If you watch TV as much as I do, you've probably seen the cheap, new Geico animated spots that proclaim to be produced in only 15 minutes. Well, that's not far from the truth.
The Geico spots used online animation software called Text-To-Movie found at www.XtraNormal.com . While the animation is crude and limited, it is fun to play with.
Once the script is written, it only takes a few minutes to put together an animation. The software gives you a number of various situations, characters and voices. You can work with either one or two characters and give either one dialog lines. Then add in pre-set camera angles, arm movements (limited motions), expressions (barely discernable) and background music.
There are only so many options, so it doesn't take long. However, while most previews render in less than a minute, I've found that there are times that the online previews and rendering can take longer than I care to wait.
If you haven't seen them, you can check out the Geico animated spots produced with XtraNormal's software at:
XtraNormal knew Geico was using their software to produce the spots, but did not have to supply any support for the production.
One of the problems is that you can't move your characters around the sets or locations. They have limited movements of their limbs so the humor has to come completely from the writing.
While this is a huge limitation for a true animator, it can be a great exercise in writing dialog. When your visuals can't do much, you have to completely rely on the character dialogue for any humor or emotion. If you can make your short funny with this software, it will only get better when fully animated it.
Of course, like in most productions, when you run into a problem with the script, just add a fart noise. And yes, that is one of the sound effects available to use.
The software is easy to use. And speaking of farting sounds, my 11-year-old son, Reece, and his friend jumped right in and started laughing hilariously at their own creations in just a couple of minutes. "It's fun. It's easy, and there are so many things you can do with it," Reece told me while giggling at his recent creation.
If you've got a funny idea but don't want to take the time to animate it yourself, this is a great solution.
Text-To-Movie is their online animation program and it will publish an MP4 movie at a resolution of 640 x480.
XtraNormal also offers an animation program that resides on your computer called State. State actually offers fewer free elements to animate with, but offers more export options and higher export resolutions.
There are also ever-growing location and actor assets you can purchase online.
According to the XtraNormal site, more than 9 million videos have been made with their online software. I believe it. In one session, my son and his buddy made half a dozen short animations, laughing the entire time.
The first video using XtraNormal that went viral, with more than 10 million views, is a humorous look at people who are rabid fans of the iPhone, even when better options are available. Check out iPhone 4 vs HTC EVO online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FL7yD-0pqZg 
(Warning: The language in these examples is not for kids)
Other people use the software to vent. Here's are a few funny ones:
Realtors: http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/7214397/ 
Tea Party: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnUfPQVOqpw 
Doctors vs. Vets: http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/6868901/ 
Other uses have been for educational purposes and explaining procedures and policies. For my money, I prefer the animations which show the insanity of someone's point of view.
I'd love to see bigger moves in the options, bigger changes in the expressions and the ability to at least turn a character around. But in the meantime, it's got to be the most fun you can have while cursing in a robotic voice.
Mark Simon is an award-winning animation director/producer. He is also the co-founder of www.SellYourTvConceptNow.com . His company now offers one-sheet designs for all styles of shows. His Emmy-winning design team will make your concept shine. Go to www.TvOneSheet.com  for more info.