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.


5 comments:

  1. Hey David,
    Thanks for taking the time to review Plotagon, and sorry to hear you find it lacking. FYI, we're right now hard at work with a major redesign of Plotagon, which addresses some of your issues, but not all.
    Overall, and as you point out in your review, Plotagon is lacking as a pro tool. That is because it was never meant to be one. We pride ourselves on having created a tool that will let anyone *not a filmmaker* create a movie, with a very short learning curve.

    In the new update, we are making some changes to the design that reflects this. The new Plotagon will be faster, more accessible, with better design of the characters and their interactions. And it will work on mobile devices. However, Plotagon will still not be a pro tool. We are contemplating creating one in the future and really appreciate feedback such as this review.

    If you want a preview of what the next version of Plotagon will look like, there is a sneak preview at http://www.launchsiliconvalley.org/digitalmedia/

    Again, thanks for taking the time to make this review.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Klas for responding to my review. I really appreciate the sneak peak at the new Plotagon. The new interface looks much cleaner (and hopefully more responsive in terms of keeping pace with the writer). Not sure about writing a script on a mobile device but I guess proficient text messagers will be right at home.

      I've never really viewed Plotagon as a professional application. I'm just saying, for someone like me who has some movie making skills, Plotagon in its present form, feels very restrictive. Just being able to choose from a few different camera angles per line of dialogue would be a big improvement.

      I do like the whole idea of a film being created directly from an actual script as it is written. It's such an easy system to learn and has much potential application beyond story telling where producing a video quickly is a priority.

      I'll look forward to the new version and would be happy to do an updated review when it becomes available.

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  2. Today was the day when Plotagon released the non-beta version. It was a small disappointment that it cannot render videos from scripts created in the Beta version.

    Today's Plotagon version is even more restrictive, giving no control over when to stop music or changing its volume. It does not allow to add pauses either. I hope there will be improvements in these areas in the autumn.

    The user interface needs a bit more streamlining, and when sharing it should mention that YouTube will take its sweet time before making your video visible.

    I think the grail to pursue is a simple Plotagon that does NOT give a lot of freedom in choosing camera angles etc, but having a more advanced level where that can be done, and more importantly giving better control over the timings (duration of actions etc). Adding own audio for speech and sounds was kind of promised, but is not there yet.

    My first try has a dialogue in Swedish, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYaUck_92BQ
    Swedish works pretty much as badly as expected. Hint to Plotagon: multi-lingual speech synthesis is important - and at least your own language should be supported!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've been using the PC version of the new Plotagon and, whilst all the new characters and backgrounds are a big improvement, it still has the same, awful, restrictive, animation interface of the old Plotagon Beta.

      Added to that, it's buggy as hell. Animations don't always play correctly, even in Plotagon's own players on their site.

      I haven't been able to upload my animation to Youtube either. It'll upload the first scene fine but then be corrupted from the second scene onwards.

      I will be posting a review in the coming weeks but I think I'll give them a bit of time to iron out a few of the issues first.

      I would like to see an advanced version with, at the very least, the ability to insert pauses and choose which of the preset camera angles on any given scene you want to use for the next bit of dialogue.

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  3. I actually find the non beta version a bit of a let down, the actors are too cartoon like the beta was way better the animation had a GTA feel.

    ReplyDelete

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