Some time ago I had a teacher ask me about Xtranormal as a possibility for digital storytelling. I took a brief look at it, and it appeared fairly simple and easy to use. You type in some text, and animated characters act and read what you typed in a mechanical voice. It seemed fairly simplistic, and I don’t think I gave it a glowing review because I didn’t really have time to look at it closely.
Fast forward a few weeks…
Laura and I were watching TV at home and a dreadful commercial came on for Geico Insurance. I spotted immediately that they had used Xtranormal to create the commercial. The point they were trying to make was that a customer could get a quote in less time than it took to put together their terrible commercial.
That brings us to today. I had another teacher ask about the program, and this time decided to check it out a bit more in-depth.
Xtranormal allows users to select characters and a setting, then type what you want the characters to say. A text-to-speech program renders what you type as a mechanized voice. You can select the voice characteristics. I selected a couple of robots, gave them British accents, and had them read a bit of dialog from “Much Ado About Nothing” by Shakespeare (the opening of Act 1, Scene III, to be precise.)
It actually came out amusingly well. It took me all of about 10 minutes to set up the characters and copy and paste the dialog. I added a couple of camera and changes and facial expressions, but the system automatically filled in those areas I had not specified. The movie was rendered, and I was able to do a one-button publish to YouTube. Here’s the result…
While this is cool, there are some significant problems with Xtranormal, especially from an educational standpoint. First, there is quite a bit of objectionable content on the site. You can select to view school-safe content only, but since that’s a voluntary action and not the default, it would be quite easy for kids to come across some very harsh language and adult situations.
Fortunately, there doesn’t appear to be any way to browse movies, or even search for them. Apart from their own creations, it looks like users are limited to the featured, top rated, newest, or most discussed videos. However, even among this I came across some stuff that’s definitely not appropriate for a school setting.
Even more problematic, though, is the fact that this is NOT a free service. New users start with 300 points. Each character and scene you use costs a certain number of points, and it costs 100 points to render and produce the video. The video above cost me 249 points, which means I don’t have enough to make a second video. But, never fear! You can purchase more points! The lowest amount is 1500 points for $10. That’s enough for maybe five more movies.
I especially don’t like the way they use “points” instead of dollars. That makes you think you’re not really spending money on this. I didn’t go through the process of purchasing more points. I was a bit worried about giving a credit card or any other crucial data to this company.
Conclusion? The site has gained a lot of attention from the Geico ads, and more people are asking about it. This is super, super simple to use and could be a great tool for teachers and students. However, in its current format and with its current pay scheme I can’t recommend it for classroom use. Oh well.