Plotagraph is a new app bringing photos to life, and attracting the attention of celebrities like Shaq and Alicia Keys

Key Points
  • A new app called Plotagraph takes image enhancement to the next level, injecting still shots with animated qualities.
  • The app's soft launch has attracted around 800,000 downloads with very limited financing.
  • Celebrities like Shaquille O'Neal and Kourtney Kardashian are avid users.
Shaquille O'Neal
Isaiah Trickey | FilmMagic | Getty Images

If you've ever entered a restaurant and seen a lifelike photo hanging on the wall — perhaps a shot of a waterfall or scenic lake with the water undulating within a photo frame — then you have an idea of what a "Plotagraph" looks like.

A Plotagraph is a still photo enhanced by image animation software that makes a picture look as if it's moving. Similar to a GIF, users can pick which parts of an image to animate and loop, which can then be shared on social media.

Other video technology relies on capturing a video and then isolating motion, but a Plotagraph uses a still photo that the user animates, which differentiates itself from a lot of tools in the market. A pro version of the app retails for $4.99 in the Apple iTunes app store, and software is available for both desktop and mobile platforms.

The technology counts a growing list of celebrities like retired basketball great Shaquille O'Neal, singer Alicia Keys and reality television star Kourtney Kardashian among some of its high-profile boosters.

Plotagraph has grown organically, with its founders deliberately avoiding traditional marketing campaigns, but employing social media influencers instead. The app has several artistic "ambassadors" who use Plotagraphs on their public social accounts.

One such Instagram user named "@theglitch.og" caught the attention of O'Neal. He's since started creating his own content under the handle "plotodeez."

"The platforms I use are mainly Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. [I'm] too old for Snap chat," joked O'Neal in an email to CNBC. He added that he uses social media according to the following ratio: "60 percent to make you laugh, 30 percent to inspire you and 10 percent to sell, promote products."

After discovering the app, the basketball champion asked for help to start off using Plotagraph himself, and then took it from there. "It's much more advanced than a Boomerang or a gif," O'Neal said, referring to two popular moving photo applications.

"Those other apps are loops for video. With Plotography I can take a picture of a beach and then make an ocean move," he added.

Amid a sea of other visual enhancement tools like Boomerangs, Hyperlapse, gifs, slow motion and other video effects, Plotagraphs are swimming upstream against serious competition.

However, the Plotagraph interface is simple to understand, mirroring the ease of editing tools on apps like VSCO or Instagram. With an array of tools more akin to advanced editing software, the effects can range from simple to dramatic. The user selects an area to animate, picks directions for the action and then sets a speed for the desired effect.

Once the effect is in place, users can share their creations fairly easily to social platforms.

"I started shooting when I was 13 years old, I grew up with a camera in my hand," said Plotagraph's founder and CEO, Troy Christopher Plota, a professional photographer who's shot celebrities like Mariah Carey, Usher, President Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to name a few.

Plotagraph+ desktop tool allows users to set a mask over still images to animate select areas.

Plota has been animating photographs for years. Yet the traditional way of bringing life to still photos would take multiple different types of software, he said. Instead, he and Plotagraph co-founder Sascha Scheider created technology to do it all at once.

"Part of the passion that drove us to start this is that photography, in general, is taking a beating in the industry," Plota told CNBC. Compensation for professional photographers has "fallen now for years, stock [photography] has done a number on what's going on with photography so a lot of buckets have moved on to video."

The new economics of the business makes it easier for disruptive software like Plotagraph, he added. "You can go onto stock platforms and purchase stock stills for pretty cheap, where videos still have a pretty decent selling value."

The app was featured in the Apple app store this month, and recently upgraded to Plotagraph Plus. Plotagraphs is also set to roll out some new features it's testing in the near future, including an e-commerce marketplace where artists can sell direct to consumers, and a morphing software.

The official public launch will be on Black Friday, which is Nov. 24 this year, but its soft launch has already attracted around 800,000 mobile downloads and more than 450,000 desktop members.

Since launching in July, the app has raised roughly $750,000 in financing from friends and family, and may raise venture capital in the future. For his part, Plota was mildly skeptical about raising outside funding, suggesting it may have impacted the Plotagraph's inherent creativity.

"The whole team is artists. This is made by artists for artists. You'll see a lot of the time in Silicon Valley, people have neat ideas for photo apps but they're not photographers," he said. "

I've been doing this for 30 years, I know what's coming, I know what photographers want, I know where the technology is going," he added.