On Computers

Get Animated

Jack 'daWabbit' Imsdahl, jack@oncomputers.info

26 October 2003

One of the really cool things you can do with a personal computer is create animations. You don't have to be an accomplished artist or even an aspiring Rembrandt to do it, either. Software can and will come to the rescue, here, though I'm sure a bit of talent or artistic vision won't hurt. I have very little talent in this area and some of the software we are going to discuss allows me to create animations of genuine quality, though limited by my lack of talent. If I can do it, surely you can.

There are various freeware, shareware and proprietary programs available with which to do this and, sporadically, over the next few weeks, we'll be exploring some of these in the hopes you will find it interesting and perhaps wish to try your hand at it.

Also, some unique ways in which to use animations coming to the fore. One of these is within Microsoft PowerPoint presentations. A company called 'Right Seat Software' is offering Vox Proxy, based on Microsoft's Agent technology. Deepak and I recorded an interview with the principal developer and founder of the company which will be broadcast in the next few weeks. At first, the idea of animations in PowerPoint seems sort of a "ho hum" thing; just another way for drones to bore us with PowerPoint. But when you hear the interview, you will learn what people are doing with it and have one of those "why didn't I think of that?" moments. I did. We're sure this one will be of interest to many of you.

The price of entry into animations has been lowered and modern software will allow significant processing on even a modestly powerful computer, though it may take a little time. You don't need a server farm to do this stuff.

We'll likely be doing some other stories and interviews on this subject, as opportunity becomes available.

Tales Animator

Normally, I don't post reviews of software that is in any way problematic. However, Tales Animator from DollySoft http://www.dollysoft.com/ shows so much promise for the casual animator or someone just wishing to try animation out that I am going to recommend it, even though I found it to be slightly imperfect. They're at version 1.0. It's still early in the development process and a roadmap for development is posted on the site.

(Please note that the problems I encountered did no harm to any of the three systems I tried it on and, in fact, only crashed the application itself a few times. I lost none of my work due to this and found it only a minor annoyance. The program is under very active development and after reading the forums on the DollySoft web site, I concluded the problems I encountered may be system specific and in any event will be fixed soon.)

Tales Animator is just so much fun that I had to tell you about it. Within a couple minutes, I had created my first genuine animation using two characters and with sound, no less! A small list of characters are included in the application and a more advanced user can edit these or create new characters as they wish. One controls the characters using a very, very simple scripting language and syntax. There is a limited series of commands that will be easily mastered and these are delineated clearly in the help files, which, though sparse, do a decent job of getting you going.

Positioning is controlled by specifying the locations desired in pixels. Speed of motion is controlled by using a pixels per second command, if other than the default speed is desired. Character's speech is generated using the Microsoft Agent text to speech engine. Output is in the .avi format, so files can be easily shared.

This application will introduce anyone to animation creation, albeit at a somewhat rudimentary level. And this may just be THE app for children to learn with and use, not least because us adults can grasp it quickly enough to guide and assist in their learning. I have no skill at determining what age children it is appropriate for but I suspect an 8 year old could do this with parental supervision and help. Surely children just a bit more advanced than that could. I'm certain kids will have a blast with this one. Tales Animator runs on all flavors of Windows from 98 on; these being the versions that can support the Microsoft Agent technology. The download is free and just over 15 Megabytes in size. If you have trouble downloading from the home page (something frequently mentioned in the forums) I suggest you go to http://www.webattack.com in the freeware section. Look under Graphics for Animation Tools. That will access a different server. I got the files from both locations with no problems.

The application is still being intensively developed so, should it not suit you now, give it a bit of time and try it again. This is a keeper, as far as I'm concerned, and I look forward to seeing it progress.


Blender started out as part of a commercial toolkit for animations published by a Dutch company, NaN (which stands for "Not a Number"). The history of it all is rather convoluted and, should you wish to review their history, it is provided in detail on the web site at http://www.blender3d.com/. For now, suffice it to say that when the company failed to make a go of things, a non-profit organization was formed to buy the source code, release it under the Open Source GPL (General Public License) and continue it's development under the supervision of it's originator, Ton Roosendaal.

Blender is professional quality 3D modeling and animation software, by all accounts. That also means I am not really qualified to review it, as I do not possess knowledge of animations that would allow me to really wring out the software. I have however played with it, over the years, as well as having spoken to many users (both professional and not) and so can comment a bit.

The Blender application interface drives everyone nuts, at first. It definitely is unusual. However, there seems near universal agreement that once it is learned, it is intuitive and elegantly functional. Persistence is all that is necessary, here. Blender runs on a wide variety of platforms and there are almost no reports of problems with it doing so. Here's a list of supported platforms for the current version, 2.28;

The Linux files marked "static" require the presence of no external libraries on the system, containing these within the download, and so are somewhat larger. If you're new to Linux and have trouble deciphering the system requirements for the application, use the static downloads. Downloads range from just over 2 Megabytes for the Windows version to over 11 MB for the BSD versions.

Blender is also customizable with a large number of add-ons and plug-ins. See the Resource page at the web site. There is a thriving community of users accessible on the web via the home page and elsewhere. Ray tracing, background and texture libraries, Python scripting and many other features are available. The original application and the plug-ins are all available at no charge.

The Blender site also has several manuals and tutorials for free download, as well as some freely distributable general reference materials on animations. There are also many demos, trailers and small movies to show what can be done available on the site, with links to more. I found these fascinating.

Learning to use this application will take some doing, as is true with many powerful programs. However, this is what it takes to do first class work and you can't argue with the price. Jack

© 2003 Jack Imsdahl

Back • Home • Up • Next

© 2002 - 2004 by On Computers and the Videotex Services Coalition.