Explaindio Video Creator - DIY Marketing Video Creator

Explaindio Video Creator is an easy to use presentation video creator that is geared towards marketing and sales videos but could be used to create any kind of presentation video.

I was convinced by the sales pitch that it would be very easy to use and I was particularly impressed by the white board features. It also looked to be an improvement over both  VideoMakerFX and EasySketchPro two other programs that I bought and reviewed.

Having now used Explaindio it is, in many ways, similar to VideoMakerFX and feels very much like an upgraded version of the same product with enhanced white board and other video features.

Animate Your ComiPo! Comics with MotionArtist

MotionArtist is dedicated composition software for creating animated comics, otherwise known as Motion Comics. That is, rather than create fully animated cartoons, it allows you to take static cartoon panels and add movement and audio to create a more engaging experience.

The type of Motion Comic MotionArtist can produce falls somewhere between reading a comic and watching a cartoon but generally, feels more like reading a very cool comic than watching a severely limited animated cartoon.

Dan the Business Man - New Animation by TET

Dan by Gary Pye.
Dan the Business man is a creation of Reallusion's Animation@Work competition winner and Australian cartoonist, Gary Pye. Gary's been flat out creating CrazyTalk Animator 2 content featuring his own cartoon art, which you can purchase from his Reallusion Content Market place store.

I love Gary's art so much I've pretty much purchased probably a third or more of everything he's created for CTA2 thus far. Whilst I can't take credit for his Dan character I can say it was from my suggestion that Gary created Dan the Business Man and the related office content packs (including the lucky gonk/troll prop).

Learning Reallusion's iClone 5: Part 6 - Post FX and Toon Shader

If you're interested in iClone and was wondering how hard it is to learn then that's what this series is about, my experience of learning iClone 5 using Reallusion's Quick Fix Video Tutorials. Click the following links for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5. If you're just looking to learn iClone then skip this and try the tutorials for yourself as this series is not a how to guide for iClone 5.

This will be the final post in the series as the last two Quick Fix Video Tutorials are very short and essentially involve mostly adjusting settings on specific effects.

Applying a Lens Blur effect.
The first tutorial is Quick Fix Tutorial - Post FX which focuses on different keyable filter effects that can be applied to your finished scenes. Effects include; blur, color adjust, color filter, lens blur and NPR (Non Photo-realistic  Rendering).

To add each effect it's a simple case of double clicking the one you wish to apply then adjusting the settings. If you want it to apply to the whole scene then adjust the settings on frame one, otherwise choose the key frame you want the effect to begin and end and adjust the levels of each setting accordingly.

Applying a Non Photo-realistc Render (NPR).
The NPR filter is quite interesting if you want your scene to look more painterly or illustration like. In the image on the right you can see my original scene then the scene with an NPR effect applied (followed by a color filter and color adjust).

The scene itself is perhaps not overly impressive but the effects show that you could produce some very stylized video clips with iClone.

The final Quick Fix Tutorial is about iClone's Toon Shader. Toon Shader is much like the NPR filter but with much more advanced settings.

A Toon Shaded scene from the Video Tutorial.
The basic idea of Toon Shader is making your 3D photo-realistic scenes look more like a 2D cartoon. Thus you get the benefits of fully posable 3D characters and 3D environments combined with the 'hand-drawn' look of 2D animation.

Personally, no matter how good, you can always spot a 3D animation that has been made to look more like 2D as soon as it starts playing.Usually the animation is just too smooth for hand-drawn. However it still is a useful effect and is especially useful for combining 3D environments with actual hand drawn 2D Characters.

Below is my same scene that I applied the NPR effect to but this time I've been using Toon Shader. Again it's just a case of turning Toon Shader on and then playing around with the settings.

Toon Shader can really add some 2D style to your scenes.

With a lot more work removing textures (as outlined in the tutorial) I could simplify my scene considerably so it looks even more 2D. However I quite like the illustrative look that I've achieved.

Using Toon Shader might also be a good alternative if you're not into the way iClone renders it's photo-realistic scenes which tend to feel very 'computer game' quality more than movie quality for the average iClone user. Why not go with a more 'cartoony' style instead?


That concludes this series of blog posts running you through iClone5's Quick Fix Videos. I've found them to be a great introduction to iClone5 and feel I could put together a fairly reasonable animated short with just what I've learned from them.

There are, of course many more video tutorials on the Quick Fix Tutorial page. If you've got this far then the rest of the tutorials should round out your knowledge.

Personally I find iClone very easy to find my way around now that I know the basics. The real challenge now is in the animation - which is where it should be.

Learning Reallusion's iClone 5: Part 5 - Soft Body Physics

If you're interested in iClone and was wondering how hard it is to learn then that's what this series is about, my experience of learning iClone 5 using Reallusion's Quick Fix Video Tutorials. Click the following links for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. If you're just looking to learn iClone then skip this and try the tutorials for yourself as this series is not a how to guide for iClone 5.

The subject of this post is Reallusion's Soft Body Physics Video Tutorial. At just over 3 minutes it's very fast to run through and very easy to follow the steps. In fact there's very little to do other than play around with the physics settings to see how they affect your soft body prop - which in the case of this tutorial is the Canadian Flag.

Draping the Canadian flag over a sphere.

Hoot gives Cool Froyd a Sun Sign

Fellow GoAnimator, TheseStars is a big supporter of Cool Froyd putting aside quite a great deal of time to create a new GoAnimation analyzing Froyd's star charts to determine what his Sun sign might be.

As well as Froyd the video features TheseStars (as a whiteboard character), Stick Figure and Hoot the owl - a character that I animated for TheseStars using Koolmoves.

Bored Monkey - New Cartoon Art by TET

Long time readers may remember the Skate Monkey character I started creating for CrazyTalk Animator 2 towards the beginning of 2014. That project still remains unfinished because... Life/Business.

However, I've been trying to get back into drawing again (like with an actual pencil and paper) just to remind myself (and a few of my detractors for using GoAnimate) that I can actually draw. Also to further teach myself how to finish off my pencil drawings in Manga Studio. I really don't use that software enough to get what I learn to stick!

