REVIEW: Animoto Online Movie Creator

Animoto is an online movie creator which lets you grab your photos and videos and, in three simple steps, create a multimedia video of your footage. It’s a browser-based service, which means you won’t have any software to download – although you can download your videos when you’re done creating them.

Price: It’s free if you want to make an unlimited number of 30-second videos with few video styles to choose from and no option to download the videos. If you want more options, you can opt for an “all access” subscription for $30 a year which gives you an unlimited number of “full length” (10 minute) movies that are downloadable. A pro package, for $249 a year, gives you access to a library of licensed music for making “commercially distributable” video. You can see full pricing details here.

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How Animoto Works: Your Animoto movies are created in three steps. First, you choose a theme from a collection of templates on the site. You’ll find a number of effects ranging from the straightforward (air, water, fire) to seasonal (“Spirit of December”) to more esoteric, like paper array. Every video style can be previewed before you select it.

The next step is to import photos and videos – either from your own computer or from Flickr, Facebook, SmugMug, Picasa and Photobucket. When your images are imported, you can add some text, rotate them, delete or have the service shuffle their order around. Very basic edits.

After that, you add your music. You can upload your own or Pro members can use a library of licensed songs and avoid the wrath of the music industry’s lawyers. Finally, you key in a name for your creation and add end credits and a url (if you want to promote a business) and then wait about three minutes for Animoto to create your footage (the length varies obviously based on the number of photos and videos you’ve created).

When the video is complete, you can go back in and make any of the edits available to you after you’ve imported your photos (but you can’t change the video theme after the fact). You can also grab an embed code from Animoto to post into a personal or business website, or upload your finished product to YouTube. You can also download it, although you’ll need to be a Pro subscriber to get a “high resolution” (i.e. DVD quality) video on your own hard drive.

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What We Like: You need absolutely no video-editing skills to make a very sharp looking movie on Animoto. If you can point-and-click, you’ve got yourself an impressive multimedia experience. You’ll get a nice selection of themes as well, even at the free tier of service. The editing options are easy to understand and easy to apply. I also liked that you could easily tweak your movie after the fact, so if you see something you didn’t like, making quick changes wasn’t laborious.

Since you’re creating videos online, your projects can be saved, accessed and viewed from any computer.

What We Didn’t Like: While you can download a “high resolution” version of your movie, you can’t download a “high definition” file. If you’ve used HD video in your slideshow, or have an HD monitor, it’s kind of a let down to get only standard definition footage (and if you’re opting to pay $250 a year, you really should get an HD experience).

Bottom Line: Animoto is an excellent movie maker. If you compare it to, say, muvee Reveal, which does much the same task, it’s less functional but is better integrated online. It’s a different model – you’ll pay a subscription instead of a one-time fee, but if you upgrade your software on a somewhat frequent basis to keep up with new features, the subscription model is cost-effective (it’s not, though, if you buy one piece of software and hold onto it for three-plus years).

UPDATE (2/14/11): Animoto refreshed the functionality and look of their service, and added HD video creation after this review was published. You can read about the new Animoto functionality here.

Author:Greg Scoblete

Greg Scoblete is the editor of Your Digital Life. He has been covering the photographic world for the past ten years for a variety of publications including PDN, This Week in Consumer Electronics and Digital Photographer.