November 22, 2008

Animoto – A Mini Review

I recently came across Animoto. It’s a platform for turning photos and music into professional videos. In other words, you use it to make cool slideshows.

The product uses something called “Cinematic Artificial Intelligence” to analyze the music and photos selected by the photographer. Matching things like tempo, beat, climactic music events, the program automates the process of animation.

The service launched in August of 2007 and the pro photography community launch took place in October at Photo Plus.

Photographers can get free web-quality videos or pay for a subscription service that costs $99 per month or $249 for a year. The professional service allows the photographer to download, sell and/or otherwise distribute the finished videos. The files are delivered via the Web in Mpeg4 format or ISO format for burning directly to DVD.

Professional photographers can also sell or distribute videos online using an embed code. For instance, a professional wedding photographer might offer to license all the images in a bride’s album as an Animoto video for an additional fee.

One particularly appropriate use for these slideshow videos can be found on professional photographer James Duncan Davidson’s web site. He shot the Web 2.0 summit for O’Reilly and used Animoto to create an animated video.

Animoto’s animations are first rate. The co-founders have a background working in cinema/television or working for companies such as MTV, VH1 and ABC.

One interesting aspect of the Animoto videos is that the music offered on their site is automatically cleared for commercial use. Animoto CEO and co-founder Brad Jefferson told me that they plan to offer additional music selections in the future. If a photographer already has licensed music, they’re free to upload it along with their images as part of the process and Animoto will create a video using the photographer’s cleared music.

I tested the pro account. I created a video in about five minutes. It took a few tries to get the interface figured out, and I found the existing music selections a bit limiting, but was overall very pleased with the quality.

The videos are easy to share and look very good.

Since anyone can try the free version of Animoto, I’d encourage my audience to give this a try.

Before you do, I want to make special note of one fact. These videos are not going to offer you the chance to make the typical contemplative slideshow, where each image gets tons of screen time. These slideshows wouldn’t be appropriate for critique sessions or educational purposes. But if you’re looking for a cool way to quickly tell a story or show off your work, this could be the ticket.

For more information on the Animoto service for photographers, visit their website at http://photography.animoto.com/learnmore.html.

Join the conversation! 35 Comments

  1. I love Animoto. They also have a consumer/non-commercial version for $25/yr unlimited or $3 per video.

  2. Scott,

    This program is really easy to use, and although my first attempt didn’t come out quite like I’d hoped – my second attempt was very nice. Two key factors: the music needs to fit the mood of the photos (should be obvious), and it really helps to select a few pictures to emphasize (which I didn’t do the first time).

    I’m looking forward to use this for a family reunion coming up over Christmas – should make a cool remembrance of the whole week!

    BTW: love the show – look forward to the new update on iTunes every Monday to listen to while driving to and from work.

  3. Scott,

    This program is really easy to use, and although my first attempt didn’t come out quite like I’d hoped – my second attempt was very nice. Two key factors: the music needs to fit the mood of the photos (should be obvious), and it really helps to select a few pictures to emphasize (which I didn’t do the first time).

    I’m looking forward to use this for a family reunion coming up over Christmas – should make a cool remembrance of the whole week!

    BTW: love the show – look forward to the new update on iTunes every Monday to listen to while driving to and from work.

  4. Wow this is really beautiful. I don’t think the music really goes with it but I am definitely floored by the video!!
    I don’t really like the fact that you don’t actually get a piece of software and you have to pay a monthly fee if you want the pro version… That doesn’t make much sense to me for such a product…

  5. Wow this is really beautiful. I don’t think the music really goes with it but I am definitely floored by the video!!
    I don’t really like the fact that you don’t actually get a piece of software and you have to pay a monthly fee if you want the pro version… That doesn’t make much sense to me for such a product…

  6. I’ve been using them for awhile via a paid account model they had prior to the new ‘photographers’ account offering. As you suggest, these videos are perfect for some things and not quite right for others. One thing that annoys me though is having the animoto branding tacked to the end of every video. For their free offerings this is perfectly reasonable, but if I’m paying $99 per month for their service I shouldn’t be forced to promote animoto’s brand to my customers. Does Adobe put a visible watermark on every image (or video) editing with their software??

  7. I’ve been using them for awhile via a paid account model they had prior to the new ‘photographers’ account offering. As you suggest, these videos are perfect for some things and not quite right for others. One thing that annoys me though is having the animoto branding tacked to the end of every video. For their free offerings this is perfectly reasonable, but if I’m paying $99 per month for their service I shouldn’t be forced to promote animoto’s brand to my customers. Does Adobe put a visible watermark on every image (or video) editing with their software??

  8. Your post very fairly captured the essential points of this service, Scott. Animoto was as easy to use as you described and produced a striking slideshow from one of my Flickr albums in minutes with little effort by me. I can see why educators are one of Animoto’s target audiences. Kids seven and up would LOVE using this and sharing the results. And as a Dad, I could see myself using Animoto to create a quick photo highlights slideshow now and then without the need to roundtrip photos through iMovie or FotoMagico (a significant time savings when one has twins!). The technology is magical and “foolproof.”