Do It Yourself Animated Business Explainer Videos for Marketers

Can VideoMakerFX and EasySketchPro
turn you into an Animated Video Producer?
Animated Business Explainer Videos are going from strength to strength as THE marketing tool for just about anything. Anyone who has done the research knows that hiring a studio to create animated videos is expensive. Whilst there are cheaper options, like my own Animation 4 Business service the promise of being able to make an animated video yourself isn't one to be ignored.

You can try online services such as GoAnimate, PowToon, Moovly, Wideo and others but most have ongoing fees and won't turn you into an accomplished video director without some serious time spent learning their studio.

Two software products that I came across recently and purchased are being promoted to marketers as the ultimate tools for creating animated business explainer videos, Video Maker FX and Easy Sketch Pro.

Beyond GoAnimate: Comparing CrazyTalk Animator 2

Introduction

If you're like me and have been using GoAnimate to create low cost explainer videos or other animated cartoons then you'll certainly have discovered many of GoAnimate's limitations. You may even be looking for an alternative? CrazyTalk Animator 2 by Reallusion is a professional animation studio that, like GoAnimate, requires no drawing skills at all but can give you more flexibility to animate your ideas exactly as you visualise them. It may be the animation solution you've really be looking for.

Help Fund Animation Paper (formerly Plastic Animation Paper - PAP)

Animation Paper.
I've written about Animation Paper previously when I heard the original (and free) Plastic Animation Paper (PAP) was finally going to get a major overhaul with a new modern user interface and more features. Now you can help make that happen by donating to the developers Indiegogo funding campaign.

If you're not familiar with Animation Paper or PAP go read my two previous articles. In a nutshell, despite the terrible User Interface, Plastic Animation Paper is still one of the best tools available for creating hand drawn animation using tablet input such as a WACOM tablet.

Learning Reallusion's iClone 5: Part 4 - Rigid Body Physics

Sorry to my regular readers for not posting for some time. Unfortunately when Animation 4 Business is good I don't get all the time I need to post regularly here. I've also been struggling with the latest iClone 5 Quick Fix Tutorial, Rigid Body Physics, which should have been simple but ended up with me seeking help on  Reallusion's Forums.

If you're interested in iClone and was wondering how hard it is to learn then that's what this series is about, my experience of learning iClone 5 using Reallusion's Quick Fix Video Tutorials. Click the following links for Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. If you're just looking to learn iClone then skip this and try the tutorials for yourself as this series is not a how to guide for iClone 5.

The Rigid Body Physics tutorial demonstrates how to construct a simple car crash into a stack of barrels. Everything is set to the default settings so it's mostly a case of just dragging the relevant barrel props onto the stage and then setting up the jeep iprop to crash through them... except, in my case it wasn't.

This 3 and a half minute tutorial was meant to be simple...what?

Learning Reallusion's iClone 5: Part 3 - Customizing Motion and Instant Animation

I've been blogging my progress at learning Reallusion's iClone 5. This post I'll be looking at the next 3 tutorials in Reallusion's iClone, Quick Fix Tutorial series. If you haven't read my previous posts, click these links for Part 1 and Part 2.

Remember these blogs are simply my progress at learning the software and are not tutorials in themselves. I would recommend you watch the actual tutorial series if learning iClone 5 is what you really want to do.

Customizing Motion Parts 1 and 2

The next Tutorial is titled Layering Animation Part 1 and looks at using the Body Puppet panel from which you can directly control your actors using your mouse (just like an actual puppet) or create customized motions by adjusting sliders for different settings.

Creating a custom walk using the sliders
in iClone's Body Puppet panel.
There's not much to say about this tutorial. It's really just a case of bringing up the panel and messing around with the settings to see how they affect your avatar. CrazyTalk Animator 2 has this exact same Body Puppet panel and it works exactly the same way. So I'm right at home here.

I will say, in CTA2 I tend to be controlling my characters more directly with the mouse than I do using the slider adjustments because I'm often trying to match body movement to what a character is saying. Which is much easier if you can just listen to the voice then literally puppet the character to match.

In the animation below you'll see the first part is a customized walk motion that I modified from the included basic walk.

Layering Animation Part 2 demonstrates how you can mask out parts of your avatar's body to keep existing motions whilst adding new motions to those areas left unmasked. I masked out my avatar's lower body so he'd keep walking, then added a new talking motion to his upper body.

Using the mask editor to preserve the lower body
walk action whilst adding new talk actions to
the upper body.

The whole process is very simple to do and allows you to create all kinds of motion combinations. Again, the exact same feature is part of CTA2.

The second part of part 2's tutorial shows how you can drill right down and modify motions right down to adjusting a finger tip using the Edit Motion Layer panel. You use this panel when you've got your overall motions  right but need to refine specific details to suit your animation's needs.

iClone's Edit Motion Layer panel lets you adjust
poses right down to a finger tip.

I made my avatar raise his arm and point as he his talking, as well as making him look for a moment at what he is pointing at.

The closest thing that CTA2 has to the Edit Motion Layer panel is it's own Edit 3D motion Layer panel. I have to say, iClone's is much easier to use because you can make adjustments directly on your avatar rather than on a 3D representation of your Avatar as per CTA2.



Instant Animation

The Quick Fix Instant Animation Tutorial is simply a demonstration of how you can use predefined motions contained in the Avatar Action Menus (which appear when you right click on the avatar).

It's the kind of thing that you can get the hang of right away if you've used CTA2 for any length of time, as you can do the same kind of thing there. The tutorial combines choosing actions then using the time line to either loop or time shift (speed up or slow down) motions.

There's not really anything to learn so I put the animation below together just for fun using instant animation techniques and some of the scene making techniques I learned back in part 1.



Every bit of this animation is done using the Action menu. If you want a character to walk you just select 'walk' and click where they should walk to. If you want them to look at another character just select look and then click the character they should look at. It's all very easy.

