The Ken Burns Effect

Also known as "kinestasis", the Ken Burns Effect is a camera technique that allows the filmmaker to retain some visual interest when all there is to work with is a static image. The camera focuses on part of the image, then slowly pans over it, optionally zooming slowly in or out as it does so. This can be used to slowly reveal details in the case of panning or zooming out, or focusing attention on specific details in the case of zooming in. A Feet-First Introduction is often in order.

If you want to get fancy, slide multiple cells across each other at different speeds to simulate Motion Parallax and give the illusion of depth.

This technique is most frequently used in documentaries (where period photographs may be the only visuals, aside from Talking Heads, the filmmaker has to work with) and in Limited Animation (where one fancy painting can fill in for a hundred or more cells of real animation). In one context, this effect wins awards; in the other, it draws cries of "Lazy Artist!" Go figure.

The technique is named after documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, who used it extensively in The Civil War and other documentaries. Ken Burns himself credits Jerome Liebling and the 1957 National Film Board of Canada documentary City of Gold as his inspirations for the technique.


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  • Nine Eleven, the accidental documentary made when two French filmmakers were on the scene for the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, uses this when showing a still photo of a chaplain's dead body being taken out of the WTC.
  • For All Mankind, a documentary about the Apollo missions to the Moon, uses this when showing photos of the Earth and Moon.
  • The PBS documentary series Secrets of the Dead both pans and zooms when showing still photos and images, in classic Ken Burns style.
  • American Experience, another PBS documentary series, also uses this technique.
  • John F. Kennedy assassination documentaries:
    • Four Days in November, a 1964 theatrical release, uses this when showing stills.
    • The Lost JFK Tapes: The Assassination, a collection of archival footage and news coverage from Nov. 22, 1963 (originally produced in 2009 for the National Geographic Channel), uses The Ken Burns Effect a lot, especially when playing radio bulletins over still photos.
  • Classic Albums: The camera will zoom in on still pictures or details of the album covers.
  • In The Realms Of The Unreal, about the works of outsider artist Henry Darger, cuts the art of Darger into layers and pans across them at different speeds to create a parallax effect that makes the images look more three-dimensional.
  • In the 1997 informative video The Kids Guide To The Internet, the webpages of 1997 were small and text-heavy. To make it visible to the viewer, the page is zoomed in and panned left to right.

    Non-documentary examples 

Anime and Manga

  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid uses this to liven up the photo montage that illustrates the gang's trip to New York City and thence to South America.
  • Days of Heaven uses this throughout the opening credits, which play over a series of era-appropriate 1920s still pictures.
  • The last reel of silent film Sadie Thompson has been lost due to decay of the negative. When Kino released the film on DVD, they included a "restored" ending that used still pictures from the set along with the original dialogue. The DVD employs the Ken Burns Effect, panning and zooming to make the still pictures more lively.
  • The opening credits of Soylent Green use this effect to portray the progression of life in the US from the wide-open prairies of the turn of the late 19th century to the polluted, overcrowded cities of 1970.

Live-Action Television
  • The season 3 episode of Community titled "Pillows and Blankets" uses this camera technique to full effect - fittingly enough, since it's a parody of Ken Burns documentaries (especially The Civil War).
  • Similar to the Sadie Thompson example above, many official and fan-made reconstructions of missing Doctor Who episodes use this technique on set photos and sceencaps (alongside clips from existing episodes, CGI, and composited images) timed to the existing audio.
  • Used in several episodes of Spaced, with comics (instead of photographs) telling the story.
  • This effect was used for the old-timey photos shown in the opening credits of Cheers, as well as the intro to the final season of The Virginian ("The Men from Shiloh").

Video Games
  • War Thunder has this on the loading screens, but with the panning controlled by the user's mouse.
  • Fate/stay night does this with its fight-scene artwork but using faster and more dramatic camera effects than the typical occurrence of this trope.

Web Media
  • Atop the Fourth Wall uses this to show panels from the reviewed comics.
  • This video about a scoring technique for a homebrew clone of the video game Lumines uses pans and zooms over static images from 0:24 to 1:17 when telling the story behind the clone. An annotation on the video points this out: "interestingly enough, kenburns-style zoom effects like this make the titles in front *more* readable"
    • In fact, this effect is quite common on YouTube. If you are uploading an audio recording but lack an accompanying video (for example, a song without a music video), you need some kind of video to go along with an audio. Many YouTube videos use the Ken Burns Effect to pan and zoom still pictures while the audio plays. See this video (of an old Linda Ronstadt tune) for an example.
  • Ultra Fast Pony: The episode "Time" is a parody of documentaries, so the opening and closing scenes feature extensive panning and zooming over still images.
  • Parodied (along with many other Burns stylistic tics) by Burns himself in "Ken Burns' In-depth Eugene Mirman Profile".

Alternative Title(s): Ken Burns Pan, Kinestasis