Current-generation mobile augmented reality apps offer users numerous opportunities to punch up photos and videos with 3D content, but there's surprisingly few options for users to express themselves using virtual characters.
A new app called Puppetoon from indie developer Cuteness Technology aims to change that. The app's value proposition is simple: make AR puppet videos.
"You just drop a (virtual) puppet into the real world, and then touch and drag it with your finger. As soon as you touch it, it starts recording the movement and your voice at the same time! As soon as your done you can film it and it will play back what you just recorded while your filming. This allows you to get different camera angles than you could if you had to puppet it while filming, although there's an option to do that as well, it's really useful for having puppets interacting with real people in the scene!" said Edwon, the creative director, animator, and engineer for Cuteness Technology, in an email to Next Reality.
To get users started, the app includes six preset puppets as well as puppet generator that creates a random puppet at the press of a button. For more advanced users, though, there's a ton of customization options available after the initial puppet animation.
"For example, you can go back in time and animate the arms, and it will combine, or layer, that animation on top of the first one. The more controls we add, the more you can go back and keep adding more 'layers' of animation. This is where it starts to get a bit 'pro,' as most people have trouble grasping these types of layered animation concepts, but it's really very simple once you watch someone else do it. We're also tweaking the UI constantly to make it easier to use," he said.
According to Edwon, Puppetoon is on track to launch in April, but interested parties can sign up through the app's website for access to the beta version (as long as they promise to share their creations).
"Puppetoon will most likely be free with in-app purchases of various kinds. We're also considering some monthly subscription options for advanced features. We've considered ads before exporting videos as well. We've got a ton of ideas for monetization and we'll be experimenting with them throughout development to find the right balance between monetization and maximum fun and creative power for our Puppetooners!" said Edwon.
The app is built on Unity's AR Foundation, which will enable the team to eventually ship the app for iOS and Android. However, the app will launch on iOS only at first while development on the Android version continues. The team also plans to take advantage of the face-tracking capabilities of ARKit and iPhone X eventually as well.
Edwon, who describes himself as an "interactioneer," cut his teeth making commercials for Microsoft and designing amusement park rides with Disney Imagineering before creating augmented reality and virtual reality projects.
"I really built this tool to fulfill my own dream of walking around with an animation studio in my pocket. I've always wanted to direct movies, and I'm constantly inspired by the world and people around me with little movie ideas. I'll see a garbage can or flower and think of a video idea. Now, with Puppetoon, I can actually bring that idea to life! I've got the actors (Puppetoons) the camera, the audio, and post-production all in one," he said.
"From a design standpoint, I wanted to keep it very performative, like Vine if it were puppets. So when you animate, there are no keyframes and you just have to do the movement while you talk. Vine inspired a lot of this app as I used to be obsessed with it and I would spend eight hours making a single Vine sometimes."
If you can get past some of the dated and/or cringy humor (there are Braveheart and "Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)" jokes) displayed in the demo video, you'll see the potential of the app as a platform for user-generated content.
Or maybe Edwon's brand of humor is your bag? In a short span of time, the app's hijinks have tickled the funny bones of Boost VC managing director Adam Draper, Blue Sky Paint lead creator Aidan Wolf, and Seattle VR/AR community organizer Eva Hoerth, among others.
So, yes, humor is subjective, which is all the more reason to give users the chance to create what they find funny.