
I picked the above montage of slow motion shots from the filmography of filmmaker Wes Anderson – a perfect example of the use of slow motion for dramatic effects. In fact, Anderson even developed his own slow motion style that uses that one type of shot as the climax for almost every one of his films.
To make things even more cinematic, so to speak, these scenes all have in common that they start in real time and slow down in slow motion and are all shot on film. To achieve this truly cinematic look requires a complex filming process known as "overspeeding". A recording that starts at 24 frames per second is manually "rotated" to 60 frames per second or higher.
The overall effect is very pleasing to the eye. You can actually cheat on this technique with digital recording by continuously recording at the higher frame rate and then going into editing to delete frames so a clip can start at 24 frames per second. Of course, the overall picture may not appear as “cinematic” as in the examples above.
Slow motion to draw attention to details
Another way to use slow motion in your projects is to have a small (but crucial) way to highlight certain details or draw attention to certain moments or actions. It can be subtle, but you will actually find this technique in more movies and shows than you might think. Just because our world moves in real time – and is recorded as close to real time as possible – doesn't mean you can't cheat this in editing.
Some examples would be a quick glimpse from one character to the next, lengthening the motions for passing a note or weapon, or slowing down time to show a character noticing a sign or poster on a wall.
These tiny moments may play more slowly in the script or scene. However, when reporting is lacking or the required information is not connected to the audience, slow motion can be a quick fix.
Slow motion for sport
Perhaps the most obvious place you can find slow motion in movies and entertainment is in sports. They use a lot of slow motion, of course, in the broadcast and highlights of the actual sports games and programs, but I speak in the film and TV recreations of the sport.
Form follows function. So if you want to accurately portray sport in your film projects, it is imperative to use slow motion when necessary. It's also a perfect way to make the hits so much harder to land and the moments to last so much longer. I bet whatever your favorite sports movie grew up in, it made heavy use of slow motion to add depth to scenes and give more context to the actions.
However, unless you shoot your project with a top notch live sports camera, you face numerous challenges when trying to get good slow-motion coverage. Sports slow motion is usually a mix of close, close-up shots (for complicated actions like hitting a ball) and wide, tortuous strokes (that show the energy and impact of hits and goals). If you want to learn more about sports videography and slow motion, check out the articles below:
Ramps between slow motion and time lapse
As slow motion technology has evolved over the years and audience expectations have changed and evolved to demand more than just simple slow motion shooting, suddenly ramping between slow motion and slow motion has pretty much become a style of its own. You can see different examples of slow to fast (and vice versa) shooting across everything from the latest Marvel movies to your favorite adventure franchises.
In many ways, slow motion for cinema has become synonymous with this new style, as digital editing makes techniques such as speed increases easier and more precise to control. If you want to add slow motion or slow motion to your projects today, it may be best to get a solid HFR camera, shoot at 120 frames per second (if possible), and then make all of your slow-motion and speed-up decisions for editing once you have everything planned and covered.
Below are some in-depth articles on how to increase speed on various NLE platforms – such as Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut X – along with additional tips and tricks for these techniques.
Cover photo from The Darjeeling Limited via Fox Searchlight.