Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

H2020

Story Maker — Result In Brief

Project ID: 774228
Country: Belgium
Domain: Digital Economy

Story Maker turns children into 3D animators

It’s no secret that children love animation. The commercial success of major production studios like DreamWorks or Pixar attests to that fact. Now imagine a technology leap that would enable these same children to produce their own animation movies without any technical background involved. This is the dream Wonder Media has been pursuing under the STORY MAKER project.
Story Maker turns children into 3D animators
Wonder Media was born five years ago from an unexpected encounter. Terry Thoren – an American producer mostly known for his role in the creation of the ‘Rugrats’ movies or the production of ‘The Simpsons’ – crossed path with renowned Belgian 3D CGI software pioneer Rudy Verbeeck. Together, they created Animation Now, proprietary software able to create 3D high quality animation in real-time.

Since its creation, Wonder Media has been increasingly successful, notably in North America. “A typical customer profile for Animation Now would be an independent producer who wants to produce attractive formats for children TV channels or even for adult audiences. For example, we are a currently working on a production for a big Canadian TV production company specialised in short form comedy and satire, where we use all kinds of animated characters in a new show that we designed together” says Herman Spliethoff, Managing Partner at Wonder Media.

The software enables an animation creation process faster and cheaper than any existing alternative, and was partly built around the founders’ vision that animation is a potentially powerful – yet untapped – educational tool. The venture notably resulted in Habits of Mind – an animation series helping children solve problems – and Wondergrove Learn – a list of 250 instructional animations aiming to teach social skills to young children.

But this wasn’t enough. As Wonder Media was proposing its services to schools, they quickly found that teachers were actually interested in involving pupils in the animation creation process, as part of their curricula. “Creating an animation is a creative and collaborative process. Children have to read about the issue, create a storyboard, write the dialogues, and work in little groups to solve problems,” Spliethoff says.

Whilst this wasn’t an option with former, overly complex animation software, Animation Now could be just the tool they needed – provided that Wonder Media could adapt it to this new purpose. “The original software was never made for educational purpose, so we knew some things were missing. We were told that our objectives were compatible with the policy priorities set by the EU for its SME Instrument, so we went for it,” Spliethoff recalls.

The feasibility study helped identify eight issues to be addressed, the first of which was the need for a multi-platform solution. “Animation Now only runs on Windows 10, whereas education stakeholders want a multi-platform or web-based solution. This is actually one of the most interesting outcomes of the feasibility study, because people also expressed the need for high-quality real-time 3D rendering,” Spliethoff explains.

Whilst understandable – the broader public’s expectations with regards to 3D rendering quality have been raising with the increased quality of movie and video game productions – the latter requirement is seemingly incompatible with that of a multi-platform or web-based solution, as web-based 3D rendering in real-time is notoriously difficult.

To solve this problem, the Wonder Media team began investigating all types of render engines available on the market. They finally found a very innovative software solution with a new system architecture that can be easily plugged to the school’s network.

Should they obtain phase 2 funding – their application had just been submitted as we were writing these lines – the team will still have other problems to overcome. These include the need for a new version of Animation Now that is easy to install and maintain; an interface adjustable to different languages; a more intuitive and integrated user experience; support tools for managing projects in class; and a library of content catering different age groups from 3 to 15 years old.

“If all goes well, we would also like to run two pilots in Estonia and Denmark, two countries which were found to have the necessary ICT infrastructure, well-prepared teachers, and supporting policy from the government,” Spliethoff points out. Whilst he admits that Animation Now is still a challenger in the animation production industry, successful development under phase 2 and commercialization under a potential phase 3 project could put it high on schools’ wish list.

Keywords

Story Maker, Wonder Media, Animation Now, 3D animation, children, school, education
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