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Project: Create an Animated, Music-Enhanced Digital Album

This project starts your introduction to the second of two digital album-making software packages we cover in this chapter. The digital album we made using dotPhoto was a good entry-level experience, but the end result was limited to online delivery. Now it’s time to graduate to the next level. In this exercise we’ll use the free Photo Story 3 program from Microsoft to make an animated, music-enhanced album you can playback on your PC, share via email, or burn to CD disc as a movie file.

Photo Story 3 is not a time-limited trial shareware product. You may use this free program indefinitely to build compelling slide-show albums. Simple wizard screen displays walk you through the process of gathering your photos, creating an album, editing images, and adding text, titles, background music, and recorded narrations. The program even supports special effects, such as pan and zoom.

Materials

For this project you’ll need

  • Personal computer connected to the Internet

  • Set of digital photos on your hard disk

  • Microsoft’s free Photo Story 3 program

  • A microphone connected to your PC or a webcam with a built-in microphone if you want to use the recorded narration feature

Time

With a DSL or cable high-speed link to the Internet, figure on 20 minutes to download and install the program. With its remarkably easy-to-follow onscreen menus, you can have a basic Photo Story 3 album with 10 images up and running in less than 15 minutes. Add an hour to fully explore the program’s features.

Step 1: Download and Install Photo Story 3

Follow these steps to download and install Microsoft’s Photo Story 3:

  1. With your PC turned on and connected to the Internet, navigate your web browser http://www.microsoft.com. Key in the words Photo Story 3 in the search bar in the upper-right area of the opening screen display, and then click the link for Photo Story 3 for Windows.

  2. On the page dedicated to Photo Story 3, look for the Download Photo Story 3 link and click it. When the File Download dialog box appears, click Save and use the Save As dialog box to place the file in your downloads folder under My Documents.

  3. When the Download Complete dialog box appears, you can close out all other windows to clear the deck (optional) and then click the Open button. The Windows installer kicks in and fires up the Setup Wizard. Follow the onscreen prompts to accept the license and default directory. When the installation process ends, click the Finish button in the Wizard Completed dialog box.

Once downloaded and installed, you can launch the programs by opening the Windows Start menu and selecting, All Programs, Photo Story 3. The following steps show you how to build a slideshow album, enhance it with special effects transitions, add background music, and play it back on your PC.

Step 2: Gather Your Photos and Build an Album

When you first start up Photo Story 3, you are presented with an initial splash screen that offers three choices: Begin a New Story, Edit a Project, and Play a Story. Select Begin a New Story and click Next to get started building an album.

  1. The first action is to import the pictures you need to build your album presentation. Click the Import Pictures button and use the File Browser dialog box to find the folder holding the pictures you want to add.

  2. When the images in your target folder are displayed, select them and click OK. Your selected photos will be displayed in a horizontal band at the bottom of the Import and Arrange Your Pictures dialog box, as shown in Figure 3.7.

  3. Want to rearrange the order of your imported photos? No sweat. Just use your mouse pointer to highlight and then drag and drop an image to any position in the horizontal work area. When you have all your photos lined up, click Next.

Figure 3.7

Figure 3.7 The Import and Arrange Your Pictures dialog box guides you through the process of inserting and organizing the photos for your slideshow album.

Step 3: Add Text Captions, Record Narration, and Apply Special Effects Transitions

Now it's time to add some special effects and other cool gimmicks to your album:

  1. The next screen to appear after you select the photos for your album is the Add a Title to Your Pictures dialog box. A work area to the right of each highlighted photo provides a place to key in text. Note the buttons along the top of the text entry box to customize and position the text. To change a font, click the button with the letter A and a comprehensive Font Adjustment dialog box appears. Highlight each photo and add text as you like. Click the Next button when you have completed this step.

  2. The Narrate Your Pictures and Customize Motion dialog box offers wizards that help you record narration for each image and determine the special effects transitions you'd like. The recording tool to the right of a highlighted image uses simple Record and Stop buttons. Be sure your PC microphone or webcam with built-in microphone is plugged in and installed properly to use this feature.

