Two years ago, Flixel Photos Inc. was riding the wave of consumer photo apps and social sharing. Like many other startups out there, it wanted to create the next big Instagram – so the first app it created was a fun, basic tool for users to snap some pictures and animate them, like GIFs.
Now, the Toronto-based startup is getting ready to launch the Cinemagraph Pro for Mac app, a new release for the Apple Mac that will allow photographers to take pictures and animate small sections of them – creating the feeling that a still photograph is actually moving.
While they’re called photos, in reality they are looping videos called cinemagraphs. Photographers edit the video to make them appear seamless, with no obvious beginning or end, so they look more convincingly like photos. Originally coined by graphic artist Kevin Burg and photographer Jamie Beck, essentially the cinemagraph is an intriguing medium between photos and videos.
While Flixel already has an app available for mobile devices running Apple iOS, the new release for Mac will be able to support 4K video, as well as provide a slew of tools for photographers and creative professionals to enhance their work. The app is set to come out next week.
It’s a big change from Flixel’s original focus, but it’s one that made sense, says Mark Pavlidis, Flixel’s vice-president of technology. When Flixel first launched, it was up against startups that were competing for the same user base. The company’s first app came out three weeks behind Cinemagram Inc., a startup that created a very similar product and attracted users first.
“Three weeks – that was the difference,” Pavlidis says, adding Flixel spent the next six months playing catch-up, switching over from the gif-like images to the smoother, more fluid cinemagraphs. But even with the changeover, they realized their strategy wasn’t helping them gain any traction in a competitive, fast-moving space.
“We said, what’s preventing people from doing [cinemagraphs]? What’s the hard part? We realized this wasn’t like Instagram, where you snap a picture, put a filter on it, and it looks good,” he says, adding most people found it hard to keep their hands steady and to get the composition of the photo exactly right.
However, they noticed the people creating the most interesting, eye-catching cinemagraphs were artists – and that even when users stopped creating their own images, they would still check back in and look through what other people were posting.
That’s when Flixel decided to focus on the creative professional market, releasing its iOS app in June 2013. Its new Mac app is a “natural progression” of that, Pavlidis says.
For one thing, it takes full advantage of the hardware in a Mac, allowing photographers and creative professionals to create images in real time. Instead of having to add different mask layers, render them, and then check to see what they look like, the new Mac app just does that in real time, making it much easier for a user to know what their cinemagraph will look like.
“What you see is what you’re going to get, and it plays back in real time, as opposed to being choppy, or having to really reduce the resolution to something really small,” Pavlidis says.
The Mac app also has two new tools to make it easier for photographers to loop an image, and it’s fixed the problems with Facebook logins and integration that plagued the iOS app.
And while the app for iOS limits users because it can only shoot in 1920 x 1080, with a bitrate of 20 megabits per second or less, that’s not a problem for the Mac app. One of the biggest benefits to using the Mac version is that photographers will be able to create images in 4K resolution, thanks to all of the advances in cameras and photography over the last couple of years.
“For us, we see 4K as being the turning point in photography … Photography isn’t just going to be taking a number of stills by clicking the shutter,” Pavlidis says, adding major brands like Marilyn Monroe, Kraft, and Panasonic have all signed on to use Flixel to add touches of motion to the photos in their campaigns.
Beyond these brands, Flixel has been packing some serious star power behind it, with supermodel Tyra Banks investing in the company and featuring it in the most recent season of America’s Next Top Model. And last month, the startup announced it had a new president – Stefan Guelpen, previously the vice-president of sales and merchandising at Panasonic Corp.
In the meantime, the company’s next move is to build out its web services – for example, hosting cinemagraphs and distributing them. Essentially, cinemagraphs are looping videos, and while most sites can embed YouTube and Vimeo videos, they often have trouble with other file formats – and putting a YouTube link instead of simply embedding a cinemagraph can take away some of the dramatic effect, Pavlidis notes.
Pricing for the Mac tool is set at $199, while the iOS app is $9.99 in the Apple iTunes app store.