Animoto is a site that creates video slideshows from your movie clips and photos with little effort on your part. Basically, you pick a video style, upload your content, pick music--theirs or yours--and Animoto produces a finished video for sharing or downloading for a fee. A recent redesign makes the process easier and shortens your "time to video."
With the free Lite account you can make unlimited movies up to 30 seconds long. Want to download your videos? You'll need a Plus account, which can be done monthly or yearly and also extends the movie length to 10 minutes. There's a Pro account, too, that, among other things, strips the Animoto branding from the end of videos and has a commercial license.
Once you click "Create video" you're given this screen, a list of video styles to choose from, and the look and feel you want. There are 24 of them, but only one is HD right now and eight of them require a Pro account. Still, there is something suitable for most needs and additional styles will become available in HD in the upcoming months.
Once you pick the style, it's time to grab your content. You can upload from your computer, use stuff from Animoto's collection, or pull it from your accounts on Facebook, Flickr, SmugMug, Picasa, and Photobucket. The maximum file size for photos is 10MB and for videos is 200MB.
If there are particular sections of your videos or specific photos you want Animoto to focus on when creating your movie, it can do that. Just select the clip and it appears in a viewer on the right with a slider to highlight a section. Or, pick one of your photos and click "Spotlight" on the bottom toolbar.
The last step, Finalize, lets you choose image pacing, video length, and verify you want to use the video style you selected or change it. If you have a paid account you can create movies up to 10 minutes long; free accounts are limited to 30-second movies.
Animoto then does all the heavy lifting, putting together a video timeline, adding transitions, and rendering the video. We did a quick test between the old and new sites building a 30-second movie. The new site did it in less than a minute. The old site took more than 10 minutes. If you've used the site in the past and walked away because of the wait, you should give the new site and improved processing a shot.
The free account won't let you download your movies at all. If you sign up for a monthly or yearly account you can download the 360p-resolution video in .MP4 format. To get a DVD-quality 480p or 720p HD-quality movie, you have to pay an additional $3 or $6, respectively. That pricing is regardless of length, too, so a 1-minute HD movie costs the same as a 10-minute one. I understand the need for this pricing, but it seems like yearly subscribers should get some discount or bonus. The finished products are very nice, though, and certainly worth $6 to me to not have to do the editing.