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Make your own classic-literature Web movie

March 1, 2010 |  8:51 am

People spend years learning animation and acting, but you don't need those skills with a Web tool by xtranormal. All it takes is typing a little dialogue, picking some characters, and bingo! You have a robot-voiced key scene from "Pride and Prejudice."

Jane Austen's classic work is fair game -- for this and for zombie mashups -- because it's in the public domain. Most other classic literature is too -- think Chaucer, Dickens, Shakespeare, "The Tale of Genji." What works best is a conversation between two characters -- like good screenwriters know, there isn't much room for description in a script.

Because the choices are two characters or just one, the text of a first-person novel might work, like, for example, "Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing."

There are no particularly 16th-century characters to choose from; instead there are robots and superheroes and bears and even Sarah Palin. Each character comes with a few appropriate sets, and the director can add gestures, expressions and pauses. With a single button, you can let the program do all the camerawork -- it does a good job -- or you can get in there and start mucking around, dictating shots. A soundtrack can be added, too.

There were some drawbacks: Darcy mumbles the word "thus," no matter how much I asked him not to; the characters' movements are limited, and the voices are clearly computer-generated. It's not the most refined version of Austen's work put to screen, but hey, it's free -- and I just made a Jane Austen movie!

You don't have to use classic literature. Write your own dialogue or transcribe an IM conversation with a permission-granting friend. If you do make a video with classic lit, though, please let us know in the comments, so we can watch and enjoy your version of bears as Tristram Shandy.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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