Saturday, April 2, 2011

Storytelling with Toontastic

(Review updated May 5, 2011 on release of version 1.1 - see below for additions)
Toontastic (iPad only) is yet another app for creating cartoon stories. Toontastic 1.0 provides more built-in structure to the process of story creation than any of the other apps I've reviewed so far. The company website says it is for the creation of:
an animated story made up of different types of scenes: a Setup, a Conflict, a Challenge, a Climax & a Resolution. Together, these scenes form the Story Arc. Toontastic guides kids through the Story Arc, introducing key concepts and helping them to define the turning points in their stories.
I downloaded it and let my daughter and a friend play with it this weekend. They had previously played with Puppet Pals and really liked it, so I was interested to see what they thought of Toontastic in comparison. One thing they really liked is being able to use their own drawings for backgrounds and characters. They liked that the pre-made characters were editable to some extent - they could change their colors. They also liked that the provided characters had arms and legs that moved. I noticed that characters automatically turned to face the direction in which they are dragged across the screen, whereas in PuppetPals you have to double-tap a character to make it turn around. The girls commented that they thought the characters were easier to manipulate in Toontastic than in PuppetPals. They also liked that you can choose the background music for each scene. (Personally, I would like to be able to choose no music for some projects, but the music choices do at least tie in with the Story Arc concept, helping to reinforce it.) 

The second time the girls played with it, they paid more attention to the Story Arc than they had done the first time. Without any prompting from me, they even figured out that it would be helpful to plan out on paper what their story was and they wrote out much of the script.

Projects in progress can be saved so you can go back and continue to work on them later - a key feature for storytelling apps being used in school, where it may not be possible to complete a story in one class period.  Finished projects can get saved to/shared via the ToonTube website, but saving projects there is optional. Projects uploaded to the ToonTube website can be embedded in another webpage, such as your class webpage or even Facebook. 

Despite the extra support built in to this app to encourage a good story structure, students will still benefit from planning their story out away from the iPad and then having enough time to rehearse and probably record their story more than once. This app is ideal for collaborative work as more than one voice is usually needed for a finished story. Like PuppetPals and Sonic Pics, the final product is a video and not a digital book (as StoryKit's is.) And of course, if you don't have an iPad, you can't play with Toontastic at all :-( 

For other opinions of Toontastic, here is a detailed review of it on the IEAR website, (written January 2011) and another written by Geek Dad at Wired Magazine. 

ETA: Toontastic 1.1 was released on May 4, 2011 and adds some useful features. There are a few more provided characters (or 'Toys' as the Toontastic team calls them), and more provided backgrounds. The drawing tools for creating your own backgrounds and characters have been improved with adjustable thickness brushes, fill and undo functions. Characters and backgrounds that you create are now automatically saved so that you can reuse them in different scenes and stories :-) If you need to get rid of characters that have been added by the kids, just like in iOS with apps, tap and long press a drawn character in the toy box until it starts wiggling.  You'll see a trash icon on the top left of the character, tap that and it will delete the character from the toy box but not from any of the movies it has been used in. Apparently saving to the ToonTube website, or viewing projects there, is now much faster. There is a Toontastic wiki where you can see ideas on how other educators are using Toontastic. 

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