P.O. Box 16907
Chapel Hill, NC 275161
Want to turn your kid into a penguin, a butterfly or a cartoon character? Or would you prefer to send him into outer space? No, we don't mean literally, but with video special effects, of course. Animated Communications' 3D Choreographer Video Effects Studio merges video, still photos and computer-generated animations to create delightful scenes that you can edit into all sorts of productions. To those who are used to high-end 3D and compositing packages, 3D Choreographer Video Effects Studio will seem quite limited in scope; however, for the hobbyist and education crowd it's aimed at, it can create hours of fun for teachers, kids and parents.
If you'd like a fantasy background for the closing credits of your daughter's birthday video, but you don't want to spend a lot of time and money in the process, then 3D Choreographer Video Effects Studio may be just the ticket. First, you take a still photograph of her or a short video clip and composite her face onto the body of a butterfly, penguin, NASA astronaut or other fun characters. Then you place that combined image on top of any one of several included backdrops, ranging from a desert scene all the way to a space setting. You can also place the characters in front of your own videotaped or still photograph backdrop.
The program installs painlessly, but its interface has a somewhat utilitarian look that's a little dated. It's definitely functional, if not all that glitzy. The program's accompanying 179-page manual does a thorough job of explaining how the program works, and it doesn't take long to get a handle on it.
Putting It All Together
The first step in creating a scene is choosing a character. There are a few objects designed with motion in mind; for example, the Space Shuttle and a rotating planet Earth.
The next step is probably the most interesting and potentially the most fun. It involves placing a human head on the character. Of course it doesn't involve Dr. Frankenstein, lag bolts or surgery of any kind. The first step is to find a suitable photograph of the person you wish to include in the program or shoot a video of them. Although you can work with images and video that you already have, you'll get better results when starting from scratch and shooting a new photo. The user should videotape the person against a solid, neutral backdrop, or replace the still background with a program such as Photoshop. The program's designer recommends shooting a child from a slightly lower angle and pulling the hair back on subjects with long hair to make the Photoshop clipping easier.
Next, you save your photo as a bitmapped file, as that's the only format that the 3D Choreographer works with. To place a video clip into 3D Choreographer, first save it as an .AVI file, and then load it using the same window that the still photos are loaded in. The manual has some suggestions worth taking seriously about how to get the best results when videotaping.
Next, it's time to choose a background, which can be one of 3D Choreographer's supplied backdrops, a still photo or a video. You can add additional background people, animals or objects to flesh out the backdrop, and provide additional motion in the background of a scene.
Once you have chosen the subjects you want to use, it's time to start animating them. Users can add character motion two ways: subject command and path. The former relies on pre-programmed commands built into the design of each character, some of which are amazingly detailed. For example, the Space Shuttle can open its cargo bay doors and extend, and retract its manipulator arm. You can also adjust the size of planet Earth and manipulate its clouds and continents, and the astronauts can wave.
As for the path command, each character is programmable to move from right to left or left to right via a few mouse clicks. And it doesn't have to be in a straight line: fairly realistic stops, starts and left and right jags can be programmed in.
Once you have programmed all of the moves, you must save files as Windows-compatible .AVI files. 3D Choreographer then allows you to quickly check your scene with its built-in viewer. This viewer seemed a little buggy, as at least one attempt to play a scene caused an error message when played through it, but worked just fine in the Windows Media player.
Kid's Point of View
Since this is a program clearly aimed at educators and parents with kids, or videographers who would be making productions for that market, we tested the program with seven-year-old Naomi Sandstrom. We photographed her face using a Toshiba digital camera and dropped the picture into the 3D Choreographer program. Naomi thoroughly enjoyed seeing herself transformed into a butterfly, penguin and astronaut, and replied, "It's great! It's something that kids would really want to do with their parents."
Tough to get a better endorsement than that!
If you're looking to spice up your next production aimed at kids, consider adding the 3D Choreographer Video Effects Studio to your arsenal of tools. Educators, too, should give 3D Choreographer a look, as the company provides educational discounts as well as a full curriculum kit for schools. It's a bit expensive for a typical hobbyist videographer, but kids love it, and it's very easy to use.
Processor: Pentium III or better
Operating System: Windows NT, 2000 or XP
Hard Disk Space: 200MB
Printed Manual: 179 pages
Demo Version: n/a
Program makes adding cartoon sequences to home videos quick and easy. Will be a big hit with kids and parents and those who produce videos aimed at them.
Ed Driscoll is a Silicon Valley-based freelance journalist who has covered home theater and the media for the past decade.