Living life Animoto-style Bellevue High grads come up with new slideshow technology

Beverly Jefferson has an entire library of DVD slideshows she has created from photos of trips to Italy, China and sailing in the Caribbean. But the process to make them has often taken her longer than the vacations themselves.

Beverly Jefferson has an entire library of DVD slideshows she has created from photos of trips to Italy, China and sailing in the Caribbean. But the process to make them has often taken her longer than the vacations themselves.

Using Apple’s iMovie software to create a slideshow, she uploads the photos to her computer. Then she picks the music. Then frustration. Then a trip to Bellevue Square where store representatives help her match the pictures with the beat of the music.

“It would take me Monday through Friday,” she said of the process. “Then all of a sudden Animoto came around.”

Created by four Bellevue High School graduates, Animoto is a Web site that lets users easily create MTV-style videos from their own images and music. It’s a whole new way to share photos online and more powerful than traditional slideshows, said Brad Jefferson, CEO and also Beverly’s son. The other co-founders include Jason Hsiao, Stevie Clifton and brother, Tom.

The four were friends at Bellevue High and then parted ways after graduation. Jefferson, Jason and Clifton went on to Dartmouth College; Tom Clifton went to Duke.

For several years, Jason was a producer for MTV, VH1 and Comedy Central. Stevie worked in ABC’s documentary group, animating documentary stills. Tom got his masters in music and Brad worked in Bellevue for Onyx Software.

“We’ve always worked really well together,” Brad said, noting that he and Jason ran a T-shirt business together while at Dartmouth. He and Stevie also received funding from the college and claim they came up with a Web site that was a precursor to Facebook.

Stevie contacted the group with the idea and the four used their backgrounds to create and launch Animoto last August. The Web site is quickly catching on around the globe with a quarter million users.

The whole idea with Animoto is making the process as simple as possible so anyone can do it, Brad said. Users can upload their pictures, choose a piece of music, give the video a title and description and click the create button. In a few minutes, the video is ready and users can download it, share it on their MySpace page or on Facebook.

“The user is empowered to affect the creative process by picking the song,” he said. “If they were to pick a slow song, like a classical song, the motion design is going to would be slow and more elegant. If it’s a fast hip-hop song, the appearance is going to be fast and jittery and edgy.”

Users can create a 30-second video and upload 15 photos for free, or pay $3 per video for a longer length feature. The Web site also includes an option to create an unlimited amount of extended length videos for $30 per year.

Though it’s simple from a user’s perspective, what’s going on behind the Animoto scene is complicated.

It’s all code written by Stevie and Tom. With Tom’s music theory understanding, he has written the algorithms that determine beat, tempo and the energy of a piece of music.

The effort has been to implement the precise motion design for each photograph that fits with each musical nuance, such as a cymbal crash or a race in tempo.

“With the synchronization of the images to the music comes an emotion that makes the pictures more special,” Brad said, adding that no two videos are ever the same. “And that’s really our passion.”

Jason created an Animoto video to propose to his fiancé. He posed to ask the question on one knee, opened his laptop and played the video. She said yes.

Brad created an Animoto video following his daughter’s birth a few months ago. While at the hospital, he uploaded the photos and sent out a birth announcement video before daughter, Avery, was even released from the hospital.

Bloggers are also picking up on Animoto and recommending it for every demographic.

“It’s been exciting for us that what we’ve created isn’t just for teenagers, it actually has applicability to everyone,” Brad said.

Animoto even has caught the attention of founder Jeffrey Bezos, who presented on Animoto at Stanford University last Saturday.

But one of the most frequent users to date has been Jefferson’s mom.

“It’s just instant,” Beverly said, adding that last Halloween she had 175 trick-or-treaters that came to her house. She took photos of them and e-mailed a video to her friends – that same evening.

“I’ve shared more of these (Animoto) videos than I ever did of all the DVDs I made through iMovie. I think those are sort of the past now,” she said of her library.

Carrie Wood can be reached at or 425-453-4290.