Seven Projects to Stretch Your Digital Wings: Part Two

9/11/09Follow @wroush

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come across anyone who’s doing this yet; and when the amateur podcasting phenomenon really hits the mainstream, it may be some other tool, rather than AudioBoo, that people fall in love with. But you can definitely see from AudioBoo where the technology is going.

You can listen to my first boo here. It’s worth mentioning that there’s another super-easy way to publish audio on the Web. Remember the lifestreaming site Posterous, which I talked about last week? You can publish a mini-podcast to your Posterous site simply by making a recording on your mobile device (for example, using the iPhone’s built-in Voice Memo app), then e-mailing it to post@posterous.com. Within minutes, the clip will show up in your lifestream inside a nice little audio player widget.

5. Create a Short Animated Film with Xtranormal

From audio to the visual: In January, I wrote about a Canadian startup called Xtranormal that’s pioneering an intriguing idea that it calls “text-to-movie.” If you write some dialogue and insert some stage directions, Xtranormal will generate a whole computer-animated cartoon enacting your story. You can check out my first attempt at an Xtranormal movie here:

Starting your own cinematic career at Xtranormal is easy. You first have to pick from one of six “worlds” or settings. They range from the sterile, black-and-white office environment I used in my movie (it’s great for sarcastic comedy sketches) to a retro-futuristic cartoon world called Robotz. Next, you decide whether you want one or two “actors” in your movie.

Xtranormal then opens a script-writing interface where you input some dialogue and click on buttons to insert basic instructions for the characters, such as when they should smile or grimace or wave their arms. You can also control the pacing of your scene by inserting pauses, deciding when the virtual “camera” should zoom in on a character’s face, and the like. You can run through the movie as you build it, listening to the characters’ computer-generated voices to see if you’ve got the timing right.

When you’ve got everything looking and sounding just the way you want it, you can tell Xtranormal to render a final copy, which you can then publish to YouTube or embed in your blog. It’s a great way to make an animated movie without having to learn anything about computer graphics, stop-motion filming, or the like. Of course, your finished episode will only be as good as your scriptwriting. And this first generation of text-to-movie tools does have its limitations—notably the synthesized voices, which lack much human inflection. But the technology is already good enough that, again, it’s easy to imagine where it might be going in the future. For an example of an Xtranormal episode that’s pretty well written and makes amusing use of the existing tools, check out “Kung Fu Flick.”

When I first wrote about Xtranormal, the animation platform was entirely free, and the company still lets you make two-character movies in the six basic worlds for free. But since then, the company has introduced a new premium membership level that, for $5 a month or $40 a year, will let you make longer movies and select from more characters and worlds. Xtranormal says it’s also working on a downloadable moviemaking program for Windows and Mac computers, called State, that will really put you in the director’s chair. You’ll be able to include up to three characters in a scene and make them walk around the world, and you’ll be able to add your own music and control the placement of the camera. Calling the next Hitchcock!

Continue to Part Three

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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