Monday, March 9, 2009

How Not to Create a Video Photo Story

As dad, I have to prepare a 10-12 minute video photo story for my daughter's upcoming Bat Mitzvah. There must be a web site to do this, right? Upload a bunch of photos, select some music, click "Mix", and it's done. Well, I thought I found the perfect solution in Animoto, but it ended costing more grief and time lost.

Animoto has a slick UI and algorithm to make your photo story compelling. There is a large amount of royalty free music to use. 30 second videos are free. Anything longer is very reasonably priced at $3, including remixes. No subscription charges apply.

I did a couple of test videos and it looked easy enough. The results were certainly much more dynamic than Microsoft Photo Story V3.

However, when I started doing something more substantial I kept hitting issues and frustrations. So don't be lured into animoto's path - it'll just end up costing you more time and frustration.

There is insufficient control on the results. You can only add a spotlight to a specific picture. Other than you are completely reliant on Animoto's algorithm so there's no way to customize the transition or focus of a specific picture. You can't fiddle with timings to make one picture appear during a specific part of a song.

The $3 video is pretty poor quality - it's really just a draft, not even good enough for a web video in my opinion. You can get better resolution - 800x400 approximately, but you have pay $5 for this, every time you re-render. If a regular video is $3 with unlimited remixes, why charge $5 per hi-res render?

The hi-res results are MPEG-4, which can't be edited or imported by Windows Movie Maker (XP). Why not have an option to export to AVI or other format? I upgraded to QuickTime Pro for some simple editing, but that software is pretty useless. I did use the generally helpful Media-Convert site to convert .MP4 to .WMV, but Windows Movie Maker could not use the results.

Bottom line: if you're using XP, use Microsoft's free 5 year old Photo Story 3 and edit it with Windows Movie Maker. The price is right, and the results are easy to customize. Animoto is either a nice algorithm that should never be an attempt at a business, or a business that is lacking a more complete set of tools to get reasonably good results, even for a private short video.