There aren't too many actions to choose from so instant animation can become limiting really quick but it is a good way to quickly implement some very common movements.


The next tutorials deal with some of iClones physics animation so you can realistically animate things like cars crashing into objects. Should be fun.

The Winner of Reallusion's Animation@Work Contest is...

Jimmy the Superhero
by Gary Pye.
Reallusion announced the winners of their Animation@Work contest this week. I was fortunate enough to take away one of the three Best Video prizes up for grabs with my promotional video for my new Animation 4 Business Premium Service. I'm now the proud owner of a copy of Magix Movie Edit 2014 Premium Edition software.

Whilst I was obviously hoping for the major prize, there are indeed a lot of talented CrazyTalk Animator users out there. Watch the Competition, winner announcement video for a good cross section and preview of all the winning entries. I did pretty well considering I only started learning CTA2 properly last December.



Whilst there were many great entries I was very happy to see the winner, Garry Pye, won with a very funny video about Superhero Training. Regular readers and viewers of my work will know that Superheroes is a recurring theme.

Gary is also a fellow Aussie and creates content packs for CTA that you can purchase for use in your own animations. He was featured on Reallusion TV last April. He's basically at the same point that I aspire to be with his CTA work.

Personally I liked his winning entry so much I thought I'd feature the full version here for my and your enjoyment.



You can see all the winning videos in full along with judges comments on the Reallusion Forum.

Learning Reallusion's iClone 5: Part 2 - Avatar Creation and Facial Puppet Motion

Today I decided to run through the next two of Reallusion's iClone 5, Quick Fix Tutorials, How to create my own character and How to create a talking character. Both tutorial videos are very short so click the links if you'd like to watch them.

BTW: If you haven't read Part 1 in this series, it's not critical but you will see my first iClone scene and will be able to read how it was constructed.

As mentioned previously this series is my experiences of learning iClone and is not intended as a tutorial. If that's what you're looking for then I'd recommend you watch the tutorial videos I'm using as a basis for these blog posts.

Creating My Own Character

Photo of me used as the
basis of my iClone Avatar.
As someone who casts myself into a lot of my own videos it's always useful having an avatar character that represents me. So that's what I decided to create.

Initially I started with a photo of me that was well lit but my face was not directly facing the camera. Although you can still get reasonable results I wasn't happy with the character I produced.

I began again by sitting in front of a window and getting as close as possible with my laptop's webcam and taking a photo. Producing the image you can see above.

From there it's just a case of adding a character to the iClone stage then running through the face fitting process - which is not that different to CrazyTalk Animator's Morph Face Fitting process.

Face fitting process.
Once that was done, Reallusion's tutorial demonstrated a few of the settings you can adjust to give your character a unique look and also showed you how to add hair.

I decided to go all out, after adding some hair that was as close to mine as I could find, I decided to really tweak all the facial settings to see how close of a likeness I could get.

I was very impressed with just how much iClone allows you to fine tune the face structure. Everything from the width of the nose to brow angle, cheek puffiness and more can be adjusted. I think I didn't do too bad (see image below)...

TET Avatar.
Obviously it's not exactly like me (the harsh lighting doesn't help) but I feel it's a good representation.

Making My Character Talk

The second tutorial on making your character talk seemed like deja vu. iClone's voice adding and character puppeteering system is virtually the same as CrazyTalk Animator 2.

The only trouble I had was my laptop computer not being able to keep up with the real time puppeteering. This could be problematic in the future but I do know there are things you can adjust to try and improve the real time performance.

Anyhow I found a short bit of my own voice I had recorded for someone else's animation quite a while ago and loaded that into iClone. The auto lip sync kicked in so that all I had to do was a bit of minor head movement and blinks to make the character feel more alive.

I then struggled through some settings for making the camera pan around my character to create the animation below. The camera pan isn't that smooth because I haven't really learnt that bit yet but it does the job. Watch the final video below. It's very basic with just the default lighting settings.



Overall I'm happy with what I achieved. A character like this can be made very quickly. Easily inside 30 minutes, probably less if you're not tweaking every little detail like I did.

I'm looking forward to adding some full body animation in future tutorials.

Learning Reallusion's iClone 5: Part 1 - Creating a Scene

With iClone 6 (check out the embeded video at the bottom of this post) currently in development and me having bought iClone 5.51 in December of last year I thought it was time to start learning the software. Especially now that my confidence with Reallusion's CrazyTalk Animator 2 is much higher and in a more stable place.

Note that if you've found this post expecting tutorials, I'm sorry, you won't find them here. This is my journey and experience of learning iClone 5.5 for anyone who may be interested in buying the software but aren't sure if it's going to be too hard to learn. This will probably turn into a series of articles as I'm writing it during my process of learning and not after the fact. I can only write about what I've learned.

If you do have iClone 5.51 and want to follow along I'll be working my way through iClone 5's series of Quick Fix starter videos.

From Reallusion's website: iClone 5.51 is a real-time 3D animation tool with digital actors, environments, visual effects, drag & drop editing, powerful physics and Microsoft Kinect-ready motion capture; designed for rapid production, creative education and cost-effective pre-visualization.

What that means is, just like CrazyTalk Animator, it comes with existing content (and a market place that you can buy more content from) that you can either use as is or modify as much as you need. If you really want to you can even bring in 3D models made entirely from scratch in other third party software.

Watch the video below to really get a feel for what iClone can do.



Personally if you're a fan of 2D animation but would like to dabble in 3D I'd highly recommend iClone as the perfect companion to CrazyTalk Animator 2 (which is, of course, focuses on 2D animation).

Not only are the user interfaces very similarly laid out - learn CTA2 first so iClone will seem less complex - but you can drag and drop motion files from iClone directly onto your characters in CTA2. Something I found very useful when I needed a character in CTA2 to dig a hole with a shovel. I saved a lot of time just by buying an Occupations iClone Motion Content pack.

But I digress, getting onto learning iClone, I began with How to set up a scene. Watch the video at the link if you want to run through the tutorial. Here's the scene I set up, after watching the video to see if I could remember everything I learned.

