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August 28, 2014

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The Best Animation Tools, from CrazyTalk and Toon Boom to Free Web Apps

Thanks to some new, easy-to-use tools, kids of almost any age can create their own animated films

By Jennifer Stern and Joyce Kasman Valenza

slj1106w ANIM Opener The Best Animation Tools, from CrazyTalk and Toon Boom to Free Web Apps

Move over, Shrek. Step aside, Toy Story. Ditto, Kung Fu Panda. Thanks to a slew of new, easy-to-use animation tools, you don’t have to work at Pixar or DreamWorks to create a summer blockbuster. In fact, it’s now a snap for young storytellers to learn the ABC’s of animation. And that’s bound to make learning a lot more interesting—and much more creative.

At Springfield Township High School, in Erdenheim, PA, teacher librarian Joyce Valenza and her former teaching assistant Jennifer Stern use tools like CrazyTalk and Blabberize to help kids create their own short animated films, including a tour of Civil War Gettysburg (complete with walking-talking images of generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee); a funny, instructive 42-second flick about what not to do for your prom (hint: never depend on a friend to line up your date); and a snippet in which the school’s mascot, a Spartan, boogies and levitates above the library’s circulation desk. These kid-created animated movies, and others like them, are perfect for spicing up a lesson, a website, or even those often monotonous morning announcements.

“Animation can fuel a child’s imaginative explorations,” says Valenza. And it’s not just about helping students sharpen their scripting, editing, and storytelling skills. Working with animation, says Valenza, can also enhance kids’ understanding of technology, engineering, and geometrical and spatial relations. It can even lead to more empathy, an essential skill in today’s increasingly complex world. “We would argue that animation is a literacy,” she says. “And it’s now more possible than ever to teach animation in schools.”

That’s because animation software developers like Reallusion (a big name in 3-D movies) and Toon Boom (a Canadian company whose clients include Disney) have started to create products for average Joes, rather than strictly for animation pros. We know how scary it can be to jump headfirst into a new endeavor, so to help you get started, we asked Valenza and Stern to introduce their favorite animation tools, many of which are free or inexpensive.—SLJ staff

The big two

Reallusion’s CrazyTalk series and many of Toon Boom products are designed to help aspiring animators produce professional-looking films without becoming seriously frustrated. In fact, we think CrazyTalk and Toon Boom belong in every animator’s studio. Both companies feature products that teach the basics about how the animation process works and expand on other valuable skills for both beginners and pros.

CrazyTalk 6 ($49.95) can make faces talk, and it’s a perfect program for introducing students to the great world of animation. Using auto lip-sync, you can add moods and facial expressions to your drawings, photographs, and demo heads, transforming ordinary images into characters that can be used in independent videos or integrated into other multimedia projects. We couldn’t resist importing, animating, and giving voices to the images of our colleagues and historical figures. The software also lets users record their own voices, use the text-to-speech function, or pick from a selection of preset phrases.

With CrazyTalk Animator Standard ($49.95), students can dive into the total animation experience and control actors, props, scenes, lighting, and cameras. Static images are transformed into dynamic characters with full-body motion.

Our two student testers loved these products. Miranda most enjoyed creating characters, giving them voices and movement, and getting inanimate objects to dance, float, stroll, jump, talk, and even blink. But both students had a little difficulty figuring out how to use the face-fitting and proportion features.

Toon Boom’s Flip Boom products simplify the animation process and are a great way to introduce young artists to the cartoon world of stop-motion animation. Flip Boom Cartoon ($39.99) simplifies basic animation processes by providing the drawing tools, clip art, and sound effects that are needed to create short films in a matter of just minutes. The software is designed specifically for K–8 users and can stimulate kids’ imaginations while developing their motor and reasoning skills. The storyboard at the bottom of the screen presents the scene’s previous characters, props, and background. In addition, the onion-layer tool enables users to see several frames at once and makes it easy for beginners to edit the next sequence of movements.

Next up is Flip Boom All Star ($69.99), recommended for third through eighth graders and beginning animators at the high school level. It’s packed with even more easy-to-use tools, backgrounds, characters, and animation options. The program also contains storyboard and onion-layering features to facilitate smoother animation. All Star provides cartoon movement clips that can be added to individual frames, creating wiggle, bounce, and flip effects. We found it easy to drag and drop cartoons into the foreground and background of our clips. The buttons on the main frame are intuitive.

Toon Boom Studio ($249) takes animation to a higher level, allowing users to create a character’s individual limbs and features from scratch. Like CrazyTalk Animator, you can create 2-D animations, but the program doesn’t guide you though the process. You’re expected to know the steps yourself, such as how to cut out and define body parts and how to create a range of motion. Toon Boom Studio also offers a bone animation feature that lets users create, move, and rotate various body parts. Although CrazyTalk offers an animation generator, Toon Boom Studio provides tools that make movements much more concise and smooth. In addition, Toon Boom has far more detailed bone-manipulation tools, as well as 3-D capabilities. When animating, the artist has the option to draw a character resulting in a detailed 3-D figure that can turn, jump, and dance.

Tooning on the cheap

Many open source, shareware, and web-based options for creating animation projects are free of charge or nearly so. While these applications don’t offer the same options and level of control as more robust commercial software packages, they can still result in a successful product. We like the following tools for their ease of use, available options, and classroom friendliness.

Animation tools available for free download

Aniboom
Aniboom Virtual Studio allows users to create and edit stop-motion cartoons in real time. This free download for Windows has shapes, colors, and onion-layering tools to provide users—beginners and professionals alike—an exciting environment for animating.

Blender
Blender.org is an open source 3-D content creation suite, providing tools to make 3-D animations, video games, and visual effects. The software is available for all major operating systems under a GNU General Public License. For more information, visit this page.

