How to make a photoboard of a film (Part 1)

Sifting through movies to study them can prove tedious and time consuming. Wouldn’t it be great to have a tool at hand to help us eyeball movies at a glance. Well, what we need is called a photoboard. The first part of this article will show you how to install free utilities as prerequisites to create photoboards of your movies. In the follow-up, you’ll learn how to actually generate those photoboards in a snap.


What does it look like?

What I call a photoboard of a movie is a series of mini-screenshot images covering the film from beginning to end, at a rate of one image per second. All mini-screenshots are organized in grids from left to right, top to bottom. Obviously, the number of pages depends on the length of the movie. Here’s an example. This is page 17 of the photoboard I’ve made of Angel Heart (A. Parker, 1987), after having the DVD converted into a MP4 file.


With those snapshots of the movie close at hand, you can instantly spot interesting lightings, framings or editing. Moreover, the sequential naming of each page — ‘photoboard_017.jpg’ in the example — helps determining the exact moment the top left image takes place in the film, as each image stands for 1 second of footage. In our case, one page made of 8 x 9 = 72 images represents 72 seconds of the movie. So page 17 starts at 17 x 72 = 1224 seconds from beginning. In minutes, that’s 1224 / 60 = 20.4, roughly 20 minutes and a half. So the sequential naming makes it easy to spot a specific image in the movie, timewise.

The first good news is that you can automatically generate photoboards from your own movies in minutes, as long as you have converted your DVD into a MP4, AVI or MKV (and more) file. The second good news is that the libraries are cross-platform, which means that they should work on almost any systems: Windows, Mac, Linux. This article will show you how to do it on Windows only. To make it work on other systems, chances are you’ll have to adapt the batch file you’ll be downloading at the end of this page to your system.

Ok, so for this to work, you’ll have to install two software utilities. Fear not, they are free.


Installing ffmpeg on Windows

This free package will allow you to extract images from your films. Go to the ffmpeg official website download section for Windows. You’ll be presented with a variety of zip files to download. Choose the latest (i.e. topmost) STATIC build, in 32-bit or 64-bit depending on your processor and download the file. Once downloaded, create a directory named ‘ffmpeg‘ (or whatever you want) on your hard drive, unzip the file in it, and double-click on ‘ff-prompt.bat‘ to complete the installation. You’re done.

In case you need more help, here is a video from YouTube that shows the installation step by step.
Note 1: you don’t need to install 7-zip to extract the file, any decompressor software you already have installed on your computer (IZArc, WinRar, WinZip, …) should do the trick. If it doesn’t, just download and install 7-zip.
Note 2: you don’t need to mess around with the Advanced system settings and change the PATH by hand, double-clicking on ‘ff-prompt.bat‘ should do it for you. If for some reason it fails, well just do as the videos says.


Installing ImageMagick on Windows

This free package will turn individual mini-screenshots into big image grids. The official ImageMagick website download section will direct you to a list of servers, but if you don’t feel like going through the hassle of selecting the latest release from a ftp site, just go to the sourceforge repository and click on the ‘Download’ button. This will download the latest release in one click. When the file has been downloaded on your computer, double-click on it and let the wizard install it for you. Be sure to let the wizard ‘Add application directory to your system path’ as shown below. Easy as pie.


Downloading MakePhotoboard

So you have successfully installed the necessary packages. Now all you need to do is right-click on this file, choose ‘Save target as…’ to download on your computer. Unzip the file wherever suits you on your hard drive — e.g. in a new folder you’ll name ‘Photoboard’. As you can see, the zip file contains only one file: ‘MakePhotoboard.bat‘. There’s nothing to install, you’re done!


What’s up?

Congratulations, you’ve gone through all the prerequisites needed to automatically make a photoboard of a movie. In the second part of this article, I’ll show you how to edit the batch file you’ve just downloaded to fit your needs and generate your own photoboards.


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