Online Apps for Super Short Videos and Slideshows

As the capabilities of online Web 2.0 applications have increased significantly in recent times, some of the most powerful to emerge are those which allow users to create online digital slideshows and short videos using very simple interfaces and tools. These online applications offer a number of advantages, including the fact that they do not require any specialised software to be installed on a user’s PC, that they are cross-platform (i.e: can be accessed from Windows, Mac and Linux machines), and that they usually allow for easy publishing of the finished product to school websites, class blogs, VLEs, etc. The finished digital productions can contain images, titles, text, short video clips and a soundtrack. At the CESI 2010 conference in Portlaoise, we looked at two specific online applications: Animoto and Stupeflix.

Animoto is located at http://www.animoto.com and has a number of attractive features, including an easy to use interface, a collection of pre-loaded media and very  impressive end-results. Animoto logoOf particular interest to teachers is the ‘Animoto for Education’ feature. This permits teachers to sign up for an account which allows for the creation of full-length videos (you can only create videos of 30 seconds maximum without payment or an educational licence). It also provides you with a code that you can share with students or other teachers which allows them to use Animoto under the same educational licence. educationIf you want to sign up for the educational package, there are a few points worth noting. 1) you need to apply for the educational code before you create you Animoto account, so don’t sign up for the free version first and then try to upgrade to a teacher account. 2) It can take anything up to a week for your teacher code to come through, so don’t panic if it seems to be taking a while. 3) Your code will last for six months, and you’ll need to re-apply after that.  4) One last note: Animoto have started including a statement that they are ‘currently reassessing the education program’ in some of their emails. They stress that this does not mean they are discontinuing the educational licence, but at the same time, you might want to sign up sooner rather than later 😉 Full details for Animoto’s educational licencing is available at http://animoto.com/education .

Creating a video with Animoto is incredibly simple and the results are usually of high quality. The video below is a quick example that I have made, consisting of some images and short video clips from the CESImeet event at this year’s conference. Just click the ‘play’ button to watch.

Once you’ve signed in, the process of creating an Animoto video is very simple, and is laid out in a 1-2-3 path.

    1. Firstly you specify the visuals for your video, which can consist of still images, short video clips or text. The most common approach will be to upload images and/or video clips (limited to 10 seconds in length) from your own computer, but you can also choose from a collection of images and short clips from Animoto’s online library, or retrieve them from a number of online services such as Flickr, Picasa and Facebook. You can also include text before or after any image/clip. Changing the order of your images/clips is just a matter of draging and dropping them.

step 1

    1. Next, you choose your soundtrack for your video. Again, you can upload your own music or sound file, or you can choose from Animoto’s music library. This is one of the strongest features of Animoto, in that the range and quality of music in its ‘music lounge’ is very good. You can preview all music tracks before choosing the one you wish to use. The upload facility on the other hand allows you to specify a piece of music of your own choosing, or to upload a naration which you have recorded or mixed using software such as Audacity, etc.

step 2

    1. The third step is to ‘finalise your video’. This consists of specifying the speed you wish the video to adopt (half speed, normal or 2x) as well as specifying one of the clips to be used for a ‘cover screen’. Next you’ll need to give your video a title, description and ‘producer name’ details (which will appear in the final ‘credits’ for the video). Then click the ‘create video’ button to start the process. The ‘rendering’ process can take a few minutes (depending on the length of your video) but you are free to start working on another video, view other videos, etc while the process is happening (Animoto will even send you an email when the process is complete).

Step 3

And that’s is, Animoto will do the rest: apply the transitions and effects, fade out the soundtrack, and produce your video. Once your video has been created, you can easily embed it in a school website, class blog, etc. (as above), send a link to email recpipients, share the details using Twitter, Facebook, etc. or download the video as an MP4 file. You can also edit the existing video, remix it into a new video project, or delete it at any stage.

Animoto also has a very impressive iPhone/iPod touch application which can be freely downloaded and installed (although you do need an Animoto account to use it). This app allows you to upload images directly from your iPhone to the Animoto site and ‘direct’ your video from your iPhone. It doesn’t have the full range of features that are available using the web-based app, but it has most of them and it too does an excellent job of creating short videos.

iphone app

Although Animoto is a very powerful piece of online software, there are a number of factors which might mean it isn’t the ideal choice for every short video/slideshow project. For instance, you cannot ‘preview’ the project without fully rendering it (which can take some time) and do not have any control over the timing or transitional effects. However, if these are not major factors for your project then Animoto is definitely worth a look.

stupeflixThe second option we looked at was Stupeflix, available athttp://www.stupeflix.com. Stupeflix does a number of things differently to Animoto which might make it a better option for certain projects. For a start, Stupeflix offers you a number of ‘themes’ to choose from. The first of these is ‘classic’, which results in a video similar (but not as ‘flashy’) to an Animoto video, but with a few notable differences in the amount of control you have over the finished product: you can add text to individual images or groups of images, you can choose from a number of (limited) effects or just leave the setting at ‘auto’ to allow Stupeflix decide, you can control the timing and group elements together, and you can choose a background colour. The second main ‘theme’ in Stupeflix is ‘Scrapbook’ which gives an overall, well, scrapbook feel to the video, and Stupeflix will also include seasonal themes from time to time also, such as ‘Holidays’. The video below is an example of the ‘Scrapbook’ theme.

stupeflixStupeflix offers a number of features which are not available in Animoto. As already stated, you have much more ‘control’ over the finished video with Stupeflix. It also has a ‘Quick Preview’ facility which displays your video in a matter of seconds (whereas Animoto can take some time to do this), as well as the different ‘themes’ to choose from. The overall ‘creation’ facilities are similar: upload your own media or import from external sites such as Picasa (unfortunately Stupeflix doesn’t have a library of images, videos and music to choose from, you need to upload your own), drag and drop them as desired to create your video (as shown opposite) and then finalise it. In fact, with Stupeflix you don’t actually need to create an account to use it (but you won’t be able to save the project if you don’t have an account). There are however a number of areas where Stupeflix doesn’t do as well as Animoto. For a start, Stupeflix doesn’t have an educational licencing scheme; anybody can sign up for the free account (which limits you to videos of a maximum of one minute) or you can pay €3 per video to make a full length one or €5 to make a high definition one. You cannot embed videos (you can export videos to Facebook or Youtube and embed them from there) or download the free ones (although you’ll be able to manage this using RealPlayer if you have it installed).

In conclusion, we have looked at two different online applications for creating short videos and slideshows. Each are different in what they offer and the way they do things, which might make one more suitable over the other for any given project. For instance, if visual impact is what you are going for then Animoto is hard to beat, but if you’d like more control over your video then perhaps Stupeflix is for you. Both are excellent resources however and are well worth a look.

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