Elevate Vines to 6 seconds of high art with a few simple tips

Digging through Vine to find the cream of the crop is often a time-sucking exercise. Let’s face it: there are only so many terrible selfies a person can scroll through before muttering, “No one knows how to use this app,” and throwing the phone down in disgust.

Vine clips are hit or miss.

Vine and Instagram are duking it out for social video supremacy, but the two apps are markedly different in at least one respect: Instagram lets you play video editor, increasing your chances of piecing together a worthwhile clip, while Vine is designed to showcase six seconds of raw footage. That limitation is a creativity instigator, but it can also be a little daunting to shoot an interesting video that people would actually want to watch.

There are some gems out there, from stop-motion works of genius to six-second clips of comedy gold, and the good news is you don’t have to be a professional artist to master Vine (though that helps, obviously). We consulted with experts to learn a few tricks of the trade every amateur Viner should keep in the back pocket.

Script a story

A good Vine is usually not a spur-of-the-moment creation. The best Viners keep notebooks full of ideas and churn out a steady stream of creative content to keep their Twitter followers hooked—after all, what good is a Vine if no one shares it?

Popular Viner Jethro Ames has been using the app since it debuted on iOS in January to create video game-themed stop-motion clips featuring food. Ames doesn’t shoot Vines on the fly—his first step is always coming up with a good concept.

“Before I even start Vining I start coming up with ideas,” Ames said. “What can I do that’s unexpected?”

The clips don’t have to be mini-movies with a beginning, middle, and end—in fact, Vines that achieve infinite looping are some of the app’s greatest—but a solid setup boosts the shareability of your Vine.

Lights, iPhone, action

Vines don’t require booms, mics, lighting crews, or professional actors, but no one wants to see your creation turn into a Cloverfield mess because you couldn’t keep your phone from shaking.

First thing’s first: Buy a tripod. Or build a makeshift one. Anything to keep your phone still. Khoa Phan, a 23-year-old Vine user whose stop-motion work with paper has landed him gigs with MTV and Snapple, uses a box and a makeshift wedge to keep his iPhone 5 steady. Ames uses a tripod, an iPhone mount, a stack of books, and floor lamps to stage his Vines. Neither is a professional artist.

In a surprise twist, the most time-consuming part of creating a stop-motion Vine isn’t the painstaking work of tapping the screen to record, then inching your objects into action, tapping, inching, tapping, and inching some more. Both Ames and Phan said the prep work of making the subjects of their Vines takes the most time. Ames’ Vines take two to six hours to create because his subjects are made out of food, while Phan devotes 45 minutes to an hour to Vine production because he cuts his characters from paper.

Of course, you can cheat your way around filming your clip within the app, and upload a more professional Vine using a few tricks. You could easily save yourself some of the work of tapping and inching your way to a high-quality, stop-motion video, or edit out your mistakes, but where’s the fun in that?

Vine’s advantages

Instagram video gives you more tools to control your video’s style: 13 filters, the ability to delete a frame you hate, and Cinema stabilization to refine your shaky footage after the fact. For Vine’s dedicated creators, Instagram video is tempting, but Vine remains the default app for shooting short clips.

“Their video recording system isn’t as fluid and easy to function—it isn’t like Vine,” Phan said. “The videos don’t come out as well and smooth.”

Vine’s limitations can be frustratingly low-tech for some content creators, but its straightforward approach to video pushes people to use their six seconds in innovative ways.

Ames, an art director for a San Diego-based advertising agency, had never experimented with animation before Vine was released, but found himself reading books on the original stop-motion filmmakers to learn more about the art and adapt their techniques to Vine.

“It’s very old-school, traditional animation,” Ames said of Vine. “There’s no editing, there’s no post-processing. I use filters that you would find in photo stores to change color. I read about old-school stop-motion techniques, where you start slowly, build up, and slow down so it’s more believable.”

Like Phan, Ames is now fielding Vine requests from major brands like The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and General Electric. Not bad for a guy with no professional animation experience.

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