With the July Fourth weekend and summer vacations coming up, the eternal questions arise: How do you package up all those photos and video clips on your smartphone into something that tells the story of a trip or event? And how can this be done in a way that includes all the highlights but doesn’t require lots of manual editing?
This week, I’ve been testing an iPad app that does just that. It’s a new tablet version of a venerable service called Animoto, which started on the Web, migrated to iPhones and Android phones, and now has reemerged in a version specially tailored to the iPad.
Simply put, Animoto lets you pick photos and videos from your iPad’s camera roll and choose a visual theme and a soundtrack. Then it creates a short movie based on your choices, which it stores in the cloud for viewing, sharing or downloading. The process can be completed in a matter of minutes. You can share the movie to Facebook or Twitter, or via email.
The idea of quickly assembling videos and photos into a format you can show and share isn’t unique to Animoto. Another popular service, Magisto, does something similar. And Google offers a feature called Stories that organizes photos online based on time and location.
But, as I noted in a column last year, Magisto’s big selling point is that it automates most of this for you, using algorithms that try to glean the emotion represented by the images and clips, and by the music you choose. It does a good job, but Animoto gives you more control, if you want it.
Last year, I felt that Animoto’s interface wasn’t clean or simple enough. But with the new iPad version, I feel it strikes a good balance between speed and simplicity on the one hand, and customization on the other.
The Animoto iPad app is free, and so is a basic version of its service, called Lite. With Lite, however, you’re limited to just five seconds of any of your video clips, and the total movie you create can’t be longer than about 30 seconds, or 12 items. Also, you can’t download the finished movie.
The Plus version of Animoto, which costs $30 a year, or $5 a month, can use 10 seconds of each video clip you include in your movie, and the movie itself can be up to 10 minutes long. And you can download the finished project if you like. (There’s also a $250-a-year Pro version, with many added features, but most consumers don’t buy this.)
Because Animoto is a cloud service, it synchronizes your movie projects, even if they aren’t done. For instance, I was able to start a movie on the iPad and finish it on the Animoto website, or view completed movies on a computer, even if I had created them on the iPad. (There are also versions for the iPhone and Android, tailored more to a phone experience.)
Using Animoto is a simple three-step process. First, you click “Create Video” in the upper right-hand corner. A pop-out selection window automatically opens showing the photos and videos in both the iPad’s own camera roll and your Apple Photo Stream, which is a cloud-based collection of pictures you’ve taken on iPhones and iPads.
After you choose the ones you want, another pop-out window appears. This one allows you to choose from about 50 editing styles, which dictate how your content is displayed, and what graphics will surround them. The styles range from generic motifs like “Documentary,” “Portfolio” and “Collage,” to more specific ones like “Old Glory,” “Birthday Gifts,” or “Globetrotter.”
Each style has a suggested, royalty-free song that goes with it, but you can switch it for any of the many others Animoto has licensed. Or you can use a song from your own music collection, as long as you first agree with a long statement on copyrights.
The third step is called “Preview,” and it triggers a rendering of your project, which takes about 30 seconds and immediately plays when complete. If you like it, you tap a large button that says “Love it, let’s save this video,” and you’re done. If not, you tap another that says “Almost There. Continue Editing.”
The editing process is done on a screen that shows all your photos and clips, and allows you to change their order. You can also delete or add them, edit the movie’s title and date, and change the cover image. You can add captions and text transitions very rapidly. You can even crop and scale and change the orientation of individual photos.
For video clips, Animoto automatically selects the first five or 10 seconds, depending on your plan, but you can edit these to grab any other video segment instead, or adjust the length.
In my tests, I found the process simple and satisfying, and easily performed with touch on the iPad. I made videos of family occasions, parties, holiday gatherings, and a vacation; they ranged from under a minute to several minutes.
When you’re done editing, you get another preview, and then can save a final version, a process that varies by video length. In my tests, they typically went quickly.
Obviously, the more you tinker with the project, the longer it takes. But, in my experience, the whole thing was done in 10 minutes or less, often much less. A longer video of, say, 10 minutes, would obviously take more time. But because Animoto assembles the video in the cloud, you can switch to another app while it’s processing, and get notified when it’s done.
I had three gripes with Animoto for iPad. First, it only works in portrait mode, even if you prefer landscape (though you can play your finished movies in landscape.) Second, some of my highest-resolution photos looked fuzzy in Animoto movies, which are produced by default in a resolution suitable for average Web viewing (360p). However, for an added per-movie fee of $5 or $10, you can upgrade the movie to a higher resolution.
Finally, on one day of my tests, Animoto’s servers operated so slowly that streaming my movies was an agony of stuttering and buffering. The company said it was a one-day glitch, and that squared with my experience. But there was occasional stuttering on other days.
All in all, I can recommend Animoto for the iPad as a simple, quick way to bundle up your photos and videos while maintaining what every director wants — creative control.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.