Xtranormal gets X'ed out
July 30, 2013 5:04 PM   Subscribe

Xtranormal (previously on Metafilter) is the animation website that launched with the slogan, "If you can type, you can make movies." Millions of cartoons were produced, and a few of them were very popular. The software was even used to create animation for TV shows (such as a recurring segment on Fox's Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld) and commercials. But in recent months, the company made a series of controversial decisions and began showing clear signs of trouble. They stopped allowing users to monetize their videos on Youtube. They stopped posting new assets, shut down their user forum and blog, and frustrated users by becoming increasingly non-communicative. The site was hit with serious technical problems that made publishing movies almost impossible, and these issues went unfixed for months. Finally, on June 28th, the company announced that it was shutting down the site. "As of July 31, 2013," reads an announcement on the company's Facebook page, "Xtranormal will be discontinuing current subscriptions, points plans and existing services. Please use your existing XP points and publish and download your movies before that date." Strangely, there has been very little coverage of the site's imminent demise.

I should add that I would've included more links about the company's troubles, but there are very few to be found online. Xtranormal shut down its forums, so many of the fan complaints are gone. They also shut down their original blog, so much of the company's own account of its history is gone. I've never found an active Xtranormal fan site, and I couldn't find any news articles about the company's problems. Also, the Gutfeld cartoons only seem to be hosted on Xtranormal.com, which is scheduled to shut down tomorrow.
posted by Ursula Hitler (54 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Is this the site that facilitates all those agit-prop cartoons with the stilted computer-generated voices? If so, I think I know why it isn't getting a lot of press. I have never met anyone who likes them, and rarely anyone who watches more than one to the end.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:14 PM on July 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


If only there were a way to look at the forums and the old non-movie data therein.....
posted by lalochezia at 5:15 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'll never forget the time when someone wanted me to design them a very simple whistleblower website based on Xtranormal videos they were making blasting people in our state government. Once I quoted them a price, I never heard from them again. What a weird dude that was.
posted by deezil at 5:21 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I bet there are lots of stories about this on Google Reader.
posted by box at 5:25 PM on July 30, 2013 [19 favorites]

This is absolutely tragic. In an age where anyone can make a movie with a smartphone and publish it on the web, how can there not be a thriving market for an animation tool that doesn't have a time-consuming learning curve? Where half the fun is getting the intonations correct (and a substantial part of it is when the characters get the intonations wrong)!

This makes me really sad. Every few months, I will decide "Okay this time I am really going to learn Toon Boom Studio/Flash/whatever" to make cartoons, but inevitably there will be a work project or personal crisis that gets in the way, and I never manage to make anything that lasts longer than 10 seconds. But to have a little stable of characters to write jokes for, and to have it be that easy! That is so much fun.
posted by mittens at 5:27 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

I only hope someone has those Maoist tracts saved somewhere. That and the truly horrible Donald Sterling deposition quote about how he treats women.
posted by Copronymus at 5:31 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

But how else will graduate students complain anonymously and at great length about their poor job prospects?
posted by R. Schlock at 5:34 PM on July 30, 2013 [14 favorites]

I was never able to sit through a single Xtranormal video to the end. While the goal of democratizing video is admirable, the voices just killed it. They were unbearable at best.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 5:35 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

A friend made this series about aliens trying to learn human language and customs - I thought that was a clever way to make XtraNormal's creepy voices and movements into an asset.
posted by moonmilk at 5:38 PM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

See also
posted by boo_radley at 5:43 PM on July 30, 2013

That's sad... that site has been such a fantastic way for people to express their bitterness over whatever obscure subject they're obsessed with.
posted by ph00dz at 5:52 PM on July 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

At least GoAnimate will always be with us. Right?
posted by mittens at 5:58 PM on July 30, 2013

They didn't rename themselves propyourownstrawman.com?
posted by sourwookie at 6:07 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know I can't be alone in finding many of these really funny. There were a few on cyclists that were great, as well as more than a few for bitter teachers.

I got a few great laughs.

It would be interesting to find out what happened. Maybe someone will make an animation....
posted by cccorlew at 6:10 PM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

...how can there not be a thriving market for an animation tool that doesn't have a time-consuming learning curve?

I'm with you. But look at youtube. Sooooo many videos of someone just sitting there talking. Long wastes of time before the cat actually falls into the sink.