My first iClone 5 scene.
Although my scene is made up entirely of existing content I wanted to explain a little about what that means. Otherwise you may get the impression that all I did was drag and drop things into place - which I did, but there's more to it than that.

Unedited Combat Zone Stage.
The city scene its self is a war ravaged environment that looks like the image on the right when you first add it to the stage. Notice that there is no water at the end of the central road.

To begin getting the scene to look like my image I had to add in the orange sky.

Next I added in the water which, at first, flooded the entire scene prompting, a change in setting so it would only fill the area at the end of the road.

I wanted the scene to look like it had stood in ruin for a long time so I added an appropriate looking tree and placed it on the road its self and surrounded it with grass.

Next I placed the monster into the scene. Originally he was quite small so I scaled him up to make the image seem like perhaps he had something to do with all the damage.

Finally I adjusted the lighting and shadow settings and changed the light from a white light to something more orange to match the light that would be cast from an orange sky.

Admittedly, all this is not complex. It's merely a case of adding things and adjusting settings but what I want to emphasize is that all of it is about creative choices. That's the real strength of iClone. It lets you concentrate less on the technical side of creating a 3D environment and more on the creative side of how things will look.

My last creative choice was moving the camera around to take a good picture for this blog post. iClone lets you take a snap shot of any angle of your scene with just one click.

When you see the scene animated the water is rippling automatically and the leaves on the tree blow in the breeze. Though I didn't include video of the scene here because I couldn't add any animation to the monster. Usually you can just drag a motion file onto the character and it'll add that motion to the character but for some reason, not this particular character. I'll look into that more later.

I'll leave it there for now. The next tutorial is about how to make your own character which I will most certainly write a post about. In the meantime enjoy the video below which is a preview into what's coming in iClone 6.


State Plus - The Interim Legacy of Xtranormal

Remember Xtranormal? The site that said "If you can type, you can make movies." Although its online studio was very limited it was still pretty good for making short, dialogue driven videos with visually interesting 3D characters and backgrounds.

Here's a reminder with one of my best Xtranormal videos using some of their Star Trek based characters.



I enjoyed Xtranormal quite a bit but its pay as you publish business model and the need to purchase themes made it expensive. Particularly if you graduated to the downloadable desktop version, State, which gave you more functionality, increased possibilities and an even lighter bank account.

Last year, around mid 2013, Xtranormal closed down its website with a promise to rethink its business model and maybe make a come back. As it turns out Xtranormal is no more. Its intellectual properties were liquidated and, early this year, sold to a new company called Nawmal. Presently Nawmal is still in the process of assessing how best to move forward with their purchase.

Somewhere in the interim of Xtranormal's demise State Plus was born. An application that turns Xtranormal's State into an independent piece of software and includes the majority of Xtranormal's themes and other content entirely for free. It even allows you to mix themes and has features added or unlocked that weren't part of the original application. You can see many example videos of what State Plus can do on the Emergent Animation YouTube Channel.

The State Plus promotional video below shows a selection of characters from different themes all in the one scene.



State Plus allows you to run the Xtranomal desktop application, State, with no need for a user account or even an internet connection. It is the result of much hardwork by dedicated Xtranormal user, Glenn Saunders, who has been closely involved with the liquidation and sale of the software.

State Plus.

Glenn's motivation is the hope that State Plus would one day be released in an official capacity as a serious animation tool that is relatively easy to learn. It has the potential to create dialogue driven movies of all types and, in my opinion, the animation of Xtranormal's characters was the most natural and second to none with the site's peers.

Presently, with the sale of Xtranormal's Intellectual Property, how long State Plus can be distributed for free is uncertain.

If you're prepared to weather an extremely large download (anywhere between 9-16 Gigabytes depending on how you download it) and possibly struggle with getting the software running correctly it's probably worth pushing through to experience everything and more that Xtranormal's software was capable of.

If you do run into trouble installing State Plus then the support forum is active and you should be able to find help.




Update: 12 May 2014

Since posting this article the State Plus Forum website is no longer accepting any new sign ups therefore making State Plus no longer available. Here's an update in the form of a few extracts, from the State Plus forum, posted by Glenn, explaining this new development:

"Hello everyone. Some of you recall that early in the year I began working with Xtranormal's liquidator. This amounted to a temporary amnesty for State Plus, and in exchange, I restored, reorganized, and assessed their file archives. This greatly helped facilitate the sale." 
"I always felt that if Xtranormal were to be sold, that the best home for it would be back with one of the founders. I'm therefore happy to announce that Paul Nightingale, Xtranormal's original Vice President, is the new owner of Xtranormal's intellectual property." 
"When Xtranormal shut down, State Plus held the proverbial torch. Up until now, if anyone wanted to find out what happened to Xtranormal, they'd eventually wind up here, where they could get back up and running again. But I knew if it were sold that the torch would need to be passed back to the new owner, and that time is now." 
"I began my journey of State Plus because I had a vision for where this kind of animation software should go. And I took it as far towards that ideal as was possible, considering that I was limited to manipulating it only from the outside. In talking with Paul it is clear that our vision of the ideal tool is the same. And just as Xtranormal's IP has gone back to where it started, it's now necessary for State Plus to join it. I am transferring ownership of State Plus itself to Paul. By doing this, State Plus should now be classified as an extension of Xtranormal's IP [Intellectual Property]."

"State Plus is now collaborating with Nawmal, the new owner of xtranormal's technology. For information and to be kept informed of any upcoming releases sign up to the newsletter at www.nawmal.com"

Plotagon - Story Telling for Everyone... not really.

Plotagon's Jane
Character.
I've briefly reviewed Plotagon's Animation Tool before as part of my Six DIY Animation tools post and wasn't very impressed. At the time I hadn't really looked very deep into what Plotagon could do. Now that I have had further chance to really explore the software I can safely say that Plotagon will likely be frustrating for anyone with any film training at all.

I say that because, even if you'd had the most basic training in the art of film making, Plotagon is going to frustrate you with it's rigid placement of actors locked camera choices and step by step interpretation of your script.