  3. Under each highlighted photo you'll find a Customize Motion button. Click it and the Customize Motion dialog box appears with the Motion and Duration tab in the foreground. You can accept the defaults or use the Specify Start and End Position of Motion tool to determine where a close-up of your photo starts. You can also set the number of seconds each image is displayed.

  4. Click the Transition tab on the Customize Motion dialog box and a series of special effects transitions are offered in a scrolling box, as shown in Figure 3.8. Highlight an effect icon and an animated simulation is applied to the image above. When you find a transition you like, click the Save button to apply it to the image. Repeat these steps to apply the same or different transitions to each image.

  5. Figure 3.8

    Figure 3.8 The Transition tab presents a library of special effects transitions you can apply to each photo.

  6. When you’re done with the Customize Motion dialog box, click the Close button.

  7. At this point I suggest you click the Save Project button at the bottom of the Narrate Your Pictures and Customize Motion dialog box. Change the default file name of PhotoStory1 to something meaningful to you and note that the production will be saved in the My Videos folder under My Documents. When you have finished, click Next.

Step 4: Select Background Music

With pictures selected and an effect added, it's time to wrap up the creative process by adding some background music.

  1. When the Add Background Music dialog box appears, note the three main buttons: Select Music, Create Music, and Delete Music. If you have some music files on your CD in the .wma, .wav, or .mp3 format, you can use the Select Music button to browse and select a compatible music file.

  2. For our exercise, let's use some of the canned music provided with the program. Click the Create Music button and the Create Music dialog box appears. Simple drop-down menus at the top allow you to select a genre, style, bands, and moods. For my horse riding album, I selected a banjo country style tune and clicked the Low Intensity button to keep the music subtle, as shown in Figure 3.9. Click OK when you're done.

  3. Figure 3.9

    Figure 3.9 The Create Music dialog box offers the choice of using a music file already on your hard disk or one of numerous canned tunes provided with the program.

  4. Click the Preview button on the Add Background Music dialog box to test drive your album slide show in all its special effects transitions and music glory. When you are happy with your overall composition, click Next.

Step 5: Save and Share Your Album Slide Show

Follow the steps below to save your album (story) for playback on a PC:

  1. With the Save Your Story dialog box now onscreen, select the Save for Computer Playback option. Note that this is one of several save options Photo Story 3 offers. In the future you may, for example, also save an album in a video file format suitable as an email attachment or for playback on a handheld computer.

  2. Click the Save Your Story for Playback on Your Computer option and move to the File Name area in the center of the dialog box. Note the white box with the default My Videos\PhotoStory1.wmv as the default directory and file name. Change the file name to something meaningful to you.

  3. Next check out the Quality Settings area at the bottom of the dialog box. Click the Settings button to view, via a Preview drop-down menu on the Settings dialog box, a host of quality settings designed for different purposes and playback devices. For this exercise, select Profile for Computers—3 (800x600). This setting creates a playback video window 800x600 pixels in size.

  4. Note that there are plenty of other format choices available, useful in specific situations. For example, there are settings ideal for email attachments, DVDs and Video CDs, and handheld computers or cell phones. Click OK to return to the Save Your Story dialog box. Click Next and a progress bar reports on the status of your video file’s production.

Step 6: Enjoy the Show!

Follow the steps below to view your completed video album production and save it.

  1. When the video file combining your images, transitions, titles, and music is completed, the Completing Photo Story 3 for Windows dialog box offers two choices: View Your Story and Create Another Story.

  2. Click View Your Story to see how the final cut looks and sounds. The Windows Media 10 player automatically loads and plays the file.

  3. When you’re finished, exit Media Player 10 and return to the Completing Photo Story 3 dialog box. Be sure to click the Save Project button and use the Save As dialog box to ensure your creative work is preserved on hard disk.

Your completed Photo Story 3 production takes the form of a video file that you may burn to a CD and share with friends. Be sure to tell the recipient to update her Windows XP Media Player to the latest version before trying to playback your album video file. Also, if when playing back the file using Media Player, the recipient complains that it looks grainy or blurry, tell her to place the mouse pointer over the video, right click, select Video Size, and ensure that the Fit Player to Video on Start feature is checked. Close down Media Player and try again.

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