CreaToon 3.0
A 2-D cut-out style animation program, CreaToon allows animators to set certain keyframes and the software completes the frames in between. CreaToon 3.0 is available to download, however, parent company Androme has discontinued further developments and technical support.

DAZ Studio 3
DAZ Studio is a free, feature-rich figure design program that allows the artist to work in 3-D animation using the puppet tool. With DAZ, users can create characters in different styles, such as anime. Easy-to-follow tutorial videos can be found on the DAZ Studio website as well as on YouTube.

Web-based options
Animasher
This simple drag-and-drop, Web-based animator offers a library of images, voice and video clips and sound effects for creating quick projects. Use existing clip art and sound, or upload your own elements to create projects.

Blabberize

A popular tool for educators, Blabberize allows the user to speak through a picture. Upload an image, locate its mouth, record sound, and make the picture speak. “Blabbers” can be shared via email, embedded in a website, or added to a slideshow.

Comics Sketch
A free site that allows users to draw and animate comic strips and books. View, vote, and comment on your favorite comics by other members.

GoAnimate
A free, Web-based app for making videos or creating characters. With GoAnimate, you can: build scenes; choose backgrounds; select characters and preprogrammed actions, movements, and emotions; add speech bubbles; resize; bring objects forward and back; and add music and effects. GoAnimate.com features a public gallery of user-created cartoons, so there’s a risk of inappropriate content. For a “clean” version minus dicey material, try DomoAnimate or GoAnimate4Schools (described below).

GoAnimate4Schools
The educational version of GoAnimate is free for up to 100 accounts. A single teacher account gets unlimited access to all GoAnimate4Schools’ features. The teacher can also post work to GoAnimate4Schools’ public gallery. With a student account, users may craft animations of up to two minutes in length, upload music, record their voices, or take advantage of a text-to-speech function. SchoolPlus accounts offer unlimited features for multiple teacher accounts, with no limits on the number of student users. There are also no restrictions on the length of animations or the number of image and video uploads on this plan.

Kerpoof
Owned and operated by Disney, this Web-based studio designed for young people is all about making art and animated movies. Kerpoof offers many different movie-making programs and activities organized by grade level and cross-referenced with state and national educational standards. Winner of a 2010 Parents’ Choice Gold Award, the site is mostly free, with premium membership options.

Xtranormal
In Xtranormal, you can work with up to two characters, using multiple types of camera shots, and combine text-to-speech in a variety of accents with various sound effects. Drag and drop preprogrammed animations, among other elements. Try the service for free, but you’ll soon need to purchase bundles of Xtranormal Points for use toward additional assets—new actors, sets, and the like. Using the address http://edu.xtranormal.com helps to filter out inappropriate content. Xtranormal sponsors educators making educational movies with grants of Xtranormal Points on the Xtranormal Movie Maker platform. Not available for entire classes or schools and student accounts.

Zimmer Twins
zimmertwins.com/movie
Click and drag to build simple movies from clips using Zimmer Twins. Change words in a sentence to adjust characters and actions within the clips. Free to use, but VIP members can share their movies, access additional animated clips, leave written comments, and more.

Web-based comic strip style (not animated)

Chogger
Here you can draw your own web comics from scratch. Edit and caption photos, take webcam pictures, add speech balloons, and draw lines to share your stories with the web comic community.

Comic Creator
This lesson, created by the International Reading Association, explores the process of writing a comic strip. Here you’ll find interactive comic lessons for grades K–12 and PDF worksheets. Comic Creator has a drag-and-drop interface with all the necessary tools (backgrounds, characters, props, and speech bubbles) to make your comic strip lesson a success.

Comic Master: Graphic Novel Creator
Make quick and easy work of creating your own graphic novel with Comic Master. The detailed interface is easy to use with drag-and-drop options and superhero clip art that’s ready to fly into your story.

Make a Comic
Here, users create very simple comic strips within minutes. Using pull-down menu options, students can create a two-character comic strip with background photos, narration, dialogue, and thought bubbles.

Make Beliefs Comics
Author Bill Zimmerman’s web-based site enables users to write their comics in languages other than English, including Spanish, French, German, Italian, Latin and Portuguese—with Chinese, Japanese, and Korean to come. Find printables, lessons, and writing prompts here, too.

PikiStrips
Classroom routines can be presented in a whole new way! Upload a photo and add speech bubbles and photo effects to create fun and interesting comic strips.

Pixton
www.pixton.com
A free, Web-based site where you can create characters, edit poses or expressions, and add props and speech bubbles. The easy click-and-drag interface allows for a quick and easy comic strip. Also available:

Pixton for Schools
www.pixton.com/schools/overview
The Pixton for Schools version comes with teacher moderation options and assessment rubrics, sound and voice, and image uploading capabilities. Free 30-day trial for 50 students; premium pricing: $130 for 50 students for a year, or $2.60 per student.

Stage’d
Select characters, costumes, scenery, create dialogs, and choose from a library of animations to make storytelling easier. Stage’d allows you to place characters, costumes, and props wherever needed. You even have control over how your characters stand. Using the puppet tool allows characters to bend every which way for a more animated comic.

Witty Comics
Select from a library of scenes, characters, and bubbles to make simple strips. For users looking for quick, two-character conversations, Witty Comics is the free website for you.


Author Information
Teacher librarian Jennifer Stern (jen.stern1 @gmail.com) works at the Haverford Township Free Library and Haverford School District and blogs at “21st Century Librarian.” Joyce Valenza (joyce_valenza@sdst.org) is a teacher librarian at Springfield Township (PA) High School and author of the blog “NeverEndingSearch.”
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