But let's back up a bit and look at what Plotagon is attempting to do. Plotagon simplifies the film making process by linking what happens in your movie directly to the act of writing your script.

Fig 1. Plotagon Script Interface.
Scripts are set out pretty much in the standard screen writing format. Choose a scene, place up to two characters at any of the predefined locations within the scene and start writing your dialogue. Add character movements, actions and expressions, as well as sound effects and music simply by inserting typical stage directions within your script (see image, Fig 1).

It's a great idea but for an application that runs locally on my computer it's very slow. I'm not the fastest at touch typing but even I can out type the screen cursor by several words. Combine that with having to use the mouse or track pad to select which character is talking and their mood, script writing becomes a slow affair.

Writing could be sped up dramatically, with the flow of ideas left unbroken,` if predictive text was built in to select characters, actions, emotions etc. Pretty much the way dedicated script writing software does. If just this aspect of the software was improved Plotagon would be a really fun tool for story tellers.

On the film making side of things, below is a single scene comedy sketch I wrote, brought to life by Plotagon's 3D actors. Monty Python fans may spot my inspiration as being The Cheese Shop sketch. Unfortunately I don't know as much about coffee as they did about cheese.



As you can see from the video it's not going to win any acting or film making awards but the results are okay given the limitations.

I tried to give the characters appropriate emotions and actions to suit the dialogue. It's not perfect but it kind of works.

What's frustrating though is that for each scene, there are only a handful of locations characters can be placed. If more than one character is in a scene (with a max of two characters per scene) the characters always face each other, even if they're not in the same location.

There is no option to choose camera angles. You're stuck with the supposedly 'professional' film making shots selected by the software based on the action and dialogue. Some of these camera angles are questionable whilst others become repetitive (the over the shoulder shot is definitely over used).

Whilst there are sound effects for actions like opening and closing of doors there are no actual character actions for this. In fact none of the scenes I tried allowed you to have a character exit or enter a scene. It's also very hard to suggest it  'off camera' with a door sound effect because as soon as a character is placed into a scene the camera includes them in most shots.

Videos could easily be improved by giving people more choice on which camera shot they want to use. For example, if I want the camera to frame the non speaking character in a scene to show their reaction to what is being said, then that should be an option.

The limitation of only two characters per scene is also an issue because it makes scenes, such as my coffee shop, appear to be something of a ghost town. In the opening wide shot you'll notice the shop is completely devoid of any other customers.

Plotagon's studio comes with one City theme that includes 5 characters and 6 scenes. You can also purchase additional themes (of which there are presently only four) including Stan Lee's Superheroes, Pride and Prejudice, Alice in Wonderland and a Christmas theme.  Once you've purchased a theme you can mix characters with any themes you already own. There is no ability to import your own scenes, props or characters. You can't customize existing characters either.

The software, at 950MB to download, is far too big for what it does. At that kind of size it should be exceptional but it feels clunky, slow and very much like bloatware. However if it were to be improved so that it performed quicker and in a more streamlined capacity that better suits writers I wouldn't give the download size a second thought.

Once you've finished your movie you can share it on Plotagon's site or export it to YouTube. I couldn't get exporting to YouTube to work even though I successfully connected my YouTube account. In the end I used the RealPlayer Downloader to download my video as an MP4 file so I could upload it to YouTube.

If you have no interest in learning animation software but like to see your scripts bought to life then this may be the tool for you. If you have any pride in your own ability to make a professional looking film then Plotagon will likely disappoint as the compromises will be frustrating to say the least.

It's Story Telling Software but it's definitely not for everyone.


New from Animation 4 Business: Premium Explainer Videos

Animation 4 Business Premium is a new service I'm offering as part of my Business Explainer Video Service, Animation 4 Business. To launch the service I've created the short video below that explains why you might use my Premium service over solutions like GoAnimate and Powtoon. The video is also entered into Reallusion's Animation@Work contest too.

Essentially it's for those situations where you need characters to perform specific tasks unique to your business but you don't want to go to the full expense of creating a custom character from scratch. Visit my site or email me if  you'd like more information.



This blog however is more concerned with the behind the scenes stuff of how the above animation was created. So lets get into that.

From start to finish this animation took three days including writing the script, designing my new Animation 4 Business logo, animating the characters and scenes and adding sound effects and music. Note that I didn't storyboard this animation as it really was simple enough to skip that step.

All of the characters are either customized G2 Power Tools Pack characters or ones that came with CrazyTalk Animator 2.

The Goodies
"We do anything anytime."
Interestingly it was the ideas for this video ('any action any time') that prompted me to make three customized G2 characters based on U.K. Comedy trio, The Goodies that were popular in the nineteen seventies and eighties in England and Australia.

You'll notice from the image that the 'Graeme' character appears in the video.

By far, the most time consuming part of creating this video was the opening scene with Graeme performing all the different tasks. The entire scene had to be key framed from scratch. I spent a full day on that scene.

In particular you'll notice Graeme's right hand is fully animated and appears to type... well sort of. I realize his hand isn't really connecting with the keys. This is due to the desk and computer being layered in front of the character. With a bit of thought I could probably have made his hand connect but I felt it was animated enough to demonstrate the point.

Another highlight is the items balancing on Graeme's feet. A nice short cut with CTA2 is that you can link a prop to any body part of a character and then, when you move the body part around, the prop automatically follows. Thus these items look a little more precarious just by moving Graeme's feet side to side slightly.

Graeme's face is animated almost exactly like a puppet. All I did was click the record button then move the mouse around to make him look side to side and click the mouse to make him blink.

Unlike GoAnimate and Powtoon's studios, CTA2's camera works exactly like a real camera. When you see the scene transitions, where the camera pans right to the next scene, that is the camera moving and not the props being slid off to the left and new ones being slid on to the right. Makes changing scenes so much simpler.

My new Animation 4 Business logo was designed using DrawPlus X6. I pretty much had an idea for what I wanted, it was just a case of finding just the right fonts. I then saved the logo out as a flash object and imported it into CTA2 as a prop.

