Animation World Magazine, Issue 1.12, March 1997
KLIC's Online Animated Musical:
Real-Time Animation on the Web?
by Jami Maloney
Kids' Light Intertainment Channel (KLIC) has produced the first animated musical for children on the Internet, using Enliven Viewer, one of the hottest new technologies available for creating interactive content on the Web. With Enliven, a plug-in application for Web browsers like Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape, the animation begins to run right away, using a streaming technology to play the first segment, while the other segments download in the background.
The Body Shop.
Hardly a traditional musical, KLIC's site features Swampland of Gross, Snitchragula, and Alien Body Shop, animated segments that participants visit and play. Children ages 8-12 are the target audience for the show. Some of the content is truly tasteless in a way kids giggle over, but is not violent and is intended to be good fun.
Snitchragula, the title character, is an ancient fortune teller, who greets viewers with a wary eye and invites questions. Like a darker version of the hugely popular Magic 8 Ball game, Snitch varies her answers in an amusing and scathing manner. This animation, although fairly limited, is a popular part of the site and has a quick download time.
Alien Body Shop, a Dr. Seuss meets Goosebumps-style scene, is a place where viewers can develop a character of their own out of a wild assortment of body parts and watch the assembled parts move. Several combinations of parts are possible, so characters can be developed and redeveloped until the perfect specimen takes form. Using Enliven interactively to develop characters might be a powerful tool for gaming companies looking for feedback on successful character types, according to Wendy Robbins, producer for Kids' Light Intertainment. Most people playing Alien Body Shop choose the same character composite initially, meaning that it has the most universal appeal. (This animation is available both as an Enliven and a Shockwave file.)
Swampland of Gross, the portion of the site best fitting the description of animated musical, has a large cast of characters singing and moving through different areas of a bizarre and fantastically colored world. The animation here is more extensive, involving more complicated interaction and has a multipart story. (It also requires more download time than the other segments.) Recommended: View this segment as a grand finale to your visit. Kids can engage in a slime fight between two groups of characters, pick some interesting objects out of a variety of pulsating noses, and make a fart symphony. "Younger kids especially love to slime," said Robbins. "They keep coming back to that part over and over."
The main menu
More From KLIC
KLIC has recently added an online shopping area to the site, called the "Outta Space Store," where shoppers can purchase such grossessities as slime chemistry sets, edible brains, squid spit, mucus-making kits and Gurgly Gutz.
Plans for upcoming additions to KLIC include a chat area for kids to meet and discuss animation, the Internet, and stories, and a mad libs page, where wacky and nonsensical stories are created by inserting random words into a predefined story. Additional animated musical stories like Swampland of Gross will be added in the months to come.
"KLIC is not stereotypical multimedia development," said Paul Santinelli, product manager at Narrative. "It's one of the most fun and engaging things out there for kids who are dialing up and looking for interesting sites." KLIC is run by a talented and energetic crew who have a strong sense of what kids like to see and play with, and their initial offering gives us a vision of the range of multimedia content that will be available within the next 12 months: Web-based animated games with sound and relatively fast download times. The games are relatively simple, and the animation is still somewhat limited compared with an 8x CD-ROM-driven game, but the improvements in speed and interactivity are tremendous compared with other products available on the Web.
KLIC partnered with Narrative Communications during Enliven's beta testing phase in 1996, and developed their animated segments as a way to showcase their wildly colored and imaginative designs as part of the Narrative gallery of animation.
The Swampland of Gross
Enliven is the first product on the market to stream Macromedia Director files, which is one of the most common multimedia formats on the Web. Animations in this format are CD-ROM-quality, since individual elements of the presentation are decompressed as they are delivered to the browser. "Downloading animation, people are patient for about 1 to 1-1/2 minutes, and then they move on," noted Santinelli. "Enliven is unique in the sense that you can download large animations and see them right away."
Although it competes with other plug-ins like Macromedia's Shockwave and recently acquired Flash, Enliven outstrips both in download speed and in streaming audio. For example, a 2.5 MB animation downloads in 30-40 seconds over a 14.4 kbps modem. The same file run by other "download and run" plugins could require up to 8 minutes to play. Macromedia Flash works in much the same way as Enliven to stream video, but requires use of a separate plugin such as Real Audio to deliver sound.
The Enliven suite of software, produced by Narrative Communications, includes the Viewer, Enliven Producer, and Enliven Server. Microsoft is now bundling the Enliven Viewer with ActiveX Internet Explorer 3.0. "Enliven will enable more informative, entertaining and interactive multimedia content on the Web for Microsoft Internet Explorer users," according to John Ludwig, Vice President of Microsoft's Internet Platform Tools Division. Netscape users can download the new Viewer free of charge from Narrative's site. Enliven takes about 1 MB of disk space to install.
Narrative runs a professional developer's program for multimedia designers and online developers to learn about the Enliven suite of products and showcase their work on the Web. Enliven Producer, a post-production environment for developers, sells for $249, and allows programmers to create their work directly or translate files from Macromedia Director. This technology enables CD-ROM companies to produce demos for the Web directly from their existing products, which instantly gives them a much wider audience. Other potential applications include visual and interactive training and support applications, engaging marketing and sales tools, and educational games.
The Swampland of Gross
The third portion of the Enliven product system, Enliven Server, is a high-performance server, providing an industrial-strength platform for continuous multimedia streaming to thousands of simultaneous users, while ensuring a high level of quality across large networks. A starter package, including a three-stream license for Enliven Server and a copy of Enliven Producer, is available for $695 through Narrative. For high-performance sites, Producer is available in 20, 50, or 100 stream configurations starting at $5,600.
Enliven is not available currently for Macintosh or UNIX users, although a version for the Mac is planned when its new operating system becomes available. System requirements for viewing the KLIC site: a 14.4 kbps modem or higher, Microsoft Windows 95 or Windows NT, Netscape Navigator 2.0 or higher, or Internet Explorer 3.0. Narrative has just upgraded the Enliven viewer to eliminate a couple of bugs which caused download flows to halt without warning.
Programs like Enliven make developing more entertaining and innovative Web sites possible, further defining the Internet as an entertainment medium. With millions of new users coming online this year due to the advent of Web TV, expectations are at an all-time high. "We've developed some great technology to make the Web more engaging," said Santinelli. "We're moving the animation trend onto the Web."
Proced & Written by: Wendy Robbins, Miriam Cutler
Associate Producers: Tiffany Robinson, Michelle Emch
Music & Sound Effects: Miriam Cutler
Animation: Maja Aimskou
Artwork: Wendy Robbins, Shane Donohue, Alex Kohnke
Programming & Design: Stefan Kosel
Enlivenizing (& some Lingo Programming): The Fabulous Zeek
Voices: Wendy Robbins, Miriam Cutler
Jami Maloney is a graphic designer, animator, and writer living in the Los Angeles area.
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