Over the recent Christmas break I set myself the task of trying a few new software packages and hopefully along the way learning some new editing techniques. One of the things I really wanted to try was creating moving images with the new Plotagraph Pro software which released around mid 2016, as I wanted to test it out and see if it could be a viable content creation tool for an upcoming client project, as well as a review and discussion for the Project RAWcast podcast. So lets take a quick look at it and see what it can do.
What is Plotagraph Pro?
Plotagraph Pro is a software package that can convert a single image into a cinemagraph. By overlaying animation points and through a complex but relatively easy to use set of masking tools, you are able to introduce motion and animation into elements of an image. The calculations and majority of the computational power happen via cloud based servers, with access to the tools happening either from a stand alone application for both Mac and PC, or via a web interface.
Plotagraph is available as a subscription based service – and it doesn’t come cheaply. As of writing this article a 12 month subscription is AU$428, so I would envision this really being targeted at people creating content professionally or for those that are really serious about making their content stand out from the crowd. For the subscription fee you get access to the platform and 100GB of cloud storage for your exported projects. As I mentioned above, all of the calculations happen via cloud based servers, and I am very certain that these are not cheap to run. I am currently guessing a system like Amazon Web Services application hosting powers the software. You are effectively getting access to the behind the scenes computing power that allows for the complex calculations to take place and are leasing server and processor time to create your images.
Another thing I will point out straight away is from my initial impressions Plotograph Pro is quite bandwidth intensive. The first set of images I created were done using a tethered mobile phone for the data connection (as I was on the road for a Christmas holiday), and the very first image I created used just over 2GB of data from start to finish. That is a lot of data to be shifting back and forwards, so I would highly recommend using a high speed internet connection when using this service.
How do you use Plotagraph Pro?
The above image probably looks a lot more complicated that when it actually is to use. After loading an image into the platform, the first steps would be to select regions to mask out or to mask into the animation. This provides a good starting point but quite a few adjustments and corrections will be required to ensure accuracy of the mask overlays, including background and foreground feathering options as well as basic masking brushes to either add or remove parts of the image from the animation. The less complicated the scene is in terms of horizon lines or water flows etc the easier it is to select regions. All of the examples I have used in this post are quite simple in terms of the areas that I have animated, but you can introduce a lot of complexity into the animation paths if required.
After selecting the regions of an image to mask, you then introduce the animation points to the regions you would like to display motion in. There are two main uses for animation points – firstly to define what parts of an image move and how quickly – and secondly stabiliser points which are used to prevent a specific part of the image from moving, therefore introducing a bit more control into regions that you don’t want to mask out. You can preview your image at any time by clicking the play button.
Once you have your masking and animation points in place, you will most likely need to adjust the feathering of both the foreground and background elements of the image to ensure the edges of the mask are clearly defined and don’t form part of the animation. Again, the simpler your image, the easier this is to achieve. Feathering effectively makes the edges of the masked regions “softer” or “harder” and will either add or remove the surrounding region of the masks to the animation.
Once you are happy with your image, exporting it is quite straightforwards although I feel a little lacking in options. You can export as a MP4, MOV, GIF, JPEG Seq or PNG Seq. You can select either the H264 or H265 codec for the video options and can adjust the animation loop duration and width and height of the overall image or video export. So far I have found that I am still needing to do extra work on the file once exported for use on either social media or for embedding into this website. I would really like to see options for exporting to specific platforms like Instagram or Facebook as well as more straightforward choices of 1080p or 720p quality files. Each of the finished GIF files I have added to this blog post I have also needed to edit in Photoshop to create a compatible continuos loop for WordPress. For a tool that comes at this price point, I would have definitely expected more in terms of exporting options.
My initial impressions of Plotagraph Pro
If you are looking for options to make yours or your client’s content really stand out from the crowd, or would possibly like to give life to some of your old images, then Plotagraph Pro is certainly a tool that may be worth looking at. For it’s price point I definitely think it is aimed at professional content developers or for those that are serious about making their social media posts stand out from the crowd. At AU$428 I would like to see far more options for exporting the end files for specific platforms to make it easier to prepare content for social media posts, or even for exporting continuously looping GIF files for use in content management systems like WordPress. The annual outlay is comparable to a 12 month subscription for the entire Adobe Creative Cloud suite so I think the price point may turn many people off.
I personally found the interface quite simple and straight forwards to use, but I have also created reasonably simple example images for this post. You can introduce a lot of complexity into your images and there are plenty of examples of very complex animations in other online reviews (just do a Google search for “Plotagraph Pro reviews”). I am personally going to be using Plotagraph Pro for at least one upcoming client project, but I am not yet certain what sort of long term use I will personally get from it. Only time will tell if it is a useful enough addition for my content development toolkit. I could definitely see a lot of content development agencies getting great use from Plotagraph Pro to create more engaging content for brands.
For now I will keep experimenting and see what creations I can come up with. The time investment to learn the interface hasn’t been too much so I would like to see what I can create with more complex images like waterfalls etc. I will be sure to share any good ones I create with you in future.