The next scene with the three characters performing actions was very simple to create. I just placed the characters and applied motion files that came with CTA2. Same with the logo scene with Graeme walking behind the logo. It's just a motion file called 'walk happy' applied to the character.

All the sound effects were sourced from freesound.org and the music came from freepd.com.

Overall I think I'm really starting to get to grips with CrazyTalk Animator 2. I had no major issues creating this animation. Everything worked pretty much as expected.

My next step will be to get back to my G2 Skate Monkey Custom character that stalled. Partly due to some issues that required me to contact Reallusion's tech support, and partly because these other animation projects came up. However I'm really looking forward to finishing the monkey off and creating another animation series that will feature my own character.

Life's Tough, Wear a Helmet

My latest CrazyTalk Animator 2 short is a variation on a video I created several years back called Where's Your Helmet? That video was inspired by the quote Life's Tough, Get a Helmet that I wrote an article about in my main blog.

This time instead of stick figures on a white background, my new animation is set in an office and uses Reallusion's G2 Power Tools characters and props. Watch the animation below and then read about the behind the scenes stuff afterward.



This animation was made over five days from writing the script to uploading it to YouTube. With it only being one scene I was able to make the entire thing inside CrazyTalk Animator's studio.

As with my previous CrazyTalk Animator productions the actual animation is still very unnatural in places. The result of trying to mash predefined character motions with my own adjustments to get something closer to the movement I actually want. I could probably create much better character animation if I created the movement from scratch but some of my goal is to get good at making animations quickly using the predefined motions.

That said, I still paid attention to details like blinking eyes and moving pupils around so the characters look at each other and appear more life like.

I will say that some of the pre-defined motions are a little too exaggerated. For example the final scene where the characters are talking face to face uses the same predefined talk motions with no changes on both characters. You'll notice their hands seem to move rather more than necessary as they speak.

Character Comparison.
Something else to note is that the characters in this animation are not standard G2 Power Tool characters. I took some time to modify them so that their heads, forearms and lower legs are all oversize. I was hoping the larger heads would make them easier to see when the characters are shown with no black outline.

An unexpected side effect of the bigger head and longer limbs is that the characters movement feels a lot more like that of marionettes. I'm not overly sure I like it but it was worth trying something different.

Aside from the script, I did all the voice work and I created the yellow helmet and wastepaper basket props (using DrawPlus X6).

All sounds came from freesound.org and the music came from freepd.com

I'm definitely getting more confident using CrazyTalk Animator. I still find I'm looking around for things every now and then but for the most part I'm getting to the point where I can really start trying to produce better quality work.




Reallusion Animation @ Work Crazy Talk Competition


Reallusion, the creators of Crazy Talk Animator, are holding a competition titled Animation @ Work with cash prizes of up to US$1000.00 for the top three best videos as chosen by the judges. Other prizes include software, gift cards and magazine subscriptions. There are four main categories; Business & Training, Infographics, Comedy/Parody, Animated Comic. Entries must be submitted via the competition website before May 5th 2014.

The competition had five early bird prizes for entries submitted before March 31st which I attempted to try and score with my entry to the Business & Training category below.



Unfortunately it was not to be and I missed out on a free copy of Reallusion's soon to be released content pack, G2 Power Tools, Volume 2.

Although I really did want to win the content pack this particular entry was more an exercise in seeing if I could create a business explainer video within my usual 14 day turnaround time for an explainer video created with GoAnimate.

For the most part I achieved that goal however you may have notice the animation on the Arnold Schwarzenegger character is particularly awkward (and my Scientist guy makes a really odd hand movement in his second appearance that I'm sure I didn't key frame.

As far as Arnold goes I had a few issues where I would animate him later in the video and the key frames would mess up key frames from earlier scenes. I'm not sure why but I didn't have the time to resolve the issue.

With a month to go on the competition I'm considering making a second entry for one of the other categories. We'll see how things go and, of course I'll write about it here if I do.


ComiPo! - Manga Comic Creation Made Easy

ComiPo is the Bitstrips of Manga Comic Creation. Whilst this software doesn't have a lot to do with video or animation it could be used as a storyboarding tool for your personal projects just because it's so easy to use and requires no drawing skills at all.

I've always liked Manga and Anime style animation but I have no desire to actually learn how to draw these styles myself (much like my love of Marvel and DC comic book art which I have no interest in learning to emulate). But I would like to make Manga comics, just for fun.

So when the opportunity to purchase ComiPo came about, at a seriously discounted price of US$29.95 instead of the already affordable $49.99, it only took one look at the software's demo video to convince me it was a great buy. Take a look yourself at the video below.



What's most impressive about ComiPo is not just how versatile it is but also how easy it is to learn. You can pretty much be up and creating in less than 15 minutes and be completely confident in finding your way around within a few hours.

The base product comes with plenty of content to get you started. Plus, once you've registered the software, you get access to nine additional bonus content packs that you can download for no extra cost. You could certainly get by for quite a while on just this content but if you want more character and outfit options then there are additional premium content packs available at very reasonable prices.

There's also the ability to import your own backgrounds and props if you don't want to buy extra content or need something specific that just isn't available.

All the characters in ComiPo are full 3D models that you can rotate and position almost anyway you want. This makes them excellent for experimenting with character placement to create dynamic compositions within each frame. Unfortunately whilst you can fully manipulate the head and hands into almost any position you can't do the same with the arms, legs, feet or torso. You're stuck with the predefined poses. That said, there are hundreds of poses to choose from.

I had no trouble finding just the right poses for my comic strip below, which I created in just a few hours (in between other distractions).

My only other major criticism is about many of the backgrounds in all the included content. It's clear many have been drawn with great care and thought for composition in how that might be used. However a vast number of them are obviously photographs with an illustration filter effect applied that not only looks awful but also isn't served by poor composition that leaves little space to place characters.