Maybe it's akin to the longbow. Everyone is invested in having time and money hooked up into this process and that sort of sets the bar for involvement - how bad do you want to make your own cool animated videos?

Otoh. You're right, we need a crossbow where someone who has interesting or hilarious things to say can get them out.
But clearly something tanked this. I wish I knew why it didn't work.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:17 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I know I can't be alone in finding many of these really funny.

I clicked on the ones we made ourselves in the previous thread and remember laughing at how weird and inappropriate this one was. Gone now though.

I'm glad some of these are on YouTube. Word Association gave me a chuckle. There's also one called the best ever ninja that is so random it is funny. There are some others that I can't think of at the moment, but you're definitely not alone cccorlew.
posted by cashman at 6:17 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

The funny thing about this site is that it was never copied. It's not like there was anything technically challenging here. The only remotely hard part is the text->speech, for which many packages exist (festival, for example).
posted by DU at 6:18 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Nobody really cares since Xtranormal never really penetrated outside its small user base, but this is just another reminder that the same thing will happen to every single service that exists now. It has happened to Reader, it has happened to City of Heroes (and countless other MMORPGs), and it will happen to everything else. Someday there will be no iTunes, no Steam, no Google. It might be due to a global catastrophe, or a dramatic restructuring of the web, or maybe these services will just become obsolete like Compuserve, but they will someday be gone and probably sooner than we like.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:21 PM on July 30, 2013 [13 favorites]

I hadn't even thought about xtranormal for ages. I used it to make animations of message board threads, which were funny to us (here are an example that might be mildly amusing to people not steeped in that thick brew of in-jokes and dudery and won't make you all hate me forever : get off my lawn)

It became less fun when people started using it for snide, bitter political rants and insultingly lazy insurance commercials.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:32 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Metafilter: Long wastes of time before the cat actually falls into the sink
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:33 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

I sense a great disturbance in the force. Like millions of funny videos dying all at once.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:39 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

3 days notice? Shameful.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 6:40 PM on July 30, 2013

Huh, that's unfortunate, I wonder what happened. I still regularly quote that "Graphic Designer vs client" video in what I like to pretend is an impressively accurate imitation of the odd artificial voices.
posted by lucidium at 6:51 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

A month and three days, vibratory.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 7:01 PM on July 30, 2013

No more "I want the wifis!"? Smartphone intros will never be the same!
posted by morganw at 7:04 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Ah, I stand corrected.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 7:06 PM on July 30, 2013

I'll miss this. It was probably sort of inevitable--there are a lot of once-trendy sites and services scraping by that make me wonder who's keeping the lights on, but for whatever reason xtranormal vids tended to get an easy chuckle out of me. I valued that, even if it was because they appealed to my less flattering cynical and jaded tendencies.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:32 PM on July 30, 2013

Someday there will be no iTunes, no Steam, no Google.

But MetaFilter will be forever. Right? RIGHT? PLEASE TELL ME I'M RIGHT...
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:38 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Aw, man. Glad to see much of my favorite Xtranormal stuff has been ported over to YouTube, but it's still the loss of a little niche institution. I'll always love them for allowing Howard and Leslie to exist.

Their service also helped bring about this glorious video, one of my favorite things on all the internets: Who is John Galt and What is the Going Galt Movement? "There is no minimum wage or unions in Galt's Gulch. It's paradise."
posted by divined by radio at 7:58 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Their service also helped bring about this glorious video, one of my favorite things on all the internets: Who is John Galt and What is the Going Galt Movement? yt "There is no minimum wage or unions in Galt's Gulch. It's paradise."

I did enjoy that, but I had a little trouble making out the accents. Fortunately the auto-captions informed me that she was talking about "Perry Cabana's America."
posted by themanwho at 8:16 PM on July 30, 2013

Also, it looks like a lot of those Howard and Leslie episodes, especially the earlier ones, are hosted at Xtranormal, so they'll be going bye-bye soon too. Enjoy them while you can. (Actually, most of them are also on YouTube, so never mind.)
posted by themanwho at 8:31 PM on July 30, 2013

I think I'm going to miss the site more than most users. Back in early 2009 I started up my cartoon series, Inside Ursula Hitler's Head. Originally it was just supposed to be sort of a silly little blog thing, hosted by the cartoon party girl and the mean old man who live inside my brain. But it quickly became something more, a big, sprawling, sex fetish-y, black comedy adventure serial thing. It got way, way more ambitious than the Xtranormal format was ever meant to support... I mean, I did a freaking rock opera with the thing!

