I downloaded and tried out a trial version of nawmalMAKE, the replacement for Xtranormal. I wanted to see if I could use it to do a final version of “The Barrier”.
I had planned to leave any evaluation of nawmalMAKE until later when I was ready to redo “The Barrier”. This week I got a notice that I could download a trial version. The notice said it would only work for 7 days, so I thought I’d better have a quick look at it.
I did have some trouble initially because the password word wouldn’t work. The support person at Nawmal was very helpful, and in short order everything was hunky dory. I remember that about a week before Xtranormal shut down, my copy of Xtranormal Desktop(XD) crashed. I didn’t expect that I’d get any help, but when I contacted them, the person was also very helpful.
My first impression of nawmalMAKE was that it looked like a rerelease of XD. Of course, it has been over two years since I last used XD, so there are likely some differences I haven’t recognized. As I worked with it, I did start to notice some improvements. The version number for the XD files (3.6.993.3994) was different from the version number nawmalMAKE files(18.104.22.168), so obviously they did make some changes.
When Nawmal asked for user feedback last year I suggested that they rerelease XD as soon as possible, then incorporate improvements from the original STATE and STATEPlus later as upgrades. It looks like they have started off in that direction.
My first concern was if the characters I used “The Barrier” were available. The trial version included the Suitz characters, which were the ones I used. All of the speaking characters are there. I didn’t check for minor characters or background characters. If they are not available I can use some of the others that are available.
I noticed that the ability to customize characters is greatly improved. At least I don’t recall the same flexibility with XD. Not all of the characters can be customised. Fortunately Phil, who I used as my main character is one of them.
I was able to change the style and colour of his clothes. Since he appears in almost every scene, it would add some variety if I can have him wear different clothes in different scenes. It is also quite easy to change skin tone, some facial features and hair style.
Most of the other characters I used could be customised.
STATEPlus provided similar capability. The version in nawmalMAKE seems to be more limited, but is also easier to use.
The voices provided with nawmalMAKE are different from both XD (Acapela) and the original STATE program (Nuance). I found the new voices were from a French company called Voxygen https://www.voxygen.fr/en/. They offer the voices as Android Apps. I must admit that I don’t like these voices as much. Maybe I’m just not used to them. Most of the English voices are British. I got the impression that they expect that most users would used the TTS voices for scripting the video, then have actors do the voices for the final version.
I noticed that nawmalMAKE also picked up some voices I had installed for another program. The trial version said it provided a limited range of assets and I wonder if the full set includes other voices, or it is possible to buy the Acapela or Nuance voices.
I did find a work around for the Acapela voices. On their website you can create audio files for their voices. (See https://acapela-box.com/AcaBox/index.php). That would be expensive for a project like “The Barrier”. I had planned to hire actors to redo the voices for the final version of the movie.
Maybe it is the engineer in me, but I probed into the project files. XD and the original STATE program used the .STATE extension, while nawmalMAKE uses the .nwml extension. The .nwml files seem to be very similar to the XD version, although the some of the sub-file names are different.
The document.xml file looks as if it is the same format in XD and nawmalMAKE. The format for the original STATE files is different.
One thing I was a bit surprised to find was that when you ran the render, the program saved mp3 files of the dialogue in a sub directory of the .nwml file. I suppose that this saves time when re-rendering a scene, since you’d only need to use the TTS for only those lines that were changed.
Project File Compatibility
Since I have a large number of STATE files I already created in XD for “The Barrier” I wanted to see if I could convert them into the new format. I renamed the test files with the .nwml extension. I got errors because the voices were not compatible, but the file opened and everything seemed to work just fine.
Later I discovered that I didn’t need to change the extension. when you open a file, it gives you the option of .nwml files or XD .STATE files. That worked just fine too.
My last experiment was to try to open a .STATE file created by the original STATE program. Initially, I couldn’t open the project file. The program would report the problem with the missing voices, and then some kind of error with the set. It took me a while to realize that the set I’d used in the scene wasn’t one of the sets available in the trial version of nawmalMAKE. Once I switched to a file with a set I did have, everything worked fine.
The goal of my evaluation was to see if I could use nawmalMAKE to create a final version of “The Barrier”. I conclude that it will. Furthermore, the added ability to customise characters would let me add some variety to the movie.
I still have 4 more days to experiment with the trial version. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any thing more I want to test. If you have some suggestions, please let me know.
My other experiences with Xtranormal
I have some other posts related to my use of Nawmal and Xtranormal. I used Xtranormal to make two videos: “The Barrier” and “Make ’em Squirm: The Sharkbiter Way”. I’ve listed links to these two movies, and the blog posts I did while I made them.
Note (2015 September 27):
The new program seems to have a limit of 6 characters. I tried to add some background characters to create the impression of a busy office, and ran into the limit. In some of the scenes for “The Barrier” I have more than six characters. It may be that the limit is just in the trial version.
Another issue with the background characters is that they keep looking at the main characters and the main characters look back at them. I can control where specific characters look, which I’ve done before. But it is a tedious task.
Note (2015 November 1):
I added the section “My other experiences with Xtranormal” to provide links to my other posts about Xtranormal and Nawmal.