That aside it's a fun, stress free piece of software to use. The included content is clearly targeted at young teens as most of the characters and the higher quality backgrounds are school themed but anyone who loves creating Manga should enjoy ComiPo. Especially if you're more of a writer than an artist.

Comics can be output as jpg, png or pdf files for the web or can be printed at high quality if you really want to make a physical comic book.

Personally I enjoy using ComiPo. I could easily see creating short Manga strips as becoming my new hobby outside of animation.

ComiPo's Studio.


Froyd Still Wants Coffee - New Froyd the Cat


Cool Froyd, now simply known as Froyd because I think perhaps he hasn't quite earned his 'cool' yet, makes his second appearance in a brand new CrazyTalk Animator 2 cartoon. This time he's gone a little bit Roger Rabbit and crossed over into the world of live action footage.

Watch the video below then I'll tell you a bit more about the behind the scenes stuff. All you need to know is that Froyd is still interested in getting his daily dose of coffee.



Inspiration

It's no secret I've found it difficult to decide how to use Froyd in a regular series animation. He doesn't have a lot of movement range because the character is essentially an animated painting. Originally I wanted to have him talking to camera sitting in front of his blue background based upon his actual painting as per my first Froyd animation.

However that background felt very limiting and I began thinking about creating other backgrounds for Froyd. Quite by chance I was answering a question in the Reallusion CrazyTalk Animator forums about importing video into CrazyTalk Animator 2 and it struck me. I could combine Froyd with video footage, Roger Rabbit style.

Then I thought, if that worked well, I could literally make videos where Froyd appears as my pet cat talking to me in that weird way Garfield talks to Jon but not really.

The thing about Froyd is that, if I sit around waiting for inspiration to hit, it never does. I want him to be really witty and insightful but in order to test the idea out I decided to ad-lib something after I put everything together.

The first video was about coffee so I figured why not continue the theme. We have a fairly spacious and well lit kitchen so I thought, why not film myself making my morning cup of tea and have Froyd sitting on the bench next to me.

Creating the Video

In filming the video I made no effort to interact with Froyd other than making sure I never blocked out the area of the frame where Froyd would be sitting (and thus spoiling the illusion). I filmed the video using my little HD camera set up on a tripod - a MUST if you're going to overlay a character into a live action scene convincingly.

Once I had the video I had to edit it down to two minutes from about ten minutes that I filmed. Which is why you see sudden light changes in the final video. In hind sight I should have blended the light changes more so the cuts aren't so obvious but I felt it was okay for the test video.

I then imported the video directly into CrazyTalk Animator 2.

Adding Froyd

Putting Froyd into the scene is relatively simple. I have him set up as a character and I literally just drag'n'drop him into the scene and size him to fit. He also has an 'idle' animated action that cycles to look like he's breathing and moving his tail mindlessly.

I then recorded my voice track using Voice Changer teamed with Audacity. To do this I watched the video footage and ad-libbed the lines based on what was happening. It's not genius comedy but it serves the purpose of giving Froyd something a little interesting to say.

CTA2 auto lip syncs the voice file but I did make a few changes to the mouth shapes to try and get more natural looking movement compared to the first episode.

Next I used CTA2's puppeteering functions to animate Froyd (just like controlling a real puppet) making several passes, blending each movement in real time to match the video as it played through. It does take a bit of skill but I think I did a much better job this time around of making Froyd move a little more naturally and in tune with the words he is speaking and his environment.

Does it Work?

Generally I'd say the video looks quite good. Froyd looks like he is in the scene. Sure he's clearly a cartoon character but it works well enough thanks to the way I painted him, with reflected light in his shadows - just as light reflects into the shadow areas of real world objects.

Although the concept is a little similar to Garfield I think it's worth pursuing. It's not exactly the same and I'm sure my own sense of humor will eventually help me differentiate the character into his own thing. I think the real world locations will help too.

The live action is easy to create, as is animating Froyd. It could well be a character I visit every time I need a break from other more difficult or tedious animation projects (like Skate Monkeys).

Plastic Animation Paper (PAP) is coming back!

Animation Paper - WIP user interface.
I've written about the free Plastic Animation Paper Software designed for creators of digital hand drawn animation before. Whilst the software technically never went away its creators did stop developing the software and eventually decided to give it away for free with no technical support.

Now, almost two decades after they first developed PAP, the developers have decided to give the software an overhaul with a new name, user interface, and first up - a native Mac version (to be followed by Windows and iOS versions later). The new software will be called 'Animation Paper' and will retain most of the features that made old-PAP so good but with a much better, redesigned UI. No doubt it'll get some new features too but the goal is to retain the simplicity of the software that made it easy and fun to use.

You can read more about the new look Animation Paper currently in development and the all new website - as well as discover some of the history of the software and its creators too.

For now you can support the software's development simply by signing up to the new website to receive updates on the software's progress. The more people who sign up, the more likely it is that the developers will be able to convince investors that there is a market for a brand new version of one of the finest hand drawn animation tools out there.

Also if you sign up before the end of March 2014 you'll be eligible to receive an early bird discount when the new version is released for sale.

If you've never tried PAP then the original is still available for download from the Animation Paper site. I highly recommend it. There's a bit of a learning curve because of the outdated user interface but once you learn where everything is you'll want to use it just because it's fun.

Skate Monkey (Part 3) - My first Crazy Talk Animator Multi-Dimensional Character

Work on my Skate Monkey character for Crazy Talk Animator 2 continues and I'm happy to say it's nearly done. If you haven't read my previous posts follow these links, Part 1, Part 2.

Below is a very short video demonstration of the character so far pulling a few dance moves. There's a few minor issues that you may or may not notice but otherwise I'm quite happy with the character's general look and how the body is working.



Obviously I've still to add a tail to my monkey. I'm not quite sure how best to do this yet. CTA2 characters do have provisions for a tail with multiple sections but it seems like a hold over from CTA1's G1 characters and don't work so well with CTA2's G2 mutlti-dimensional characters.

Other things still to do is all the facial expression graphics and hand graphics (for different hand positions and motions).