    On the other hand, given the lack of real creative control over what Animoto output, I wonder whether professional photographers are the right target audience for this? The quality of the videos is good, but the transitions seem pretty frenetic even when matched to a song with a slow tempo. Although the ability to generate quality results quickly for a client must be something that a professional photographer would value, I’m guessing that speed must be balanced against the desire to create something unique and personalized. My take is that the Animoto output would be good for generating previews of work on a Web site but not something I would likely send to clients.

    Ron

  9. Your post very fairly captured the essential points of this service, Scott. Animoto was as easy to use as you described and produced a striking slideshow from one of my Flickr albums in minutes with little effort by me. I can see why educators are one of Animoto’s target audiences. Kids seven and up would LOVE using this and sharing the results. And as a Dad, I could see myself using Animoto to create a quick photo highlights slideshow now and then without the need to roundtrip photos through iMovie or FotoMagico (a significant time savings when one has twins!). The technology is magical and “foolproof.”

    On the other hand, given the lack of real creative control over what Animoto output, I wonder whether professional photographers are the right target audience for this? The quality of the videos is good, but the transitions seem pretty frenetic even when matched to a song with a slow tempo. Although the ability to generate quality results quickly for a client must be something that a professional photographer would value, I’m guessing that speed must be balanced against the desire to create something unique and personalized. My take is that the Animoto output would be good for generating previews of work on a Web site but not something I would likely send to clients.

    Ron

  10. I like the animations and quality of the video but the transitions/effects seem more suited to upbeat music. Muvee Maker is a stand-alone program that will also automatically match your photos to the tempo of music but it uses more traditional transitions. I think I’ll give Animoto a try though to see what I can come up with. Thanks for the review Scott!

  11. I like the animations and quality of the video but the transitions/effects seem more suited to upbeat music. Muvee Maker is a stand-alone program that will also automatically match your photos to the tempo of music but it uses more traditional transitions. I think I’ll give Animoto a try though to see what I can come up with. Thanks for the review Scott!

  12. Regarding everyone’s comments that the music should fit the mood of the piece. I agree – the problem is – given the fact that most people have different musical tastes – who’s to say what the proper mood is? I do think the service’s primary sticking point is too few musical choices. They say they are working on that, and people are also free to upload their own cleared music. I also agree that if you’re paying for the service, Animoto should remove their logo. That alone would keep me from paying for it.

  13. Regarding everyone’s comments that the music should fit the mood of the piece. I agree – the problem is – given the fact that most people have different musical tastes – who’s to say what the proper mood is? I do think the service’s primary sticking point is too few musical choices. They say they are working on that, and people are also free to upload their own cleared music. I also agree that if you’re paying for the service, Animoto should remove their logo. That alone would keep me from paying for it.

  14. Scott I am surprised nobody mentioned that your photos in the slideshow are mind-blowing. I wish I could make images that had such impact. Well done and thanks for the review. I like the service and it even made my photos look pretty good, despite the fact I am just a hack.

  15. Scott I am surprised nobody mentioned that your photos in the slideshow are mind-blowing. I wish I could make images that had such impact. Well done and thanks for the review. I like the service and it even made my photos look pretty good, despite the fact I am just a hack.

  16. I put together a free video to try the service and for the most part I liked the result. It did however take me several attempts to get a video I liked as one of the transitions that is used reverses the photo. (Left is right, right is left). Although this won’t matter for landscapes or wildlife photography it does not work if your images have letters or numbers in them. I felt at times during one of the videos that I loaded my slide tray backwards.

  17. I put together a free video to try the service and for the most part I liked the result. It did however take me several attempts to get a video I liked as one of the transitions that is used reverses the photo. (Left is right, right is left). Although this won’t matter for landscapes or wildlife photography it does not work if your images have letters or numbers in them. I felt at times during one of the videos that I loaded my slide tray backwards.

  18. I’ve made a couple of free ones in the past years, (for example this winter one: http://vimeo.com/924995?pg=embed&sec=924995) and although I like it for a quick sideshow, I miss the manual controls. If you don’t have allot of time on hand, this is great. If I have the time for a project (which I mostly have, I’d rather make one myself)

  19. I’ve made a couple of free ones in the past years, (for example this winter one: http://vimeo.com/924995?pg=embed&sec=924995) and although I like it for a quick sideshow, I miss the manual controls. If you don’t have allot of time on hand, this is great. If I have the time for a project (which I mostly have, I’d rather make one myself)

  20. @Alan, I agree with you that it stinks that you pay that kind of money and are forced to still have the branding. I haven’t used this service but I’ve heard a number of people take issue with the variety and choices of music available as well as the fact you don’t get a physical disc. So that just leads me to one question, what is so awesome about this software that Premiere (or similar) won’t do? Is it just a time saver or are there features it has that nothing else does?

  21. @Alan, I agree with you that it stinks that you pay that kind of money and are forced to still have the branding. I haven’t used this service but I’ve heard a number of people take issue with the variety and choices of music available as well as the fact you don’t get a physical disc. So that just leads me to one question, what is so awesome about this software that Premiere (or similar) won’t do? Is it just a time saver or are there features it has that nothing else does?

