Monday, September 23, 2013

After Xtranormal - Some Alternatives for Easy Animation

Up until recently a lot of people were making animated YouTube videos with a limited but very easy to use program
called Xtranormal.  Although Xtranormal did not have the power or flexibility of a more traditional animation program, such as Blender, K-3D, Maya, or Cinema 4D, one could, with a little creativity, use the program to produce some pretty neat videos by writing a simple script which the program would then animate. Text to speech and lip-syncing were included. Xtranormal seemed particularly suited to creating short comedies and many of those created became quite popular on YouTube.

In late December of 2010, however, Xtranormal began charging fees to users for some services which were formerly free (such as publishing a video). Then in June of 2013, the company announced that they would be shutting down their web site services down after July 31, 2013 (thus making it impossible for Xtranormal users to continue producing videos).  This indeed took place, and since August 1, the Xtranormal website has basically been replaced by a big "pause" button.

So what alternatives are there for someone looking for the same type of capability with similar ease of use? Three
alternatives which seem to fit the bill reasonably well are iClone, Moviestorm, and Muvizu.  All three appear
reasonably easy to use, provide access to multiple characters and props, and are available for the Windows
operating system (Moviestorm is also available in Macintosh format).  All three come with lip-syncing features.
All three appear to rely primarily on importing recorded speech rather than (as was the case with Xtranormal) on text to speech. (Moviestorm has a limited TTS feature, see comment by Phil Maker below).  There are stand-alone TTS packages that can be purchased but using the voices from many of those packages can be problematic in terms of what the license does (or does not!) allow, or expensive, or both, so often it might be better to just record your own voices.




None of the three are free for commercial use.  iClone and Moviestorm have to be purchased (although you can try
them out for free, non-commercially,  for 30 or 14 days, respectively).  Muvizu is free to use, but you have to pay the company (by minute of footage) to get the Muvizu watermark removed and allow commercial use. [3/23/2014: Or you can buy Muvizu+]

Another interesting animation program is Plotagon. It actually looks more similar to Xtranormal than the other three to me. In particular, it appears to have a text to speech feature. As of this writing, however, it is still in beta mode, contains some rather restrictive terms of use, and allows upload to Plotagon only (no YouTube, Vimeo, etc.).  It will be interesting to see what it evolves into over the coming months.

I wish I could say that I found an open source program that does everything Xtranormal did, but I can not, at least not yet (although Alice certainly has some of that functionality).  Given the rapid rise in the quantity and quality of open source programs in recent years, however, I predict that it is only a matter of time until we see an open source program which equals and eventually surpasses the achievements of Xtranormal.  Perhaps someone could build on the SmartBody platform or build on one of the many open source graphics or game engines now available. Let's hope it is soon! *


Emergent Animation said...

For now, you can come here and keep using Xtranormal.


TedTheBlogger said...

Thanks for your comment, Emergent. I've actually followed your project with interest. I admire what you have been able to accomplish so far. What I really hope to see at some point (hopefully sooner rather than later!) is an open source program that can do everything that Xtranormal did but without relying on the Xtranormal software itself.

As a small beginning towards that goal, I am currently working on an open source text to speech program which I hope to release very soon.

Phil Maker said...

Hello Ted
Moviestorm has actually had text-to-speech since the 1.5.4 release last year.
There is a 1.6 Beta available from the forums now too

TedTheBlogger said...

Thanks for your comment, Phil. Watching the video again, I see what you mean. I will have to edit my post. Do you have any links to more information regarding this topic, such as how many voices come bundled with Moviestorm, licensing conditions on the use of said voices, etc.? I've been poking around on the Moviestorm site and Googling a bit, but so far I am not finding the information I am looking for there.

Phil Maker said...

Moviestorm differs from Xtranormal and Plotagon as it aims to be a very flexible filmaking tool. It supports filmmakers in addition to social commentators and scriptwriters. It tries to be very quick to pickup and use, but with the aim to allow users to simply make ANY movie, it provides users get flexibility for set and character design, set and camera direction.
The use of text-to-speech is as a placeholder before proper intonated recorded speech can replace it, as the film develops from an animated storyboard through to a final edit. Some users also find it sufficient if they only use Moviestorm to pre-vis live action films they are producing, such as Chris Bouchard (

TedTheBlogger said...

Thanks again, Phil. I have edited my post accordingly.

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