Photo Animation has really taken off in the last couple of years.

Exponential progress in computing power has lowered the cost of hardware needed to get into the VFX game as a creator. Hooray for us! But there′s another reason: photos are absolutely everywhere.

Whether it′s that everyone now has a decent camera in their pocket, 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.

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. Instagram made photo post-production mainstream by making it quick, affordable and immediately satisfying.

The smartphone has turned us all into photographers, and even though most will be satisfied with instant one-click filters before publishing, there is now a sustainable market for what might be called complex photo filters. That is, 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
BONUS: Dokyu

Option #4

Dokyu is a new product from 3DMyBusiness.com that serves the photo animator market, so I′ve included it here as an add-on. Although, it′s important to mention that Dokyu Photo Animation Maker (a complete plugin for Adobe After Effects) serves an entirely different market to the 3 products above.

From my research I found that these products serve largely the photography market, such as weddings and real estate. They serve professionals looking for an edge against their respective competition. And as far as I can tell, they serve this market very well.

Dokyu, on the other hand, is a photo animation-making framework for content producers and publishers. Generally, that means for businesses or creatives who want to produce longer-form content that serves to educate, entertain or promote, and may very well be a service they offer to clients. For this reason, Dokyu Photo Animation Maker needed to become a plugin in order to organise a large library of photos, rather than single photos which are catered to well in template .aep form.

If you′re looking for video-centric instagram filters with 3D effects on a single photo, then Photo Animator, Photo Motion & FotoForm are probably what you′re looking for.

But if you want the flexibility of working with any number of photos into order to tell a story – to educate, entertain or promote – then Dokyu might interest you. It integrates two services into a single web-connected plug-in. The first is Dokyu Media, for accessing the world′s largest license-free photo library inside After Effects. That′s Pixabay.com. The second element is Dokyu Motion, allowing you to browse a library of custom pre-animated scenes to add to your timeline as needed. Photos can simply be dropped into scenes to replace placeholder images, producing a style of animation popularised in documentaries.

  • Animating photos
  • Text placeholders
  • Pre-rendered sequences to improve performance
  • Produce longform content to publish online
  • Access 1,000,000 license-free photos from inside After Effects
  • Preview/import pre-animated scene templates in a single click
  • Currently 1080p to improve performance across a variety of machines
  • Some users like the convenience of simply double-clicking a template, over installing software
  • Users on older machines may find performance slows down after adding more than 10 scenes

As I′ve said, there is no one photo-based animation maker 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 work. If you′re a photographer, the first two products will likely serve you better. But if you′re a budding documentary film-maker, want to start up an animation studio or simply want to publish your own videos online, then Dokyu is a different kind of photo animator that takes inspiration from speedy animation-making techniques popularised in modern documentaries which are famous for always being time-sensitive projects. And of course, you′re free to ask questions to each author before moving forward.

If you′re a photographer, Photo Animator, Photo Motion or FotoForm will likely serve you better. But if you′re a budding documentary filmmaker on a budget, own an animation studio or simply want to publish your own videos online, then Dokyu is a different kind of photo animator that takes inspiration from photo-led animation techniques popularised in modern documentaries.

Produce & publish rapidly in After Effects®


Access 1M license-free photos with Dokyu Media (Learn more).