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Review: Animoto, Custom Video Slideshows

Animoto productions aren't really slideshows; they're professional looking music videos created with your images.

By Betsy Finn, CPP

SPECIAL OFFER EXTENDED: Purchase a three-month Professional pass using Coupon Code: PPAnov09 and get an extra month free. Offer ends Nov. 30, 2009.

Animoto blends video and music with still images to create a dynamic, interactive video. A relative newcomer to the photographic industry, Animoto has only been around since 2006. If you’re curious to find out why Animoto has been hailed as the “end of slideshows,” keep reading as I examine the movie-making process.

When creating a new video, Animoto prompts you to choose short or full-length video options, if you’re a paid user (a basic account is free, but you’re limited to creating 30-second videos). After you select video type, you tell Animoto where to get your images. You can upload from your computer, or retrieve from sites like Facebook, Flickr, Photobucket, etc.

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Animoto will then begin uploading your images. While movie length will ultimately depend on the tempo of your music selection, Animoto recommends 12-15 images for a 30 second video. You can rearrange the image order by clicking and dragging on an image (or set of images). The spotlight button lets you choose images you want to feature, and the text button lets you add a slide with two lines of text.

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The next step is to make your music selection. Animoto allows you to upload your own (properly licensed) music, or you can select from their collection. Professional account holders have access to over 300 commercially-licensed soundtracks; basic account holders have access to music licensed for personal use only.

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After that, the next step is to finalize your video. You can choose the image pacing speed (how long each image is displayed), select your cover image, and even add an end-of-video button to direct viewers to a website URL of your choice. Also, if you initially selected the short video length, you can change it to a full length video at this stage.

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Animoto does all the work from here on out. You will receive an e-mail when the video is finished, or you can sit and watch the status screen if you feel so inclined.

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Once the movie is ready, you can play your movie to make sure you like it before sharing it with the world. When you’re ready to share, you can use the shortcut buttons above the video (Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, e-mail), or you can click on the “Video Toolbox” for a plethora of options.

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Inside your toolbox, you have the ability to remix, share, and download the video. If you want to put the video into a blog post or on your website, you can use the embed tool to generate the proper HTML code. Professional account holders can upgrade the movie quality from web quality to high-res (for burning DVDs), at no additional charge. If you’d like to order a physical DVD movie, you can do so, but that does incur an additional charge.

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Now I’m going to embed the video into my blog. After clicking on the Embed button, the screen below will pop up. Notice you can choose the size of the video frame. To have the video show up in your post, just copy and paste the code into the appropriate spot.

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Voila! It’s that simple. The click-to-play image below links to the blog entry with my video, which can be played as-is, or you can click the furthest right button on the toolbar to watch it in full-screen mode. At the end of the video, remember to watch for the clickable button!

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Animoto does a great job at making the movie creation process simple and intuitive. I like how easy it is to generate Web and high-res versions of the movie. Most importantly, Animoto gives you access to an extensive library of music, properly licensed for commercial use. The folks at Animoto are always adding new music—the commercial music collection should hold 500+ songs by the end of the summer, and 1,000+ songs by the time 2010 rolls around.

There are a few features I would love to see implemented, such as the ability to designate a logo image (to be automatically inserted into the video). It would also be nice to select or exclude certain transitions from the movie (I’m not a huge fan of the “white flash” transition).

So, what’s the bottom line? If you’re looking for a program where you can fine tune every last transition and do all the production work yourself, Animoto is not the choice for you. But, if you are looking for an easy way to quickly produce custom movies set to music, Animoto will be a great fit.

Animoto offers three types of accounts: Basic, All-Access Pass, and Professional. For commercial use, you’ll need to get an Animoto Professional account ($249 per year), or purchase a limited commercial pass ($99 for 3 months). For more information, visit http://animoto.com.

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Betsy Finn, CPP, is a photographic artist and a PPA Councilor (’09-’12). Her educational website for photographers is learnwithbetsy.com.