I've also developed the monkey as a character capable of utilizing the new character styles feature of CTA2 that allows you to change a character's look between any one of ten different styles with just a click. Unfortunately I've encountered a problem there that's a little too hard to explain to anyone not familiar with vector art. I'm waiting to see what Reallusion support says about the issue because it may just be a bug.

Hopefully by next week this character will be done and I can start producing a few animations for your enjoyment.

Skate Monkey (Part 2) - My first Crazy Talk Animator Multi-Dimensional Character

Last post I started creating my Skate Monkey, Multi-dimensional character for Crazy Talk Animator 2. This post I thought I'd give you an update on where I'm at. It's been a slow process and there is still much to be done.

Below you can see my DrawPlus character template now has all ten views of my skate monkey completed. Well almost.

DrawPlus Template with 10 views
of my skate monkey.

If you click on the above image to see the larger view you'll notice all the character views appear to have random purple dots spread all over them. These are the pivot points (or joins) for where each body part will attach to the next. So far I've only positioned them for the very first view.

I mentioned in my last post that I didn't really like drawing in DrawPlus, which is part of the reason this character has developed so slowly. I've been completing 1-2 views per day, on the days I have sat down to work on the character. After that I've usually felt so tired working on it that I literally start to nod off in front of the computer.

It's not just the drawing I find tedious. With each new view I have to manually go through and change the name of each body part to match with the name of the view that it appears in e.g. 'Left_foot_top' needs to be changed to 'Left_foot_bottom' etc.

Once all the drawing, naming and pivot point positioning is complete I can actually import the character into CTA2 and see how it moves but that isn't the end of it. Next I'll have to draw the eyes and mouth for up to 16 different facial expressions (and I'll have to draw enough mouths so the character can be lip synced to speech.

Oh and I have to add a tail too.

It's a lot of work to do just to create a character I feel. I can't see myself doing this for every character in my animations. I suspect a better way to go will be to create partial characters with just the body components that actually will appear in my animation. The only time I'd do a full character like this again is if it's a character I plan to use in many animations (which I am planning to do with this monkey).

Hopefully by my next post I'll have this skate monkey character complete, and maybe even staring in a test animation.

Skate Monkey (Part 1) - My first Crazy Talk Animator Multi-Dimensional Character

Continuing on with my progress of learning Crazy Talk Animator 2 I've begun work on creating my first Multi-Dimensional character. As you may have guessed it's my Skate Monkey character that I briefly attempted to turn into a CTA1 character quite some time back (See this post for the video).

A CTA2 'Multi-Dimensional' character is simply a character that consists of 10 different view angles that form a 360 degree view. This character is attached to a bone skeleton that exists in three dimensional space. The software then calculates which images from your 10 different view angles are needed to execute whatever motion you add.

In the image below you can see my skate monkey character drawn at angle zero in the Serif DrawPlus template provided by Reallusion. The other nine view angles are the CTA2 dummy character which I will progressively replace with my monkey as I draw more views.

A CTA2 Multi-Dimensional character has 10 view angles.
In the short video below that I put together especially for this post you can see the monkey character has been imported into CTA2 and is animated walking forward. It's still a little rough (and I"m not sure why he's missing a pupil because it's certainly there in the template) but I wanted to show you not just how the character looks but also demonstrate how the bones exist in 3D space to animate the character.



You'll notice from the above video that the software is automatically working out the perspective on the character so that the foot and hand closest to the camera appears larger than the ones further away. If you look at the lower inset video you can see the actual bone structure in action (you may have to watch the video at full screen to see it).

What this 3D bone structure does is makes a CTA2 G2 (i.e. Multi-Dimensional) character seem more like a fully rounded character that has form, body structure and occupies real space. Unlike CTA1 characters, such as my Cool Froyd the cat, whose body appears very flat and, when I do move his limbs, they have a less natural movement to them.

Previously in CTA1 to create a flash based character (as opposed to a bitmap based character) you had to import each component of the character individually e.g. hand, forearm, upper arm, eyes, nose, etc. This new way, via template, whilst it is something of an improvement doesn't do a whole lot to speed up the process. Though I'm fairly certain it's quicker than importing every component individually for a G2 character (which is what you'll have to do if you didn't purchase the Pipeline version of CTA2).

I'm not that comfortable drawing in DrawPlus either because it is entirely vector based. Despite it being the only software I own that fully supports my Wacom tablet, right down to reprogramming the buttons to commonly used tools, it doesn't feel natural to draw with. Plus I'm from the school where drawing a freehand vector line is a definite no, no as it creates far too many points. Which means I have to draw by manipulating shapes and that doesn't feel natural or fun.

Maybe I'm just not used to drawing that way yet. Nothing beats drawing for real with a regular HB pencil on paper.

Back to the software. I've also had trouble with the layer order of body parts. View angle zero (the one I'm working on) sets the layer order for all the other views to base themselves upon. However when I import the character the layer order seems to change. I've yet to work out in CTA2 how to change the layering for the default character pose. I know how to change the layer order of body parts whilst key framing the animation but I don't want to have to do that every single time I animate the character just because the default pose starts the laying out wrong.

Colour Styles in CTA2.
One other thing I'm trying to do is allow this character to utilize automatic colour styles that can be applied with a single click (see the image right for an example of some of the styles available). One thing you can do is remove all the character outlines. However, for those of you familiar with vector drawing, for some reason, my 'open' shapes that have an outline, retain their outline when this style is applied?

Something else you may have noticed is my monkey doesn't have a tail. This is because the template doesn't include the tail segments of CTA2 characters. I'll add that in once I've imported the entire main character.

I think that's all I wanted to highlight thus far. It's taking longer than expected because I'm trying to solve all my problems using the zero degree view first. Once I have that the other views should come together much quicker as many of the parts can be adapted from the zero and subsequent angles as I draw them.

I hope you've found this insight into custom CTA2 character creation useful and, if you are considering buying CTA2 Pipeline for this very reason, you take the phrase "Easily create multi-dimensional characters..." used in the promotion with a very 'relative' grain of salt.
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