Have you ever had an idea for a video but simply haven’t had the time or budge to actually shoot and produce it? You’re not alone though the Xtranormal hopes to make that problem a thing of the past.
The idea behind Xtranormal is that you provide the service your script and it converts it into a movie using 3D animated characters, text-to-speech reading of your words in one of many different voices as well as animations and camera angles that you select.
The results are not always convincing, as you can see in the video below, you can certainly do some impressive things with Xtranormal. It can be especially useful for quickly “mocking up” a video or putting an idea out there for others to see.
In short, it may not be a replacement for a real video with humans, but it might be a way to get a project up in a hurry if you don’t have the resources or time to do it yourself.
How it Works
After creating an account with Xtranormal and signing in to the service, you’ll be given the chance to start creating your own movie. You’ll first be asked to choose from one of a series of “showpaks” that feature a variety of animation styles and settings. Once you’ve chosen your “showpak” and the number of characters you want, you’ll be greeted with a three-pane interface that looks like this:
You’ll likely start your editing at the bottom pane where you can choose your scene, your actors and their voices. You’ll likely want to experiment some with the voices later but should set it to something at least close to what you want for the time being.
Once you’ve got the basics of the scene down, you can then look at the upper-left hand pane, where most of the editing will be done. You’ll likely first start by adding in the text from your script, this is done by selecting the character you want to speak the line and simply pasting or typing in the words. You can then add new lines below the existing one, creating the dialog in the scene.
Once you’ve got the words down, you’ll likely want to add some direction to the scene, which is what the icons on the far left are for. The icons on the left represent cameras, animations, expressions, looks, points, pauses and sounds. You insert these into the script, between words or at the beginning/end of lines, and they instruct your animated characters to execute the action.
Once you’ve finished directing the video and are ready to test it, simply hit the “Preview” button in the right-hand frame and let Xtranormal spin as it animates your video. You can then preview it, make adjustments to it and, when ready, publish it.
Publishing the video, however, is not free but Xtranormal’s pricing system is somewhat unique. Rather than paying for the individual video, you pay for the scene and characters. This means that, if you create another video using the same scene and/or characters, there is no charge but each additional character or scene you use will incur a charge. You can buy credits for the price of $5 for 300 and the most expensive a scene can be (two actors and one background) is 114.
Once you’ve published the video, you can then either view it live on Xtranormal’s site or upload it to YouTube via the site’s YouTube uploader.
All in all, creating my first video, “The Principal and the Lazy Plagiarist” required about an hour of work on my part for a clip that is about four minutes long.
The Limitations of Xtranormal
To be clear Xtranormal, as neat as it is, is also far from perfect. It’s not meant to be a replacement for human actors or hand-created animation and instead focuses on quick, cheap and easy video production. Specifically, be aware of the following issues:
- Text-To-Speech Limitations: Though the text-to-speech is good as far as such technology goes, it is not great. The voices are flat and the characters struggle with many words. I had to make many changes to my script so everything could be understood and even then the video sounds flat.
- Limited Animations: The animation and expression selection is limited. Characters can not interact with one another, only make gestures and point, so you won’t be choreographing a fight scene with Xtranormal.
- Directing Difficulties: I had minor problems where pauses and gestures would be placed in the middle of words causing the word to be broken in two. Also, the timing on gestures is odd and takes some getting used to.
The biggest problem, right now at least, is more of a technical one. Previewing a video can take an incredibly long amount of time. Though I spent only an hour working on my video I probably waited for previews to load for at least three or four and that was only with a handful of previews. This problem is much less during off-peak hours but it is an issue Xtranormal acknowledges.
The best you can do is plan to get a big meal while waiting for a preview, even for just a short clip.
All in all if you want to do a quick, dirty and cheap video, Xtranormal is a great service, if you’re willing to wait for previewing (or just willing work on the video in the wee hours of the morning). It won’t win you any awards nor will it rival the quality of what humans can do, but it is the fastest way to go from concept to video I’ve seen.
If you’re interested in it and can deal with its limitations, give Xtranormal a try. There are many situations where it can be useful.
If nothing else, it can be a lot of fun to play around with.