Photo Animation has really taken off in the last couple of years, partially – I suspect – because we’ve seen an explosion in mainstream hardware powerful enough to run After Effects reasonably, and at an attractive price point. But there’s another reason: photos are everywhere. Whether it’s that everyone has a decent camera in their pocket now, or that some Silicon Valley whizz kid has made another photo app, photos are something that most of us have procured a plentiful library of, ripe for playing with.

So what has that got to do with Photo Animation? Well, before Instagram the concept of applying filters to your photos was alien to all but keen photo geeks and those who work in post-production. Simple put, Instagram made photo post-production mainstream by making it easy, quick, affordable and immediately satisfying. And once an idea is in the mainstream, it bifurcates into other enthusiast territories – one of which just so happens to be the steroid-lathered patch reserved for those who want to take filters one BIG step forward. I’m talking, of course, about photo animation in After Effects.

This article is going to briefly outline what I see as the best [and most advanced] photo animators available on the market at the time of writing, and compare each one for its strengths and weaknesses. They’re all available from VideoHive, and I’ll include affiliated links to each. If you’re happy with one-click filters you likely won’t find much of interest here. But if you consider yourself a bit of a photo nut with a knack for Photoshop then read on!

Each template listed has been developed with a different technology framework for photo animation, hence why these and not others are here. Photo Animator is based on the classic 2.5D photo arrangement model [parallax], Photo Motion is based on the grid model [projection mapping], and FotoForm is based on the tessellation model [3D geometry]. While many photo animators have now flooded the market given the popularity of photo animation, these are listed here because they are each pioneers in their respective photo animation category.

Full Disclosure: FotoForm is a product from 3DMyBusiness [this website]. Being our product we couldn’t help but include a shameless plug :). But this isn’t to the detriment of the other items here. Each animator has its own strengths, weaknesses and unique features which may predispose you to one particular product over another – there is no one best product for everyone. The checkpoint format is intended to give you the quick facts rather than biased opinion.

Photo Animator

Option #1

Photo Animator was the pioneer for photo animation as a category on VideoHive, launching in September of 2015. It was the first template to get all the pieces to fall into place, and becoming the beneficiary of a windfall of sales in the process. The creator works tirelessly to keep the template updated and looking fresh – my favourite feature has to be what I’ll call the ‘Wave engine’ which is a procedural wave effect which can be added to photos of the sea, fields of wheat or anything you can imagine! The particle effects are also really impressive, with the creator making some beautiful compositions contrasting particles and depth of field in the promo video.

  • 4K Resolution
  • Text placeholders [Shared with PhotoMotion only]
  • Particle pre-renders
  • 100+ minutes of video tutorials
  • Advanced masking system
  • Awesome Wave engine
  • Camera setup left to users can be hard and time-consuming for newbies
  • Long video tutorials can be a distraction for hands-on people
  • Parallax is a more basic animation style
Photo Motion

Option #2

Photo Motion similarly made big strides in this category. Their attention to detail is stunning and the production value of their promo videos is similarly refined. Although the feature-set has remained largely the same over the past year, v2.0 of the product brought with it the ability to mask more FG ‘parallax’ elements in your shot. So for example, in v1.0 you were limited to a single FG element which provided for an impressive but simplistic effect.  i.e. The single helicopter which can be seen on their promo page. In contrast, with v2.0 you were free to create a sky of 6 hot air balloons if you so wished. Never had animated photos appeared so detailed!

  • 4K Resolution
  • Text placeholders [Shared with Photo Animator only]
  • Particle pre-renders
  • 40+ minutes of video tutorials
  • Puppet tool animation
  • Custom UI panel
  • Camera setup left to users can be hard and time-consuming for newbies
  • Long video tutorials can be a distraction for hands-on people
  • Very expensive
FotoForm

Option #3

FotoForm

Being the newest product on the block I had the advantage of market research before diving in – optimising features I liked and innovating in other areas. I am most excited about the instant one-click camera presets, having purchased the competitor products listed and noticing that users had to setup their own cameras – a technical and creative challenge which was the most time-consuming aspect for me. And for good reason – I realised early that I had to re-engineer the entire template to be compatible with preset cameras, as well as some creative timeline shifting to make it work invisibly for users.

  • 4K Resolution
  • Keyframe-able DOF [Depth Of Field]
  • Particle pre-renders
  • One-click help prompts inside FotoForm, as well as video tutorials
  • One-click preset cameras
  • Dynamic Sun + flare rig
  • V1.2 offers two separate renderers. The ultra high quality version has long render-times.
  • No text placeholders in v1.0
  • New to the market with less feedback than other options

As I’ve said, there is no one photo animator which is right for everyone. Use the bullet points to form your own judgement on what’s going to be most suitable for your needs. I won’t offer opinions given the conflict of interest but consider whether you favour speed of results at the expense of greater complexity, or look for a specific feature which would be amazing for your niche of photography. And of course, you’re free to ask questions to each author on VideoHive before moving forward.

If you have a moment, share with us your thoughts! Why are you interested in photo animation? What introduced you to it? What’s one killer feature that you haven’t seen but are looking for?