Xtranormal: what the experts are saying

In his review in the animation section of About.com, freelance writer, Web designer, computerized graphic designer and animator, Adrien-Luc Sanders gives a detailed depiction of YouTube’s Xtranormal animation program. He outlines the pros and cons of the tool, and clearly explains the creative process involved.

In his summary of the application, Sanders calls Xtranormal “…an easy, adorable shortcut for creating animations as a content delivery platform” (2011). He goes on to say, “I’m sure it won’t be long before someone finds an out-of-the-box way to use the medium to build their audience”. I believe this has already happened! As I posted in Xtranormal Activity II, Paul Nightingale suggests using Xtranormal to create video blogs, send invitations, design avatars, and make business presentations, among other ideas.

Sanders summarizes Xtranormal and its pros and cons in the following list:

Pros
  • Makes animation accessible to non-animators.
  • Easy point-and-click intuitive content creation that doesn’t require in-depth animation training.
  • Comes with a stock library of characters, sets, sounds, and voices.
  • Can easily publish content to YouTube.
  • Free.
Cons
  • Links to private Google account info.
  • Voices are about as distorted and glottal as you’d expect.
  • Generic stock characters.
Description
  • Web-based animation application that creates 3D content within minutes.
  • Lets you type in dialogue that can be converted to audio speech.
  • Allows you to apply animations to stock characters.

While I agree with Sanders’ overall impression of the tool and its advantages, I did not have the same experience with the downfalls of the program. When I registered for an account, Xtranormal linked my account directly with YouTube, so I did not experience the privacy issue Sanders noted. My students, however, were able to create accounts without the need for a YouTube or Google account. All that was required was an email address. Perhaps this has been updated since Sanders wrote his Blog.

Furthermore, I consider the “distorted and glottal” voices and stock characters to which Sanders refers, part of the charm of the tool! I love that the dialogue comes out in canned voices, from unnatural-looking avatar characters. It adds to the humourous aspect of Xtranormal.

Reference

Sanders, A-L. (2011). Guide Review – Animation Software Review: YouTube’s Xtranormal. Retrieved from http://animation.about.com/od/softwarereviews/gr/Animation-Software-Review-Youtubes-Xtranormal.htm 

Xtranormal activity II: the kids

Xtranormal is an online animation generator, developed and based in Montreal. In his demonstration, Paul Nightingale describes xtranormal as a product “…with which you can turn text into movies, simply and quickly” (2008). He goes on to explain ways in which the full application can be used, such as creating video blogs, sending invitations, designing avatars, and making business presentations. (I recorded a sound byte from the demo to share here, and exported as an mp3 file as well as a wav file, but I seem to be unable to upload it on WordPress, due to “security reasons”. I continue to be confounded by technological limitations!)

For our purposes, my grade 9-10 students used the free version to bringto life a part of the French children’s books with which they are working. The kids had SUCH a blast working with the program. Some found it difficult to access the site upon returning the second day, as they received messages alerting them to “activate their account”. They could not, however, locate the necessary email messages to do so. I am uncertain whether this was because of a spam-blocker at the Division level, or whether they entered in their school email addresses incorrectly. For some, it seemed to work without a hitch.

Another limitation, as I had warned them, was that one is only allowed 300 xp (xtranormal points) to use for free. These are spent when one
selects characters and certain sets for the film. A few students found it frustrating that they could not use their ideal choices, but there were many
to choose from.

Personally, I enjoyed the fact that the students had to be very careful with spelling when writing the text, in order to generate an accurate depiction of the dialogue they were representing. There were a few interesting glitches in the application which sometimes resulted in characters saying things like “e accent aigu” instead of pronouncing the letter. The students found ways around those issues, however.

The students created some wonderful videos, which we shared in “musical chairs” fashion, where they move form station to station, to watch each other’s videos. They are having great fun sharing their work and watching their peers’ creations.

Reference

Easy animation with xtranormal [Video file]. (2008). Retrieved from http://www.pcworld.com/article/157382/easy_animation_with_xtranormal.html.

Xtranormal activity

My first experience with xtranormal, the online animation program, was through YouTube links sent to me by colleagues and friends. I found the movies, which transform written text to speech by selected avatar characters, hilarious. There is an impersonal quality to the dialogue and actions generated by the user that makes the whole scene quite farcical. The content, however, can be whatever the user wants to include.

So, I was curious to try the program out and share it with my students. Upon creating my first film, I discovered a few interesting facts about the site.

First, the free version is limited with respect to choice of characters, background scenes and effects. Once one has created a free account, one is given 300 “xp”, or xtranormal points to use towards these. Each character, scene and effect cost a certain number of xp, and if one exceeds 300, one is forced to get out the old credit card.

The lower-priced options are fine, however, and once one purchases an element, it’s his to keep. This does limit the creativity that one can bring to his productions, however.

The process itself is a lot of fun! First, I selected a theme. There are plenty to choose from. Some examples are “Celebz”, offering a host of famous avatars, “Pawz”, offering animal actors, and ” – self-explanatory. I chose “suits”, the office theme, and “2 actors” as opposed to one, to show the students an example of dialogue.

Next, I selected my background actors from a list of possibilities (I chose the cheapest ones), and selected their voices; both French so that my dialogue would come out correctly.

I was then asked to type in the text, which my actors would deliver as speech. This was also fun, as I had the opportunity to add movements and expressions and camera angles to my dialogue, simply by clicking and dragging the intended effect into the dialogue.

Before publishing my movie, I had the chance to see a preview. After publishing, I was given an account balance so I would know how many xp remained.

One thing I didn’t see was a way to embed or easily link my movie to, for example this blog…

I had a lot of fun creating my first little film, deciding to use it to introduce the activity to the kids, who will be using the program to present a piece of their recently selected picture books. I think they’ll have fun with this tool. More on that next time!

For now, I’d like to share the introductory film I created: