Your photos and video are putty in the hands of Windows Story Remix

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Image: Microsoft

I watch as a Tyrannosaurus Rex chases a frantic young woman across a vaguely familiar landscape, something straight out of Jurassic Park. She looks over her shoulder in horror. Will she outrun the T-Rex? Will she survive? Who knows? Who cares? The more pertinent question is how is a video like this was created on a Windows 10 PC by a bunch of junior high kids.

Yes, Im watching Microsofts sizzle reel (see below) for its new video- and slideshow-creation software, Windows Story Remix, which was announced on Thursday at the Microsoft Build developers conference. It looks too good to be true.

Its not.

Story Remix, which I saw in action hours before the Day 2 Keynote, can take your photos, video and other media and auto-mix it into something elegant and instantly shareable. Alternatively, it can let you take the wheel and doing something quite stunning, like that dinosaur effect, without any video, 3D or special effects training.

The application will arrive in full later this year as part of the upcoming Windows Fall Creators Update (a mouthful, I know). But it’ll also pop up in an early, considerably less-full-featured build (it will be called simply Photos, the parent app its built upon) on Thursday as part of the first Windows Insider build for Windows Fall Creators Update.

The app is more than just an automated video editor. Its another front in the Microsoft artificial intelligence (AI) expansion and an affirmation of the creators strategy Microsoft launched last year with the Creators Update and Paint 3D.

When I spoke to Microsoft Executive Vice President for Windows and Devices Terry Myerson shortly after the Surface Laptop launch, he told me Microsoft uses the broadest definition of the word creator.

I think theres a creator in all of us, he said. Story Remix is designed to unleash that creative spark.

The interface is simple with Explore, Create and Folders up top, your playback window below and asset pane on the right. You can choose from among pre-made montages or create your own. The video-editing interface steers clear of frames and presents clips as thumbnails with the length of each clip in minutes and seconds on top of it. Photos fit into this same timeline. You drag and drop to reorder and can adjust the length of each clip with a slider. Theres a text overlay tool that lets you select style and position, as well as filters and a soundtrack option.

In some ways, Story Remix is reminiscent of Apples recent entry in the simplified video creation space, Clips. Like Clips, Story Remix will be able to do in minutes what can take video newbies hours.

However, Story Remix goes way beyond what Apple Clips can do with photos and videos. It doesnt just help collect, edit and organize your media into square, music-backed video clips. Story Remix analyzes every frame, applying machine learning to identify, at a pixel level, whats inside your photos and video, including the ground, objects and people.

Corporate VP of Windows and Devices Chris Pratley, who walked me through a demonstration of an early build, said people dont think they have the time or skill to create these montages and videos. However, Story Remix is mutable, adjusting to whatever skill level youre comfortable with. We encourage you to move up, try a little more. Dont be afraid, he said.

When they see how easy Story Remix makes what should be the most complex video task, fear will not be a problem.

Pratley showed me how he could use the Microsoft Surface Pen to draw on video of a kid playing Ultimate and then, by marqueeing the kid on the paused video, anchor the words so they followed him, in proper perspective, all over the field.

Ive done some video editing and even made a few lame attempts at special effects. The simplicity and power of this solution blew me away.

Thats insane, was all I could manage.

The early builds of Story Remix wont have some of these powerful features. It will, however, look at photos and videos stored in your OneDrive cloud and your local system storage and automatically create montages. The AI and machine learning looks for patterns like a lot of activity at one time, in one place or with the same group of people.

If, for instance, you took a vacation and dropped a bunch of photos and videos from it on your drive, Story Remix would see them and whip up something. The montages will pre-populate the top of your interface Story Editor interface (below it you’ll find your open projects). If you never use them, they eventually fade way. The interface features a big Remix button that you can keep pressing to see mix alternatives, with different cuts, filters, pacing, music. Pratley believes the very act of hitting that button can inspire and release creativity.

When I asked about the number of stylistic variations, Pratley told me the styles permute, meaning that Story Remix does small adjustments on a variety of metrics. The permutations could be endless.

The choices you do make on each video, even the automated mixes you choose to keep or discard, will train Story Remix about your preferences. Over time, you will see more pre-built videos that align with your tastes.

All the knowledge Story Remix has about your photo and video content means that you can more easily find people, places and things. Pratley showed me how he could search for people in his contact list without pre-tagging anyones faces. Similarly, he could search for dog and every image and video with a dog in it appeared in the results.

That same AI will identify people in the video and let you change the star of the video to instantly remix it so the entire video is focused on that person.

The most interesting part of Story Remix, though, is the upcoming ability to combine multiple elements, including mixed-reality content from Microsofts 3D assets site, 3D Remix (it will also work with third-party content in the GLTF interchange format), to create eye-popping, special-effects-driven stories.

As I watched, Pratley grabbed a bunch of iPhone video clips that where shot with the intention of making a tiny Wizard- and Dragon-infused blockbuster.

Pratley selected one clip with a little boy dressed in a makeshift wizard costume. He was standing in a driveway. Then Pratley selected a pre-made 3D dragon from 3D Remix, complete with some built-in animations. Pratley told me that the Remix Community already has thousands of freely usable 3D objects and animations. He placed the dragon in the scene and rotated it so it faced the boy and then locked the dragon to the driveway pavement.

This sounds easy, but behind the scenes, Story Remix is using sophisticated image analysis to identify the ground and scene perspective. Pratley was also able to set when the dragons built-in animations would occur in the scene. Finally, he attached bolt of magic to the star on the tip of the boys real-world wand. All of this took just a few minutes.

Then Pratley hit play and showed me a polished video with the boy vanquishing the dragon.

Theres also a creators community element to Story Remix. 3D Remix assets you use or alter will always include the original creator credit in your video. If you post the video publicly, those creators will be able to comment and, if you want, connect with you.

Eventually, Story Remix will be able to go even further. The sizzle reel shows how the app can apply a green screen effect with almost no effort beyond selecting the person or object you want to stay on top of the scene (in the case of the dinosaur video, they quickly replaced a soccer field with Jurassic Park-like vista).

There will be Android, iOS and Windows Phone versions of Story Remix, but they’re really only capture apps, not the full-featured editing suite (that’s Windows only). You can use those apps to grab additional photos and videos for your project. Thats how the teenagers grabbed the over-the shoulder shot in the dinosaur video, Pratley told me that multiple people can work on the same story project, shooing different angles or additional scenes that can automatically flow into the same video.

Story Remix can output MPEG-4 video in a variety of quality levels and be shared directly with contacts or on your favorite social platform.

Like Apple Clips, Story Remix will start with a bunch of royalty-free theme music (Microsofts comes from Groove) that recomposes itself for each video, choosing the right tempo and lining up the beats with the video highlights. Each time you hit that remix button, the audio will change up, too. If you want, you can take control of the audio, using a slider that goes from Chill to Energetic to alter the tempo and intensity of the theme music.

The larger goal of Story Remix, said Pratley, is to put you in “the directors seat as opposed to the editors seat, allowing you to focus on creative, as opposed to technical, decisions.

Pratley, however, is especially interested to see how teachers use Story Remix.

The days where you sat in class and teacher told you facts are gone, he said. These days, engagement is key.

A fungible video creation system that lets students dive as deeply or as little as they want on the video creation process could capture the imagination of students eager to express themselves without the drudgery of process.

Inspiring that kind of creativity is now serious work for Microsoft.

If we can have an impact on creativity people are able to express, Myerson told me, I think that, especially in a world where artificial intelligence is automating so many things, creativity could be this one just amazing attribute of the human race.

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