Animoto: what the experts are saying

Trey Ratcliff writes the top travel photography Blog on the Internet. He is the first photographer to have an HDR (High dynamic range) image displayed in the Smithsonian, and has been featured on many television networks.

Ratcliff has worked with both the basic and Pro versions of Animoto and reviewed it on his Blog. He listed the following benefits and downfalls of the tool:

Benefits of Animoto

  • Easy to use and fairly idiot-proof
  • Make something that looks professional even if you are a rookie, hack, miscreant, or all three
  • The video is online immediately and very easy for you to embed into your website, blog, and the like
  • Looking to deliver an “added feature” to your clients, this is something that is easy and has an amazing “wow” factor

Reasons Not to Use Animoto

  • Do you already have a Mac and iPhoto + iMovie?  If so, you can create very similar effects with these programs…  However, these are a little harder to use and don’t have some of the “themes” that Animoto offers
  • You only have a few photos or very little “source” material.  Animoto can’t help you with that
  • Cost – if you are on a super-tight budget, then the “free” parts of Animoto might not have enough power for you

Ratcliff goes on to say that importing photos from online photo sharing sites like Flickr can be problematic, as it does not work well with too many photos in a library. He also refered to some confusion regarding resolution of photos to upload when using the pro version of Animoto.

Overall, Ratcliff seems to appreciate the tool, saying, “I’ll keep making more and more videos with this…because it is fun!” (2010), although he had some suggestions to make it even more user-friendly. It appears as though some of these improvements, such as more theme selections, and direct exporting to YouTube, may already have been made since Ratcliff’s assessment in 2010.

I tend to agree with Ratcliff’s observations that Anomoto is an easy, fun way to create a simple video using one’s photos. I found the basic, free version provided all that I needed, and all that my students will likely need to display their photos and short pieces of writing.

Read more on Radcliff’s Blog, and watch a video he made with his beautiful photos, using Animoto Pro.

Reference

Ratcliff, T. (2010, Jan. 3). Animoto review [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.stuckincustoms.com/animoto-review/

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Aside

Domo Animoto!!

I love Animoto!

The first time I tried the tool, I appreciated the ease with which one could select, upload and add photos to create a short video, complete with background music chosen from the site. I was using the free version of Animoto, which is fine for creating 30-second long videos such as I just described.

A colleague suggested I try out the educational version, so I signed up, and within minutes I was on my way to using a much more comprehensive version of the tool.

First, I was prompted to choose a style for my video. This determines the background and scenes that will accompany the video, and sets the tone for the piece. One can select from 28 styles such as “Cosmic tidings” and “Coming up roses”, which will play between footage, and behind the photos, videos and text that the user adds. Each theme lends a different feel to the video, and one can preview them before selecting. I chose “Watercolor seashore”, as it was fitting for the subject I wanted to share.

Unlike the free version I had previously tried, I was able to browse and upload short videos as well as photos. The program is very user-friendly, and selecting and uploading photos from computer folders is fast and simple. I was able to select multiple files for upload at once, and could easily delete selections or change the order once the footage was inserted into the project. I did discover, however, that video clips are time-restrained, so the program will cut each clip off after a certain lenth of time.

After my photos and videos were added, I was prompted to choose from hundreds of available songs, categorized thematically. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and variety of music Animoto offered. The program provides a wide variety of styles and themes within 14 genres of music, such as “Romantic”, “Hip-hop” and “Halloween”, and the quality is very good! And on top of that, although there really is something for everyone, the site even provides the user with the option of importing his own mp3 music if I preferred.

Lastly, I could add text to the video, again moving it around to place it where I wanted it to appear. The font and colours are decided by the style chosen for the video. Headers and text are limited to 22 and 30 characters respectively. This is more than sufficient for a photo-story or video project, but might make some educational applications, such as a writing project, more challenging. That said, I don’t believe the number of text boxes is limited, so one could still add considerable text if desired.

I really appreciated that one is not tied to an order when creating videos. For example, one can select music first if preferred, even though it is technically the third step in the process. Furthermore, one is always able to go back and change any element at any point in the production. Even after the video has been rendered and published, the project is still available for editing and updating.

My video took a few minutes to produce, and I received an email with a link to the finished product. Animoto also provides for direct exportation and uploading to YouTube, which makes sharing even easier.

And, best of all, I was able to sign up 50 students and / or staff on my account, meaning that they will all be able to benefit from the added features of the educational version of Animoto.

I can’t wait to use this in class with my students. It might not be possible to exploit this as a project tool this term, but I will definitely share it with my technologie class, and am excited to use it with my creative writing students in term 2!

I leave you with this, my first real Animoto video, which touches on a subject very close to my heart!

Current events 8: OneFeat, a fun and motivational photo sharing site!

I just found out about , a social photo sharing page, which I think could be a great way to motivate kids doing a photography unit.

On OneFeat, users suggest various missions to complete by taking and sharing thematic photographs. Some examples of themes are “Snap street art that really rocks“, “Eat something local“, and “Get to the end of the world“. The missions leave a lot to interpretation, and are a fun way to think about the world around us, as well as the best way to share it through photography.

Basically, users post their photos, and others can “like” them. One earns points according to the number of people who “like” his posted photo. As one collects points, he moves through levels and unlocks prizes.

