This Maui Couple's Photo App Is An Instagram Sensation
During a national journalism conference in September, Elisa Benson, a trainer for Instagram, offered unusually high praise for a Maui-based app company.
Benson, who previously worked as a social media editor for Cosmopolitan and Seventeen magazines, singled out the photo animation program Plotaverse as one of her personal favorites. It was one of just a few apps Benson mentioned when teaching reporters how to tell stories on Instagram.
Plotaverse refers to both special effects apps and a social media platform where people can share images made with the apps and provide advice and support to each other.
Benson isn’t its only influential user.
Michael Muller, a Hollywood photographer who has produced iconic celebrity portraits and posters for clients like Marvel Studios, is a fan. So is Paris Hilton: one of her Instagram posts made with the app has more than 2 million views. Shaquille O’Neal has posted animated pictures made with the app on his Instagram page. And when the pop singer Ariana Grande appeared in Elle magazine over the summer, she reached out to her 130 million Instragram followers with a Plotaverse portrait. It’s an arresting image: Grande’s lion’s mane of hair appears to be blowing in a wind coming from the center of her head while her face and body are motionless.
This sort of attention has helped Plotaverse get unusual press for a startup app, with mentions in USA Today and CNBC, among others. Apple even featured the app on its Apple Store last year. The app has been downloaded 6 million times, said Plotaverse’s co-founder and president, Troy Plota.
So what’s a company with such a high profile doing on Maui?
“It makes no sense that we’re here,” Plota said in an interview from his home in Wailea.
But, he added, “Part of our success is not being in Silicon Valley.”
That’s helped Plota and his partner, Sascha Scheider, pursue their vision without meddling by would-be investors trying to tell them what to do.
Plota, a long-time commercial photographer in New York, actually started the company in Manhattan with Scheider, who serves as chief executive. The couple moved to Maui full-time in May after spending time there in 2017.
Plotaverse has a suite of apps, which include an image animation app called Plotagraph; an app called Plotamorph, which slowly morphs images into each other, and PlotaFX, which has video overlays that let people add hundreds of effects, like animated birds and butterflies, to their pictures.
The idea of creating a community of creatives is central to Plotaverse’s mission, Plota and Scheider say. And while a lot of entrepreneurs share the noble goal of helping artists monetize their ideas, Plota and Scheider are doing it.
Mohammed Nooh is a case in point. Nooh was working as an energy industry consultant in the Middle East when demand for his services collapsed due to a drop in oil prices. Looking to reinvent himself, Nooh decided to try to make money with his hobby, travel photography. He stumbled onto the Plotagraph app when it was getting off the ground and became the first person in the Middle East to use the program.
Nooh credits Plota with helping him develop the skills needed to work with top-tier photographers. He now earns $200 an hour using the program to animate photographs – they call these images “Plotagraphs” — for clients like Atelier Zuhra, a Dubai fashion house.
“Plotagraph changed my lifestyle,” said Nooh, who uses the Instagram handle Nxteye.
Both Plota and Scheider have backgounds in the visual arts – Scheider studied painting in Italy for four years – so it was important to them that the apps let artists create rich images. Although the Plotagraphs look like GIFs at first glance, they’re actually MP4 clips, which carry far richer colors and the ability to embed sound, which GIFs can’t do, Plota said.
The result is images that often look like motion pictures.
“You can still get these beautiful, rich colors out of a scene,” says Scheider.
For folks trying to reach broader audiences, the result can be the holy grail of new media: greater engagement. For example, Plota points to his experience when he posted Photograph images to GoPro’s Instagram page. The image generated more than 4,000 comments, an exponential increase over the usual, according to a graph Plota produced tracking comments on the site.
Muller, the Hollywood photographer, said he believes motion art is an emerging medium, especially on social media. And part of the beauty of Plotaverse’s apps is that they are easy to use. Muller recalled a shoot he did for the automaker Aston Martin: he took the pictures around 4 a.m., had animated the picture by 9, and by noon, the company had posted the image. Compared to still images, the viewership numbers were “off the charts,” Muller said.
An innovator who recently directed a critically acclaimed virtual reality movie about sharks, Muller said he’s convinced motion art isn’t merely a trend, but something that’s here to stay. Having risen to the top of a fiercely competitive field, Muller said a Darwinian concept has always driven his desire to master new tools like Plotaverse.
“I’ve always lived by that motto,” he says. “Adapt, or die.”
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