Morphing: Where It Began

You've seen it in movies, in advertisements and on the computer. Morphing-the visual merging of one image to another-is a powerful tool that can tell a poignant visual story or earn a quick laugh.

Short for metamorphosis, morphing made its Hollywood debut in the 1988 George Lucas and Ron Howard film, Willow. Morphing was around decades before Lucas and Howard used the technique to transform a goat into a woman, but until the late 1980's morphing tools were hard to use and computers were not fast enough to keep pace with technology.

Now, with high-speed home computers and easy-to-use morphing software, you can create an absurd variety of professional-looking morphs in the comfort of your own home. So gather your pictures, fire up your imagination and get ready to enjoy the affordable art of morphing.

How Do I Begin Morphing?

Pick Morphing Software

First, browse this website, learn about morphing software features and pick a morphing package that suits you. (Compare features for morphing software side-by-side on the Morphing Software Review Homepage.)

Choose a Morph Theme

Sort through your photos for inspiration or look at examples online. To see examples of common morph themes, see Types of Morphs. For a list of silly ideas and projects, read Hilarious Morph Projects, another article on this site. Choose a goal for your morph, then select your morph photos.

Choosing a Morph Source and Target

With most morphing software, the "source" is the starting image and the "target" is the ending image. Morphing is the visual merging that happens in between the two images. This transition should be so seamless that you will see several clear, whole, new images between the morph source and target photos.

You'll have to have digital copies of your start and finish images. With a scanner, you can upload regular print photos to your computer easily. The quality of the source and target images will determine if your morph is successful. Use only clear, well-lit images with good contrast. Consider touching up flaws with photo editing software before importing your images to the morphing program.

If image backgrounds are diverse or distracting, trim the background or add a border to your morph. If you stage the photos for the morph, use an identical background for each subject.

For whole-body morphs, you'll want to set a common theme such as everyone wearing sunglasses or everyone saluting. However, the most intriguing whole-body morphs show bodies shifting to different positions such as legs crossed to the right shifting to legs crossed on the left.

But shifting body morphs are challenging. If you are a morph beginner, stick with identical poses. Here's an example of a whole-body automobile morph that was simple to create because each vehicle faces the same direction.

This example (which also includes a foreground image, "My Dream") was created in FantaMorph.

Select Morph Frames and Morph Speed

You can choose the number of morph frames to create between your photos; the more frames you have, the smoother the morph transition. We like 50 or 60 transition frames but for a quick, simple morph, you can get by with as few as five. Here are examples of each that were created in FantaMorph.

The example on the left contains 20 frames while the example on the right contains 60 frames.

Some morphing software allows you to vary the speed at which the frames display. Increasing or decreasing the number of frames displayed per second will increase or decrease the time it takes to complete the morph sequence.


Mark Morph Control Points

Also called "anchors" or "control dots," control points mark the route the visual transition will take between two photos. In an eye morph, for example, you'll want to mark the visual points of the eyes-such as pupils, corners, and eyebrows. Then mark the matching points on the destination photo. During the morph, the color, detail, and location of the eye gradually takes the characteristics of the eye marks in the destination photo.

If you aren't careful with your control points, you'll end up with a sloppy morph. Here's an example:

This example was created in FantaMorph.

Some morphing software programs let you zoom in and out of images; the more you zoom in, the more control points you can mark. Some morphing software lets you zoom in up to 800%, giving you precision morph accuracy. Placing 150 to 200 control points on each photo will give your morph a clean, smooth, convincing look. Placing so many morph control points takes some time, but the result is worth it. With practice, your skill and speed at placing control points will improve.

This example was created in FantaMorph.

Save the Morph

Be certain you save your work at this point. The most common mistake people make when morphing is exporting the morph file without saving it first. Most morphing software doesn't automatically save, so you may lose some of your control points if you aren't careful. Always save the morph file before exporting it.

Review and Refine the Morph

Now it's time to check out your work. Some programs allow you to check your morph instantly. Experiment, slow it down, add new frames or add more points. With some morphing software, you can scroll through your morph frame by frame and check for inconsistencies. You can even print out a transition photo (the in-between version of your morph) to get a closer look at the merged version of your image.


Now that you've perfected your morph, share it! Send it in an email, use it as a screensaver, or paste it into a home movie.

To compare morphing software features and read product reviews, see our Morphing Software Review Homepage.

More Top Stories