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Have you ever wanted to breathe some extra life into your photographs? Of course you have! No one wants to take a boring picture. Taking a great photo is an art form that is recognized the world over and for good reason.  In today’s highly visual-oriented world, they fulfill the much-needed role of telling a story in still motion.  But what if there were a way to make them more than just stills?  What if you could add the feeling of depth and movement to your photos?  Well it’s actually very possible, and given the right circumstances, you can create a unique visual experience using just those photos and a new piece of software designed for just that very purpose.

The software is simply called “Photo Animator,” and you can find out more about it by following the link here.  Having had a chance to use the software, I can say I am pretty impressed with what they have achieved.  The purpose of this is just to give you a quick review of the software, without being a tutorial in and of itself.  The software is designed to work in Adobe After Effects, and so without that you can not use this software.  Let me also say that if you are not proficient in After Effects, this software could be pretty daunting.  Because the interface they use involves a few effect control menus working in tandem, as well as a pretty intricate layering system, I would not recommend this software for those who don’t have a pretty solid grasp on the basics of After Effects.  That said, if you do know how to use it, Photo Animator can offer you some amazing results.

I’ll stop to say that the design team has also included a series of tutorial videos with just about everything you’ll need to know for using the software effectively.  I will warn you however, that they make it look a whole heck of a lot easier than it feels at first.  Like any new software, it does take a few tries to get something to work the way you want.  While it wasn’t my first attempt, I took this picture from Google…

And after a little time with Photo Animator, I created this short clip…

WeMakeVideos_Landscape_Photo_Animator play

That short clip was made using nothing but the single photo and the software.  The purpose of the software is to allow for a still photograph to have the illusion of movement within the single frame.  It uses masks to create a series of layers which automatically blend as you control the direction, speed, and even focus.  If you look again, the original focus has a very deep depth of field, as the entire photo appears more or less in focus.  The software allows you to choose a single layer as your focus.  As with anything else in After Effects, keyframes are everything.  This allowed me to move the focus from very near the camera (the grassy foreground) to the background (the mountain in the distance).  It’s this feature that really helps sell the motion.

The controls for managing this software are pretty well fine tuned, and the graphic interface they have designed is pretty intuitive once you use it a time or two.  The real trouble, and there isn’t much in the way around this is that it works in the confines of After Effects, so working through a few sub menus that they use for effect controls is a fact.  I found that it was easier to set up a workspace across two monitors that allowed me to have multiple control windows open at once.  I’m not sure I’d want to try to work through it in a solo monitor setup.  Not that it isn’t possible, just not preferable for me.

Now, I have found some limiting factors that you should consider when using Photo Animator.  First is that extensive motion will cause some pretty warped or jagged looking video.  Subtle is the key to a lot of these, even if it is an extensive change in the feel of the photo.  Remember that your balancing 8 or so layers, and you’ll want to pay attention to all of them.  Second, you’ll really want to have a deep depth of field for this software to shine.  With the DSLR’s “shallow” look being in right now, you’ll really want to shoot photos as if you intend to use this effect software.  Shallow depth pictures can work, but it forces your hand when it comes to the creative decisions in post.  Since you can artificially add depth using the software, keep that in mind when you’re taking the photo itself.  Third, remember your limits on this.  The best you will really hope to achieve is making a short clip.  That clip may move slowly enough to drag out the timing, but it is still a single shot.  The more you have in the photo, the longer you can keep people invested in the frame.  It’s not perfect, but I think for a medium that is somewhere between photo and video, it works.  It just has a terrible limit of being both, while not being either.  A photo can be studied for a long period of time, and video can be edited to the desired look.  This however, has a brief moment to showcase movement and content, without much in the way of editorial freedom. Last is patience.  Even after using this program a few times, I still have to revisit the tutorials to remember how to achieve certain effects.  They recently added particle and text layering, and it is incredible how simple and easy it all is to work with… after about an hour of misses that is.

I give this program two thumbs up all in all.  What it offers is a singular and highly unique visual experience.  I have had a desire to make a short noir style film using this effect and some others (namely facial 2D to 3D effect softwares) to film the entire video.  I think this sort of look (literally the feeling of a “moving picture”) would really work in the noir or even comic book genres.  Zack Snyder made some pretty intense works of art using his highly stylized look to make graphic novel movies feel distinct.  I think with some clever and skilled work, this software could be used to similar success.. albeit for a short film.  I don’t know that the look would sell for a feature length… but I have been wrong in the past.

If you are a skilled photographer who has some skill with After Effects, and you are looking for a way to make your photos unique, try this out.