I grew to love the characters, and this weird little world I invented for them. Working on the show saw me through some pretty dark days, it gave me a place to escape to. Xtranormal was very limiting in some ways, and it is absolutely baffling that there has never been a competitor site. But I grew up wanting to be an animator, and thanks to XN I now have nearly 150 goofy cartoons online. I will always be grateful to them for that.

My viewership has really fallen off a cliff in the last year or so. I don't know if I suddenly started sucking, or if people just suddenly got fed up with watching Xtranormal videos, or what the hell. I've known it was time to end this show for a while... but I wasn't ready to stop. And now I have to.

I am going to miss the hell out of Xtranormal.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:45 PM on July 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

Aw, this is so sad. I loved all the various grar scenarios in various professions (especially mine) acted out by little bear-people. (I actually did write a story about a protest at the administration building...)
posted by limeonaire at 8:53 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

All The Cool Kids Use Ruby is the best I ever saw (aside from the profanity).

Making an xtranormal movie was one of those things I wanted to get to but never did. Maybe if a few more people like me had signed up it would have helped them survive.
posted by lon_star at 10:04 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe they just weren't webscale.
posted by rhizome at 12:43 AM on July 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

that "Graphic Designer vs client" video

I always lose it watching that video, mostly because it features Scottish robots putting on English and Australian accents (Has it to be in colour?, Get tae fuck!).

It's even better now that the English robot has Siri's voice (previously best known as the voice of the automated announcements at Kings Cross station and the unseen scorekeeper on The Weakest Link).
posted by jack_mo at 2:22 AM on July 31, 2013

Yes, that did make me a lot less tolerant of Siri's eccentricities than I think an American would be. Partly because he sounds like he's being deliberately obstructive.
posted by Grangousier at 2:37 AM on July 31, 2013

I'm currently in the middle of a massive project with Xtranormal. This is terrible news. To make matters worse, I'm trying to load the desktop client in offline mode right now and it's completely stalled. Is anyone else in this position?
posted by skwt at 7:58 AM on July 31, 2013

I tried it once, and it wasn't much of a much. I did the same video that everyone else does--two Hello Kitty knockoffs talking to each other in MC Hawking voices, one resolutely clueless and the other increasingly sarcastic, going on about some inside-baseball bullshit related to my job--and presented it at a staff meeting, and coworkers laughed, and I promptly forgot about it until now. Sic transit gloria internet.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:07 AM on July 31, 2013

I'm worried about my grade. There is something so satisfying to see the response laid out so logically and calmly. (I still pronounce gradebook as "grad-e-book.")
posted by BrashTech at 9:40 AM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


The real reason Xtranormal died is that it came to view its own technology merely as a casual toy. There were plenty of failures in execution, but it was mostly a failure of vision at the top. They didn't think BIG and BOLD. It wasn't always this way. They spent a lot of money on R&D initially, then got impatient and dumbed it down and shipped what they had and never evolved it further. Consequently, it never became anything more than a casual short-lived novelty, because they alienated anyone who might have had more serious aspirations. Both creators and viewers outgrew it.

I am one of those people who had more serious aspirations, and I took my frustration over the artificial limitations out by hacking and enhancing the program. The end result is State Plus, which comes closer to realizing Xtranormal's original 'prosumer' vision of the technology, the vision that died in the initial round of layoffs back in 2009.

Xtranormal may be dying, but State Plus won't. So if anyone wants to continue, come join us. You may be surprised to discover what you can actually do with this, by virtue of these enhancements!
posted by mos6507 at 10:52 AM on July 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

BTW, this is my main youtube channel if you want to see a video-history of the things I've added to the program.
posted by mos6507 at 11:00 AM on July 31, 2013

Your link to State Plus just goes to this post, mos6507. What URL did you mean to have there? Was it this SourceForge project? How do you use that? Do you need to download something from Xtranormal first?
posted by limeonaire at 3:36 PM on July 31, 2013

Looks like perhaps you first need this Windows program, Xtranormal Desktop (previously called Xtranormal State)? (My link there goes to the Internet Archive of the .exe file; might be good to grab a copy while you still can!) But from what skwt said, maybe it won't continue to work in offline mode anymore? Does the State Plus extension pack keep it working?
posted by limeonaire at 3:43 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, but the best one was the one about the iPhone. "Now my cat is homeless."
posted by anothermug at 4:10 PM on July 31, 2013

Learning about economics and the Ben Bernake will never be the same!
posted by onesidys at 4:32 PM on July 31, 2013

Or why you should join the Tea Party?
posted by onesidys at 4:54 PM on July 31, 2013

Everyone who doesn't hate Xtranormal has their favorite Xtranormal animation.
posted by 3.2.3 at 5:09 PM on July 31, 2013

"I tried it once, and it wasn't much of a much."

