Xtranormal is an animation site that claims if you can type, you can make movies. It's a bold claim but it certainly delivers with its online 'text to movie' animation studio.
I would liken the experience to writing a twitter conversation where the status update box is shaped like a speech balloon. You simply select which character is speaking, write their dialog in the balloon, then add the next speech balloon to the list for the next (or even the same character) to say something.
In fact if you keep log files of your various online conversations you could use Xtranormal to turn them into movies.
Once you've entered all your dialog, click the preview button and you can see your animation come to life using fairly detailed 3D characters and sets. All the camera angles will be automatically selected and I have to say the automated camera works pretty well. The shots it chooses do make your animation look like a professional movie. It's not always perfect but it's great for people who don't know the first thing about how to film a scene.
The selection of Text to Speech voices are pretty good. Many are fairly robotic but they're still amongst some of the most natural I've come across in this type of application.
You could leave it there but the genius behind the text to movie studio is that you can add in pre-animated movements, facial expressions, gestures, sound effects and more all by placing little icons at the appropriate points in your script. It really is very easy and relatively quick (well quick in terms of how fast you can produce a finished, two minute animation).
As someone with no experience of the site I had my first animation finished in a couple of hours. I think it only took me that long because I was making up the script as I went. I probably could've worked much quicker if I had a script ready to go. The result was episode one (see the embed movie below) of a humorous series I've started called Office Space.
E1: Office Space: Pink is for Men by TET
In this first episode I switched off the auto camera and selected all the angles myself from a selection of 10 predetermined camera positions.
Episode 2 (embeded below) is a little longer. This time I went completely with the auto camera. I think it misses in one or two places that would've worked better with a medium shot but on the whole it's not too bad.
E2: Office Space: Coffee in the Machine by TET
Xtranormal has a good selection of themes and premade characters for each. Office Space is made with the Suitz theme. Other themes include; sports, celebrities, historical figures and more. Some themes use more realistic characters and sets whilst others use characters that look a little like Lego figures.
Most themes come with two free characters and one free background giving you enough to spend hours on the site to really try things out. Once you've decided the site is for you you can buy extra content by purchasing Xtranormal Points.
One of the things I like about Xtranormal is that your finished video is a proper high resolution video which you can easily upload to Youtube by linking your Youtube account to your Xtranormal account.
At the time of writing one thing you can't do with the Text to Movie studio is have your characters walk around the scene. You can't even place them in the scene you have to go with the pre-determinded placement. Hence in my two episodes Steve and Vicki are standing in the same location for the entire scene. However, there is a downloadable version of Text to Movie called 'Slate' which I understand does allow you to move characters around and adds more functionality as well.
I did download Slate but unfortunately my computer wasn't quite up to spec to run it (lacking a 3D graphic card). Personally though I'd prefer to see the online application developed further. It has so much potential for story telling without requiring too high a spec machine to make it work.
Xtranormal's approach to movie editing is unique (at least I haven't come across anything similar). Where most movie editing applications use story boards and time lines, Xtranormals text to movie approach allows writers to add movement, expressions and more much like most people add smiley emotions to text in chats and emails. It's very easy.
Whilst currently you can't create custom characters or add your own sets there's plenty to adapt to your own ideas and scripts. There's still a way to go before the site becomes a serious movie making platform but I expect it can only get better.
Well worth trying out and, with its Youtube and Facebook integration, a great tool for having a lot of fun with all those logged online conversations - imagine turning a facebook comment discussion into an animated movie...