The videos all come from Xtranormal, a text-to-video site that started to gain traction over the summer. With offices in San Francisco and Montreal, Xtranormal is a lean operation with a lot of ambitions. Right now it exists mainly as a web app for making comedic videos cheap and fast, but it has plans to upgrade its offerings and make its platform much more social, collaborative and current.
“It’s kind of cool to see our vision being realized,” chief technology officer Sylvio Drouin told me. “I’ve been working on it for a year.”
Xtranormal began as a program for movie directors to film scenes on a computer without having to stage them. About one year ago it decided the market had hit a ceiling and decided to unleash its technology on the general public. The result was its web-based application, which allows users to type out scripts, add camera angles, expressions and characters to create a short film in minutes. Directors can also download a more sophisticated application for more customizability.
This summer when the iPhone vs. HTC Evo video went viral on YouTube, Xtranormal’s traffic shot up. So far 9.4 million projects have been started, 5,000 new ones every day. The site has been adding more characters – public figures like Sarah Palin, Larry King, office workers, athletes and others – with growing degrees of sophistication. Xtranormal makes money by selling the more special characters along with interesting features.
Xtranormal has proven fairly versatile, especially given its simplicity and the limited choices writers have for their videos. But Xtranormal is aware of those limitations and plans to add more actions for characters and more customizable options, like the ability to add your own images and use your own voice, functions already available through slightly less popular desktop app. “You’re going to have all sorts of behavior that’s going to be even more funny to watch,” said Drouin, but added the site has to upgrade its infrastructure to handle the demand.
New features could be useful for web series creators, allowing them to create cheap videos without the need for a crew, actors, or video game engines. Already a few web series have used it, including Koldcast’s Super Jerks and an earlier series from last year called Howard and Leslie. And it has even hit television, through a characteristically tongue-in-cheek spot for Geico.
Xtranormal has bigger plans, hoping to go social and allow groups of people to direct movies across great distances: writing the script like a Twitter feed and dividing production and editing responsibilities. Users will be able to embed the movie maker into various websites alongside Xtranormal’s growing store for characters.
“Everything is being transformed into a game,” said Drouin, citing Zynga’s FarmVille and Mafia Wars as inspiration. “Everything is being socialized.”
Some of the site’s more ambitious initiatives include getting writers to create story templates for users with writer’s block or limited screenwriting experience, and collaborating with journalists to embed Xtranormal on news sites. The idea is to give users a chance to engage in social and political commentary, perhaps creating something like those popular current affairs cartoons from Next Media Animation or those amazing Taiwanese current events animations.
“We’ve been talking about taking this away from the animation world and transforming this into what we call ‘social storytelling.’ We want to go where people write stories together,” Drouin said.