August 27, 2019

Bringing sculpture to life with your iPhone and the jitterbug effect.

I’m obsessed with making sculpture appear more human. Sculptors intended for their work to be a representation of life, so it seems logical that videographers would want to use a technique that brings out this human quality. In traditional time-lapse video, a stationary tripod is used so the subject is stagnant and the background moves. Traditional hyper-lapse video is often shot as stills so both the subject and background move and motion is kept as smooth as possible. With the jitterbug effect, a super-wide lens in combination with time-lapse recording adds a jittery movement to a close subject while keeping the background relatively motionless. It’s used specifically for animating three-dimensional sculpture that represents living beings.

What’s used to create the jitterbug effect.

  • an accessible statue
  • an iPhone
  • a monopod and iPhone mount
  • a Moment Superfish lens
  • the Time-Lapse mode of the built-in Camera app

Look the statue in the eye.

You’ll need to find a statue in a cemetery or public place that’s low enough that you can shoot at about eye level. Just like in a portrait, you want the sculpture looking directly into the camera and need to get within a few inches of the face. Please be considerate, in addition to obeying the law.

The ultra-wide camera exaggerates movement.

With a ultra-wide camera available on all newer iPhones (except the SE), things that are close look very close and things that are far away look really distant. In handheld video, this lense emphasizes our unsteadiness. And in a time-lapse the unsteadiness is magnified even more to add a motion with the head of the statue jittering in contrast to a relatively still background.

The monopod makes it easy to work on long exposures.

When shooting a time-lapse, it takes eight minutes to record a 30-second video. Trying to hand-hold a camera for any length time is tiring and your steadiness will get more erratic the longer you shoot. A monopod can help to steady movement for more consistent vibration. It also lets you subtly move in and out from the subject, which is the movement you want. Free-holding the phone results in more up-and-down and side-to-side jitteriness that can look more like unintentionally shaky video.

Monopods also allow for slow panning movements around the face of a statue, which can create a real intimacy with the stone or metal. This adds the hyper-lapse effect to the video. I use a Velbron Ultra Stick Super 8 Monopod with the Mantrotto Twistgrip phone mount. It’s sturdy and gets as tall as eye height, but collapses down to 10 inches, so it’s convenient to keep in your camera kit. (You can achieve the same effect of a monopod with a tripod by just extending a single leg.)

Editing can add to the jitterbug effect.

I use iMovie on iPad for most editing. It’s free, easy to use and makes it simple to add a soundtrack. Here are a few editing tricks that can add to the effect.

  • One of the pains of time-lapse is the massive amount of shooting time it takes to get a few seconds of video. A nice little trick is to use an app like Reverser and alternate a forward and backward version of a four-second clip. With clips shorter than four seconds, the repetition may be noticeable. The movement can be pretty seamless, unless there’s something else in the scene moving in a linear pattern that would make the alternating forward/reverse movement noticeable, like clouds or slow-moving cars.
  • If you want smooth linear movement in the background like cars and clouds in addition to the jitterbug effect, you either need to shoot a longer clip or get creative with editing as with Jitterbug Jesus. The original clip for this video was 10 seconds long. I used 18 overlapping short clips with a 2.5-second dissolve to blend cloud movement and have two jittering effects of the head blended together.


Audio intensifies the effect. Surprisingly, slow-paced audio can work just as well as fast-paced. You’ll need to experiment and see what soundtrack works with your video. I create my own soundtracks from scratch, but Google has a library of public domain and Creative Commons tracks that will start you off.

While the jitterbug effect is time-consuming to create, it can add life to three-dimensional statues in your video. I suggest you experiment with it to develop your own unique style with it or improve on what I’ve started here.

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