Monday, 16 February 2015

Animation Tools and eLearning

Okay a week or so ago I asked what was the best tool for producing animations in elearning and got a number of responses from people on the blog.  Thanks to all of you who contributed I thought I'd share my findings here with you.  What I don't want to do is call this list a 'review' (much less a curation of the field of animation tools in elearning) because it's just my take on a few tools and whilst my needs might just match what you're after, there's a good chance they're nowhere near too and I don't want to mislead anyone or try to position myself as an expert.

My initial findings were that this could certainly be a minefield for someone new to the game.  There are plenty of tools out there and they all have various learning curves and capabilities from being able to produce some rudimentary animations to full scale TV advert types and even high quality 3D stuff. I'd have to say though, that my usual mantra of keeping it simple applies as much here as in most aspects of work.  If you can perform the animations you want inside your elearning programme then you're away, if not and you need to look outside here's some options for you.

I actually got a bit turned off by the TV commercial style of animation programmes.  They're really good in that it's very slick but it does feel like what I produce at the end is the same as everyone else and I find that a bit disappointing.  I remember the first time I saw Prezi a few years ago and I thought it was an amazing tool for presentations; but when you've seen a few of those you realise that the novelty kind of wears off and you're often just left with a distracting blur of motion for little reason.  If you do like these types though you'll probably love Powtoon. Plenty of big bold graphics and swish entrances and animations to keep you playing for hours.  If someone hadn't already discovered this and I was the first on the scene it would be very cool and I may sometimes use it for a specific animation that the system does very well.  Problem is it does feel very much like a marketing tool to me rather than something to demonstrate a learning piece.  Definitely has it's uses and I found it pretty quick and easy to use.  Pro package is around $20 a month so definitely an affordable option and quite a bit you can do on the free version too.  I think VideoScribe is a bit like this but it wasn't for me either.  Problem was that it was all about drawing an object and whilst that's pretty it's really not that useful - I want to move and animate to demonstrate things not just to look pretty so I'm not a fan, but I know some of you out there love it. Go Animate was another runner up that some of you love too.  It's about twice the price of other options and again was a bit cheesy for my liking.

One program I did really like was a cool little freeware piece called Pivot Animator. It's a programme (PC only) but is very light and easy to use.  The great thing about it is that all objects can have as many animation pivots as you care to take the time to put in.  The downside is that it takes a while to put something together as it doesn't auto-animate, you literally have to piece by piece move the pivot points and build frames like a real animator would have done a few years back making their cartoons. If you've got the patience for it what a great option, you can bring in any backdrops you like and could make some cool stuff.  Unfortunately for me I don't have the patience to really make effective use of it so other than the odd bit of specific need I don't suppose I'll use it much.

There's a 3D entry here that's worth a look too.  You may have heard of Muvizu and if not you'll be astounded at what you can produce. It's another desktop edition (not cloud) and a lot heavier than the others as it loads in a 3D engine (based on Real you old gamers may recall).  It's literally stunning what you can produce if you have the time and if only it was in 2D I think we'd have a winner straight away.  Problem is the 3D is kind of tricky unless you're a gamer (FPS type).  I found a bit troublesome trying to get the camera where I wanted but I loved the lip-sync and the way you could change attributes on the characters so that everything didn't look so samy.  Worth a shot but probably overly complicated for most of you if you're producing elearning first and foremost.

Thanks to those that suggested Flash but I think that whilst there are amazing things that could be created it's a dying art and Flash has had its day.  That combined with a huge learning curve makes it unrealistic for your rapid developer.  I know there are still teams doing this and quite rightly but it's just not for most of us.  In fact even the new version that's HTML 5 (not called Flash but it name eludes me - and we've already established I'm not a curator) I find too much of a challenge for someone who is likely to do this as the need arises rather than routinely.

Did I find anything that hit the mark?  Yes I did and it kind of surprised me as it's a relatively new piece on the block.  If you've not tried this one then it's definitely worth a shot: enter ANIMATRON. Okay it sounded more dramatic in my head, but Animatron is just what I was looking for, really simple to use but powerful too, something you could use beyond a flashy ad piece and with the ability to bring your own backgrounds and art pieces in and animate them.  The only thing you'll need to do is make some clear background (or purchase of course) 'things' to animate.  It's ideal for the sort of things most of us do when we make elearning like moving cars around or creating something with a flight-path that we can alter and creating effects that can demonstrate the operation of something.  I think it's much more versatile than some of the instant cartoony types.  It sits around $20 per month if you purchase but you can actually do everything on the free version and there are options around watermark removal of course ;)

Finally let's be really clear here again, this is not a complete review of everything that's out there and all the options you have but just my journey on the last week and what I've discovered and made the most use of.  I can see myself using Animatron as my main animation tool, with a sprinkle of Powtoon and a dash of Muvizu - and even a bit of Pivot here and there.

Hopefully that helps, feel free to chime in and if there's something easier, better, faster and more versatile out there share it and I'll do the same :)