Maybe not, if only you tried it once. I saw endless possibilities in the software.

As I write this, the site is still up. I think I'm going through the stages of grief, and I seem to be hitting anger. I think they really shot themselves in the foot by not allowing any character customization. That was essential, and they muffed it. If people could've made custom little characters that looked like their friends, there would've been no stopping XN.

"While the goal of democratizing video is admirable, the voices just killed it."

I loved the original voices they offered. I've been using the same voices for my main characters for 4 years now, and it's utterly surreal to randomly hear those voices when I'm on hold calling the pharmacy or whatever. It's kind of funny, but also kind of alarming. Those characters are so alive to me, and it's weird and wrong hearing them drone on mindlessly, like any other phone robot, about when my prescription will be ready. (I've been very flattered that a few of my longtime viewers have told me they had the same experience. Once you know Mr. Meany's voice and you're used to hearing him griping about getting changed into a girl yet again, it's really weird hearing him being Mr. Automated Announcement.)

The Xtranormal people were actually very supportive when I was starting out. They featured some of my cartoons on their main page, which is pretty amazing when you consider how pervy and weird my stuff was. That's another reason it pains me to see them go under. But if I'm being blunt, I sometimes think that the reason my cartoons lost so many viewers recently may have been because people were just burned out on the Xtranormal format. They saw an embedded XN clip someplace, and it gave them flashbacks to 2009, like an old Myspace page or something. Or, maybe I just started to suck. That's a distinct possibility as well!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:13 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

FWIW, the stalledness of my desktop client this morning was a fluke and as of right now I'm still able to download components and make 'purchases' with my points. I'll see what's happening in a couple hours.
posted by skwt at 7:20 PM on July 31, 2013

They have apparently shut down their Twitter page today. They rarely updated it, but still... it seems like a sign that they're starting to shut down the works.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:08 PM on July 31, 2013

Looks like their Facebook's gone, too! They seem pretty determined to scrub themselves from the web.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 11:24 PM on July 31, 2013


Look behind the failure of any company and you'll find a series of bone-headed moves. There's a twisted logic to it all, but it's proven false.

Xtranormal's desktop software was de-facto abandonware since the day it was released in 2009 as Beta, since they never really lifted a finger to enhance it. Neither State nor XD ever truly left Beta status. This didn't stop XN from monetizing off of them, and then never pouring the proceeds back into R&D to polish them off. So depending on your perspective, one could see their software as inherently "defective" and State Plus is the solution. Indeed, I offered all these enhancements to XN but they never took them! The software was originally designed to be very powerful and extensible, but XN did everything in their power to make the it SUCK.

Xtranormal's market assumptions were false. They thought they could chase fart jokes and political rants and sit on their architecture for years with a skeleton crew. You can't sit still in high-tech. You have to constantly improve and innovate. They never saw the road ahead, and they still don't, which is why they are now still chasing ever more simplicity by cannibalizing the XD code into a yet more restrictive mobile version that barely lets your single character speak a sound-bite!

Xtranormal users are better off with the company dead. If they just stay out of people's way, maybe we can actually do some incredible things with this.

Just come and find out for yourself, and spread the word to your buddies (discretely).

BTW, the bad link was intended to go to this video. This is a really old video. The newer clips on my channel show off the newest State Plus features (and some of the extra assets) but I don't put flashing lights over each feature so you have to be familiar with the system to identify what I'm doing that is supposed to be impossible. Fancier camera moves than XD, characters that can slide around (ice-skating, levitating, etc...), extra facial expressions, extra animations, extra assets, extra everything, really.
posted by mos6507 at 9:02 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

The site's officially down now, with a graphic showing a "pause" button. Heavy sigh.

I didn't find the Xtranormal Support Facebook page until today, or I would've linked to it in the post. It seems to be a source for actual Xtranormal news (and a whole lot of griping, understandably.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:06 PM on August 1, 2013

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