  22. Do people think this is just ridiculously overpriced? Or is it just me? I love the 30 second snippets, but I can’t justify $249 for this. Is the price going to come down?

  23. Do people think this is just ridiculously overpriced? Or is it just me? I love the 30 second snippets, but I can’t justify $249 for this. Is the price going to come down?

  24. I think the results look very nice, but the video looks like a way to show off the myriad kinds of elaborate high-motion transitions than it is a way to present the photos. I was starting to get dizzy a few times.

    But to make anything that nice in a video editing program? Forget it, not without spending several hours, several days or maybe even weeks if you’re not experienced at the software, and that’s assuming you have the chops to endure the program.

  25. I think the results look very nice, but the video looks like a way to show off the myriad kinds of elaborate high-motion transitions than it is a way to present the photos. I was starting to get dizzy a few times.

    But to make anything that nice in a video editing program? Forget it, not without spending several hours, several days or maybe even weeks if you’re not experienced at the software, and that’s assuming you have the chops to endure the program.

  26. @John M, the question of why use Animoto rather than just edit your own slideshow/video with Premiere (or other) was answered pretty well by JeffDM above. It would take you TONS of time…assuming you even had the skills and the appropriate software to pull it off.

  27. @John M, the question of why use Animoto rather than just edit your own slideshow/video with Premiere (or other) was answered pretty well by JeffDM above. It would take you TONS of time…assuming you even had the skills and the appropriate software to pull it off.

  28. Scott: Amazing timing.

    I heard about the service recently, but I haven’t check it out yet. I had only a few week previously bought ProShow Producer to build multi-media from my photos. It works great, gives you a lot of control, but you have to provide you own licensed music and I’ve not found a way to integrate the music tempo with the show automatically. The producer version was about $250 and allows you to build quite a few media types and export to various hosting sites. Heck, they even put out a plugin for Lightroom 2.0 (have yet to try that).

    But like Premiere, it would take a ton more time to do that video in ProShow than in what Scott did with Animoto.

    Thanks for the great timing, Scott.

  29. Scott: Amazing timing.

    I heard about the service recently, but I haven’t check it out yet. I had only a few week previously bought ProShow Producer to build multi-media from my photos. It works great, gives you a lot of control, but you have to provide you own licensed music and I’ve not found a way to integrate the music tempo with the show automatically. The producer version was about $250 and allows you to build quite a few media types and export to various hosting sites. Heck, they even put out a plugin for Lightroom 2.0 (have yet to try that).

    But like Premiere, it would take a ton more time to do that video in ProShow than in what Scott did with Animoto.

    Thanks for the great timing, Scott.

  30. Hi Scott, your use of the Vimeo player really shows off the video better than the default embedded Flash player that Animoto provides as a prebuilt line of JavaScript. I might have to give them a try for hosting the Web 2.0 video and other videos I do with Animoto. Thanks also for the node! –Duncan

  31. Hi Scott, your use of the Vimeo player really shows off the video better than the default embedded Flash player that Animoto provides as a prebuilt line of JavaScript. I might have to give them a try for hosting the Web 2.0 video and other videos I do with Animoto. Thanks also for the node! –Duncan

  32. It made me feel sick to be honest. I wouldn’t pay that much either for a web based subscription tool. This kind of product seems to be spreading, I like to buy what I want and use it locally to own control. Also there was no way to not have music on the free version, no way to control the volume as default, no way to choose transitions, no way to have it start immediately. I suppose these kind of tools might be available on the paid for version.

    As someone else said I would balk at paying for branded products. You pay you get to choose. It’s quite arrogant for any company to force their branding on your paid product.

    It is a great idea though and could look really sexy but it needs more control even in the free trial version. It goes far too fast and really makes you want to vomit even if some of it does look slick.

  33. It made me feel sick to be honest. I wouldn’t pay that much either for a web based subscription tool. This kind of product seems to be spreading, I like to buy what I want and use it locally to own control. Also there was no way to not have music on the free version, no way to control the volume as default, no way to choose transitions, no way to have it start immediately. I suppose these kind of tools might be available on the paid for version.

    As someone else said I would balk at paying for branded products. You pay you get to choose. It’s quite arrogant for any company to force their branding on your paid product.

    It is a great idea though and could look really sexy but it needs more control even in the free trial version. It goes far too fast and really makes you want to vomit even if some of it does look slick.

  34. I like the product and I don’t think $250 a year is bad (as I would use it a ton and and charge clients), but the mandatory branding on a paid product is a deal breaker. I would charge clients and they could google it and see how much I overcharged them!! Hell No. I think every one should email them that the branding will prevent the majority of people from using their paid services.

  35. I like the product and I don’t think $250 a year is bad (as I would use it a ton and and charge clients), but the mandatory branding on a paid product is a deal breaker. I would charge clients and they could google it and see how much I overcharged them!! Hell No. I think every one should email them that the branding will prevent the majority of people from using their paid services.

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