Review of Pixelan's Spice FX4.0 for Movie Maker

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I’ve had Pixelan effects and transitions for Movie Maker in my toolbox for over 5 years now, and their Pan/Zoom utility since it was first released with the v3 SpiceFX packs. Being more a believer in minimizing use of special effects to let the video content take center stage, it’s an exception rather than a rule for me to reach for one. But when I do, it’s often one made by Pixelan as they are always top notch professional accents for any video.

It was a big moment when Microsoft first released Photo Story. It handled the available pixels of a high quality still picture so well that it was worth the side trip to make pan/zoom video clips with it and then bring the animated clips into a Movie Maker project. Many of my best videos combine Photo Story clips from our 3, 5, 7 and now 10 megapixel camera with video clips from my camcorder.

Pixelan’s first release of its Pan/Zoom Maker didn’t break my standing rule… put a high quality picture in Movie Maker, apply a pan/zoom, and you’ll wish you’d done it first in Photo Story. This new release changes that.

As great as Photo Story 3 or any tool is, it has limitations. This new version of Pixelan’s Pan/Zoom PRO breaks through the limits of Photo Story. What limits?

  • An image more than 7,200 pixels in width or height can’t be imported into Photo Story 3. One of my stitched together panoramic pictures of the Jungfreau in Switzerland measures 14,525 pixels wide by 2,476 pixels high. It’s the file file I use when I want a screen shot of Photo Story 3’s error message. Movie Maker in XP or Vista doesn’t have that limitation, but from a practical view, there hasn’t been a good reason to find it until now.

  • As video in recent years has moved more and more to widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio, Photo Story stayed at standard 4:3 mode. You can force it make widescreen stories by deliberately distorting the pictures and saving the story with a custom profile, a hack that takes a bit of effort, but worth doing if you want a widescreen story. Movie Maker and Pixelan’s new Pan/Zoom tool have toggles in their settings… select either standard 4:3 or widescreen 16:9.

  • The third limitation is the panning and zooming motion itself. It’s linear motion in Photo Story and I don’t know any way around it. Motion in the analog world is sometimes linear and sometimes not. Things move from a starting position to some speed, maybe maintain it for a bit, and then slow down back to a resting position. The sun and moon keep going in a linear way, but it’s not how you want your car to come to a stop. This new Pixelan Wizard includes options for linear or non-linear motion during a pan/zoom. This feature alone captured my attention for a couple weeks as I explored the new package.

Pixelan is the only place you can get the software from… the demo gives you the full features but with big X’s on the finished movies, which disappear when you purchase it.

Look around their site. The FAQ page is especially well written and to the point. Click any of the packs on the Overview page and you’ll see sample thumbnails of each item in the pack. The movies page has some examples. Here’s a link to some I made and posted at Vimeo

My tally shows there are 340 items in the 8 packs of effects, and 336 in the 7 packs of transitions…. that’s if you include the two packs that run only on Vista’s MM6. The 101 items in those 2 Vista packs are pretty neat.

If the 676 canned items aren’t enough, the Wizard on the sideline gives you the ability to make more. The optional settings are such that I counted over 57 million options for a custom effect or transition.