Mountain View Voice

News - December 23, 2011

Social video: Local app maker creates fully automated movie-editing software

by Nick Veronin

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what do you suppose the value of a video is?

Robert Neivert is betting it's worth a pretty penny, indeed. His Mountain View-based company recently released a smart phone application called HighlightCam, which he hopes will be video's answer to the massively popular photography app, Instagram.

People are always taking pictures and shooting video with their smart phones and then sharing their images and footage on social networks, via SMS or over email, Neivert says.

The only difference between the two forms of media is that when a person takes a photo on a smart phone, he or she can quickly manipulate that photo using an app like Instagram — applying a series of filters with just a few finger taps.

"People have learned how to edit pictures quickly and share them," Neivert says. Editing video and then sharing it, on the other hand, requires much more time and effort — trimming clips, splicing in music and arranging it all in a meaningful way.

Neivert aims to change that with HighlightCam, which uses an algorithm to edit and sequence a group of clips quickly and automatically, with minimal input from the user.

With HighlightCam, users don't have to be familiar with video editing software, Neivert explains. "The only thing you actually have to do is pick video footage. Everything else the artificial intelligence will do for you."

The app accomplishes this by using a complex and lengthy set of pre-programmed instructions that allow it to "decide" which portions of film to cut and which to keep. The app can even rearrange the order of the clips, so that a given film will go along with the flow of a song of the user's choosing.

"The artificial intelligence looks for cues the same way a human would look for cues," Neivert says. "It measures emotional content. This isn't just slapping clips together. It's really thinking about trying to create a great movie."

Neivert won't reveal much about how the algorithm makes its selections, but he will say that it considers the motion, speech and whether human faces are in a shot. It is also likely that the app measures the intensity of sound and movement. "If you film a birthday party, there is a very high chance that we will catch the kids blowing out the candles on the birthday cake," he says. "If you film a soccer game, we will catch almost every time a goal is scored."

HighlightCam doesn't work miracles. In a test run of the app, I found that it did not take out all of the footage I wanted it to remove and many of the cuts were choppy. However, as far as being simple to use and speedy in delivering the computer-edited film, Neivert's claims are accurate. After choosing the clips and selecting the effects, the app takes about10 minutes to produce the final product, at which point the user can view the finished product and decide what to do with it.

One of the app's simplest features is its most useful — sharing raw files.

"There's always somebody else who has the shots you want," Neivert says, giving the example of a party where multiple friends are shooting video at different points throughout the night, each of them missing things they wish they hadn't.

HighlightCam makes it easy for users to upload all their footage to a shared folder in the cloud, so friends can access each others' video whenever they want it, instead of having to meet in person to swap a disk or struggle with large files over email.

The app got its start in 2009 when HighlightCam engineers and co-founders, Michael J.T. O'Kelly and Michael Katsevman, decided to create a program that would aid businesses in skimming through security footage. Programs already existed to eliminate video without motion in it, but O'Kelly and Katsevman wondered if they could get a computer to realize when someone was actually going to steal.

According to Neivert, the two men had some success with this project, but the program didn't make them much money. Neivert joined forces with O'Kelly and Katsevman in July 2010, suggesting that they repurpose their code to make a consumer application, and HighlightCam was born.

To date, Neivert says, about 117,000 people have downloaded the application and he estimates that more than 200,000 movies have been created with it.

He hopes that the app will grow in popularity and says there is plenty more in the works for HighlightCam. Right now, though users can sync music to a track, there isn't a very efficient way to add narration. Soon, however, users will be able to overdub narration after a video is assembled.

"Video is still very young," Neivert says. "Ultimately, we think movie making is going to become more social." With luck, HighlightCam may one day become the go-to social video smart phone app.

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