Here are the basics, as explained on the Web site:

HOW IT WORKS

  1. Choose the mission
    Select a mission from the thousands available or create one you want the whole world to achieve.
  2. Do the Feat
    Take the greatest photo ever to complete the mission.
  3. Share the greatness
    The more people like your feat, the more points you earn! Compete with the world, build your own destiny and get to the next level.

I think students will get a kick out of using this site!
Yaz.

Xtranormal activity II: the kids

Xtranormal is an online animation generator, developed and based in Montreal. In his demonstration, Paul Nightingale describes xtranormal as a product “…with which you can turn text into movies, simply and quickly” (2008). He goes on to explain ways in which the full application can be used, such as creating video blogs, sending invitations, designing avatars, and making business presentations. (I recorded a sound byte from the demo to share here, and exported as an mp3 file as well as a wav file, but I seem to be unable to upload it on WordPress, due to “security reasons”. I continue to be confounded by technological limitations!)

For our purposes, my grade 9-10 students used the free version to bringto life a part of the French children’s books with which they are working. The kids had SUCH a blast working with the program. Some found it difficult to access the site upon returning the second day, as they received messages alerting them to “activate their account”. They could not, however, locate the necessary email messages to do so. I am uncertain whether this was because of a spam-blocker at the Division level, or whether they entered in their school email addresses incorrectly. For some, it seemed to work without a hitch.

Another limitation, as I had warned them, was that one is only allowed 300 xp (xtranormal points) to use for free. These are spent when one
selects characters and certain sets for the film. A few students found it frustrating that they could not use their ideal choices, but there were many
to choose from.

Personally, I enjoyed the fact that the students had to be very careful with spelling when writing the text, in order to generate an accurate depiction of the dialogue they were representing. There were a few interesting glitches in the application which sometimes resulted in characters saying things like “e accent aigu” instead of pronouncing the letter. The students found ways around those issues, however.

The students created some wonderful videos, which we shared in “musical chairs” fashion, where they move form station to station, to watch each other’s videos. They are having great fun sharing their work and watching their peers’ creations.

Reference

Easy animation with xtranormal [Video file]. (2008). Retrieved from http://www.pcworld.com/article/157382/easy_animation_with_xtranormal.html.

Current events 7: London teachers say tech tools improve reading

London, ON teachers say that tech tools such as smart phones are helping struggling learners learn how to read. Teachers at Amethyst School say that they have seen reading scores improve considerably due, in part, to instruction using smart phones.

Watch the video at CANOE TV

Current events 6: Smart phones and tablets in BC classrooms

BC students will be encouraged to bring their cell phones and tablets to school, as part of the province’s plan to “personalize” learning, and to “keep them tech-savvy”. Read the story in the GLOBE AND MAIL.

Personally, I am hopeful that more schools will allow the use of smart phones and hand-held devices, as they are increasingly valuable in the classroom. Despite the debate that often arises – I know our school has a “NO cell phones during class time” policy – I feel we need to embrace such devices as useful educational tools.

Furthermore, I believe that School Divisions owe it to our students to provide this type of technology, to prevent those who cannot afford such tools from missing out on this important learning.

This story brought to mind an initiative at one of our Division (Prairie South)’s schools, involoving iPads in a grade 2 classroom. Fore more information, watch the PRAIRIE SOUTH VIDEO.

Xtranormal activity

My first experience with xtranormal, the online animation program, was through YouTube links sent to me by colleagues and friends. I found the movies, which transform written text to speech by selected avatar characters, hilarious. There is an impersonal quality to the dialogue and actions generated by the user that makes the whole scene quite farcical. The content, however, can be whatever the user wants to include.

So, I was curious to try the program out and share it with my students. Upon creating my first film, I discovered a few interesting facts about the site.

First, the free version is limited with respect to choice of characters, background scenes and effects. Once one has created a free account, one is given 300 “xp”, or xtranormal points to use towards these. Each character, scene and effect cost a certain number of xp, and if one exceeds 300, one is forced to get out the old credit card.

The lower-priced options are fine, however, and once one purchases an element, it’s his to keep. This does limit the creativity that one can bring to his productions, however.

The process itself is a lot of fun! First, I selected a theme. There are plenty to choose from. Some examples are “Celebz”, offering a host of famous avatars, “Pawz”, offering animal actors, and ” – self-explanatory. I chose “suits”, the office theme, and “2 actors” as opposed to one, to show the students an example of dialogue.

Next, I selected my background actors from a list of possibilities (I chose the cheapest ones), and selected their voices; both French so that my dialogue would come out correctly.

I was then asked to type in the text, which my actors would deliver as speech. This was also fun, as I had the opportunity to add movements and expressions and camera angles to my dialogue, simply by clicking and dragging the intended effect into the dialogue.

Before publishing my movie, I had the chance to see a preview. After publishing, I was given an account balance so I would know how many xp remained.

One thing I didn’t see was a way to embed or easily link my movie to, for example this blog…

I had a lot of fun creating my first little film, deciding to use it to introduce the activity to the kids, who will be using the program to present a piece of their recently selected picture books. I think they’ll have fun with this tool. More on that next time!

For now, I’d like to share the introductory film I created:

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