Animoto Online Video Slideshow Maker Review
Video slideshows that merge still images with movie clips are a growing trend among consumers and professional photographers. This fusion of still and video offers a great alternative to showcasing your work and, if you’re a wedding, portrait or Senior photographer, a source of additional revenue.
One of the quickest and easiest tools to create a fusion video is with Animoto, an online slideshow service. Animoto’s not new-it’s been around for a number of years-but the company continues to make improvements and recently overhauled the online program making it even easier to use.
Animoto offers several different subscription levels, including a basic, free version, albeit with limitations. I tested the cross-platform service using Safari 5.1, a Pro Account on a 4 year old MacBook Pro with 4GB of RAM running Snow Leopard and a broadband internet connection that occasionally loses momentum.
To get started, go to animoto.com and sign up or sign in. Once that’s done, click on Create Video. You’ll be asked to choose a video style from among 26 style options, which can be filtered and sorted. About 8 styles are available only with a Pro account and, at this time, four styles can be created in HD (720p). Animoto is planning to add more HD options, though. Each style can be previewed, complete with images and a soundtrack, to get an idea of what your video will look like.
After choosing a style, click Create Video to begin putting together your video production. The redesigned interface isn’t as visually dramatic as the original version (which had a black background) but is streamlines the process of creating a video and provides a larger, cleaner screen.
A tutorial link appears on the main screen but the application is so simple to use that you can get started on your own. Most questions-at least those that I could think of-were addressed in the Help and FAQs section.
Add Photos and Videos
Since you’ve already selected a style, the next step is adding photos and videos. For still images, Animoto supports JPG, GIF, PNG and TIFF, with a maximum file size of 10Mb. Up to 300 still images can be uploaded for each slideshow. The application works with a wide range of movie formats, including MP4, AVI, MOV, QT, MPEG, and H264, among others. Clips up to 200Mb can be uploaded for inclusion in the slideshow. Upload options include your computer, Facebook, Flickr, SmugMug, Photobucket, Picasa and still and video collections provided by Animoto.
With the new larger screen space, you can view up to 300 images at a time. These are thumbnails, though, but click on the zoom icon on each photo to see a larger version, complete with image dimensions. Animoto recommends a minimum of 1024 × 758 pixels or more for 480p slideshows; at least 1280 × 720 pixels for 720p.
I uploaded images from my computer and from my SmugMug account and quickly realized that it’s best to organize the images you want to use in a separate folder since images cannot be previewed prior to upload so you don’t know exactly what you’re selecting. Depending on the images, and your aesthetic preferences, you also might want to do a little sharpening and maybe bump up contrast and/or saturation so that your images really pop.
Upload speed depends on your computer, internet connection and the size and number of images/video but there’s a counter that shows how many kb need to be uploaded and shows in real-time how many kb have been uploaded. A progress bar provides a visual reference as well.
Once your images have been loaded, they can be spotlighted, rotates, duplicated or deleted using tools on the right hand side of the screen. Select a group of images (or all of them) and a “shuffle” tool will rearrange them in what seems to be a random order. You can also manually re-order images by dragging and dropping.
Add Music and Text
Next up is adding a soundtrack and this is where a Pro account really comes in handy since you have access to more than 1000 songs. The tunes are already licensed by Animoto, so you don’t have to worry about copyright or angering the music company gods. You can also upload MP3s from your computer but don’t count on using DRM protected files, e.g., from iTunes or Amazon Music. As Animoto writes in its technical specs, these files “may not be supported.”
Songs, which can be played before selection, are sorted by genre (Indie Rock, Jazz, House, Electronics, Children’s Holiday, etc.) and list the title, artist and length. You won’t find Lady Gaga but there’s plenty of variety so you should be able to find something that fits with your creative vision. At this time, only a single soundtrack can be selected (it loops to fit the length of the slideshow). If you want to use more than one song, you’ll have to make your own mix.
Text slides can also be added, although they’re even shorter than a cell phone text message or a Twitter “Tweet”, 22 characters for a headline and 30 characters for a text. There are no user-selectable font options, though. But adding text slides is optional.
An Advanced Settings tab on the upper right allows you to create a video title, choose a thumbnail, list your name (or someone else’s) as the producer, and add a description. If you’re using the Animoto Original style, you can add a list of credits (this would be nice to have on all the styles, I think). With a Pro account, you can also choose to turn the Animoto branding off; if you’re on a free account, you have to put up with a branded video. I’d like to see the ability to add a photographer’s logo or custom branding.
In this drop down menu, you can also choose between full length and 30 second videos (sorry, freesters, you only get 30 seconds). Image pacing can be selected from slower, automatic or faster. I tend to use automatic and let the application make the choice. Add an end-of-video button title and a URL, so your viewers can click on the title when the video finishes and be linked directly to your website or another relevant site.
Produce and Share Video
At any time during the process, once the “Produce Video” tab turns green, you’re ready to go. But perhaps one of my biggest grips about Animoto is that there is no way to preview the slideshow before it’s rendered. This is an omission that should be corrected in the future, according to Animoto and I hope they hurry up and implement a preview feature. Although you have very few options to change things-if you want to select your own timing, transitions, etc. check out Photodex’s Pro Show Gold or Pro Show Producer-since Animoto uses special Cinematic Artificial Intelligence to pace and match the images, music and visuals, at least you’d be able to rearrange or delete/add photos or change the soundtrack.
Once you click Produce Video, find something else to do for a while or start creating another video. A slideshow with about 61 images, averaging 5Mb each, took about 10-12 minutes to render. Animoto sends an email, with a link, when the video is ready. With the new format, I wasn’t able to find an option to select from 240p, 360p or 720p. Instead, I could upgrade the video but had to wait for it to render again. For the fastest rendering, you might want to work late at night when the service isn’t as busy.
Once the video is finished, you can burn it to a DVD, share a link or embed it on another site including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and a list of other services that was so long that I doubt any one person is familiar with them all, so Animoto really has it covered. If you’re on a Pro account, you can opt to have the post link back to Animoto’s unbranded page; otherwise your viewers will link to a branded site. If you choose to embed the video, a window opens with size, resolution, volume and other options. Of course, you can email the link to the video directly to family, friends and clients.
One of Animoto’s strong suits is its ease of use. Anybody can go to the site and within minutes (depending on rendering time) create a video slideshow for fun or profit. This isn’t a program for control freaks, though. You have to trust in Animoto’s ability to produce a professional looking, visually interesting piece from your style, image and music choices.
While the service is now even easier than ever to use, it’s good to know that Animoto continues to add and improve features. A preview of the video before rendering is essential and, from what I’ve read, that feature is in the works (or will be). Animoto is adding more HD styles and while I haven’t heard anything about plans for 1080p, rolling out 720p across styles is a good thing.
Another factor to consider when looking at pricing is the 1000+ pre-licensed songs in the Pro account. Animoto recently added 50 new songs and that number will probably continue to grow. In fact, it looks like the service is on the right path for development that will make it even more valuable, especially to pro’s who use it as a revenue-generating tool.
I recommend trying the free version of the service to see if it fits your needs. I think you’ll be pleased with the quality and creativity that Animoto produces with so little effort.
Pros: easy to use, 1000+ licensed songs (Pro/Reseller), enough style/song combinations to keep videos fresh and (relatively) unique, Cinematic Artificial Intelligence technology does a good job of synching music/images/styles, unbranded videos (Pro), plenty of easy sharing options, no-fee account
Cons: no preview for slideshows, limited number of HD style options (but expanding), single soundtrack only, inability to preview images when uploading, can be expensive
Mac or PC with internet connection
One of the following browsers: Firefox 3.5+, Google Chrome, Safari 5+, Internet Explorer 7, 8 or 9
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Apple Aperture plug-ins are also available, as is an iPhone app.
Lite: free: Unlimited number of videos, video greetings also available, limited to 30 seconds (no other features available)
Plus: $5/month or $30/year; unlimited videos, full-length, video greetings, $3 for 480p (DVD), $6 for 720p HD videos, downloads available
Pro: $39/month or $249/year: unlimited, full-length, video greetings, unlimited 480p and 720p videos, downloadable, unbranded, end of video button 1000+ tracks of licensed music, exclusive video styles, priority support, commercial license
Reseller (for business to business marketing): $499/year; same as Pro but with reseller license.
For technical specs go to: http://animoto.com/pricing