Plotagraph Pro is an innovative app that allows you to selectively animate still images to make them look like looping movies. The app runs on both Mac and Windows, but the app you download is a front end only: all the heavy lifting is done on Plotagraph’s servers. Each time you preview an animation or render a final movie, the data is sent to Plotagraph for processing, (a process that takes typically less than five seconds).
Because Plotagraph servers do the processing, the app is only available on a subscription basis. $29 a month gets you unlimited projects with 100 Gb of cloud storage, or you can get an annual membership for $297. The good news is that you don’t need to sign up for an indefinite period, so if you only have a few projects to work on (or if you just want to try it out) you can just buy one month at a time.
Here’s how to use Plotagraph.
Open an image
Choose the image you want to work with, and name the project. I’ve chosen a seascape in which I can animate both the sky and the sea for dramatic results.
Make a mask
Use the Brush tool (choose it from the Brush icon on the left, or use the shortcut: B) to paint any areas you don’t want to move—in this case, the mountains. You can change the size of the brush from within the icon, or use the Photoshop standard square bracket keys to make it larger and smaller. There’s also a Photoshop-style quick selection tool (shortcut: W) that you can drag over the image to make masking selections automatically.
If you make a mistake, switch to the Eraser tool (shortcut: E) to paint out any areas that shouldn’t have been included in the mask.
Draw motion lines
Use the Animation Points tool (shortcut: V) to click and drag in the image, setting both the location and distance of the motion at that point. You can modify each point afterward using a separate tool (shortcut: A). Because of the cloud formations in this shot I’ve set the clouds to animate towards the viewer, radiating from behind the central peak. To make the effect work I’ve drawn short lines near the horizon and longer ones further up into the sky, to accentuate the sense of perspective.
Stop the leaks
You can press the Spacebar to preview an animation, to check your progress. As the sky animates away from the mountains, there’s some leakage as portions of the mountain are dragged up into the sky. This looks clearly wrong. The trick is to place a series of Stabilizer Points (shortcut: S) to prevent these areas from being dragged.
Move the sea
The sea is animated in the same way, by clicking and dragging Animation Points (in this case, from right to left). To enhance the perspective effect, I’ve drawn short lines near the horizon, and much longer lines close to the camera.
After previewing the scene with the space bar, you may need to place some additional Stabilizer Points around the shoreline, and also around the boat to prevent it smearing into the sea (animating the boat itself would result in a jerky, forward-and-backward movement).
Render the movie
Use the Animation Properties panel to set the type of animation. The length can be anywhere from half a second to five seconds, with two seconds as the default. You can also choose between several different ways to loop the animation. Then, use the Export button to bring up a dialog that allows you to set the size of the animation, and the file type. Choosing GIF format allows you to produce a movie that will loop endlessly, and can be played anywhere.
As you can see from the animation at the top of this page, the results are remarkably good. But you don’t need to stick to natural motion: in the following animation, I’ve turned the colonnade on the back of the White House into a rotating drum: