With Prisma, You Can Turn a Video into a Painting

Still from "DEEP BLUE" By Drive Like Maria, directed by Bert AlbersCredit: Drive Like Maria
The "art photo editor" app Prisma has a been in the news lately, and now its imaging power has been turned to video.

Prisma's migration to video was inevitable. Pretty much anything you can do to a still image you will eventually be able to do to a video image; it's just a question of how long it'll take for software and hardware to catch up. Or, if you are the band Drive Like Maria, you can decide not to wait and to push your music video through an app only designed for still image processing.

Prisma, if you haven't heard of it, has been getting a lot of attention lately, and it might be behind some of the images you've seen on your Instagram feed that look like paintings (but are based on still images). The processing isn't fast, since the app uses the graphics processor of a phone (instead of, say, a computer with a powerful GPU), leading to a processing time per frame in the seconds. This has led to some frustrations from the apps users but poses real challenges for a filmmaker, and is the primary reason that the app doesn't do video yet. Not only would the processing time be prohibitively long, even on a 5-second clip, but also the likelihood of overheating the phone is large and not worth the liability risk if you are a programmer. In fact, a competitor app, Artisto, which describes itself as "Prisma for Video," has just been released, and early reports are that it's buggy, crashes mid-filter application, and the visible results don't look quite as good as what we see in the music video below:

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=26&v=XIfNcsnjXQw

The benefits of taking the time to use Prisma for video, despite the effort of forcing an app to do something it's not designed to do, are huge. And the advantages lie not just in getting a cool-looking video, which could have been done with a variety of other post processing tools that create similar effects (though those plugins mostly cost more than the Prisma app). No, the bigger benefit is having a gimmick that is part of the zeitgeist.

The word "gimmick" gets a bad name, but for music videos, I think of it as "anything that will grab the attention of non-fans." While your fans will watch your work, at least part of the purpose of a music video is to attract new fans to the work of the musician, and maybe the filmmaker, too. Considering the short turnaround time of a music video (as opposed to, say, the yearlong turnaround of even a fast feature), trying to catch the zeitgeist in some way is actually a really smart publicity strategy. For instance, I just watched a music video for a band I hadn't previously heard of, and now many of you will as well—because they were the first to use Prisma on video.

Building an audience is part of our job as filmmakers, and finding a way to make something cool—to find a good hook or gimmick that catches a wave—is a great way to do that. Of course, this also means we'll be seeing a Pokemon Go video sometime soon as well.

Note that none of this is meant to denigrate the logistical challenges that this video presented, which were very real. In order to cut down on the volume of processing time, the team shifted the project from 24fps to 10fps, then rendered those frames as jpegs and shuffled them on and off iOs and Android phones to process with Prisma. If nothing else, it's a tremendous amount of work just to keep the files organized (all 1,828 of them) so you can put it all back together. Doing it fast enough to catch the wave is a real achievement.

What's your favorite "hook" that made you watch a video you might not have otherwise?     

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Your Comment


Could you use an android emulator on your desktop computer and then run the app?

August 10, 2016 at 7:37PM

Matthew Emmanuel
Camera Operator

I believe prisma's processing happens in the cloud; you upload a picture to their servers that have a very powerful processing capacity using their AI software and then they reupload the processed image to the user. That's why it has been so slow to process for now, they must have a ton of users and the servers are at their limit, I guess most of the updates they have been doing have to do with their servers' own updates.

August 10, 2016 at 9:40PM


Kind of cool effect. But It's so overused I wouldn't want to use it

August 11, 2016 at 3:34AM

Jesse Ekholm
Director of Photography / Cinematographer

awful song and awful video. effect becomes boring after seconds. struggling to understand the point of this.

August 11, 2016 at 7:20AM


Yep agree. Maybe for a few seconds it can work. All vídeo NOT.

August 11, 2016 at 2:21PM

Tom V
CEO Velocity Studios | Since 1998

And what exactly do you produce musically ? It's a fine song for what it is.
We really like to hear what you consider "not awful" song (or any music at all for that matter)

August 14, 2016 at 6:38AM


Prisma bricked my old ipad2 :( simply just reboots until the battery dies - now canot even get enough charge to hook up to itunes to reset it. thanks Prisma ya bunch of wallys!.. cannot use the ipad anymore at all. be warned! ( trash can time eh! )

August 12, 2016 at 1:30PM

Tony Anastasi

The toon shaded effect needs to be used conceptually with tools like that or it's going to fall flat and wont hold. Preset effects wont work either because the face gets lost in the wide shots or looks really really off.

This is my take on it with my first music video in 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zneHBSwEdDo

August 14, 2016 at 8:03AM

Sadek Merchant

And still not as good as a 30 year old pop video.

August 15, 2016 at 1:19AM

Stelrad Two Machine Doulton
Editor by choice, film maker by necessity.

Ok is fine, I can do this work it take me about 4 hours each minute of full hd video. you can see something at acofilms.com

September 24, 2016 at 9:56AM, Edited September 24, 9:56AM


Here another video with prisma effect I made


September 29, 2016 at 9:30AM


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July 19, 2017 at 2:46AM