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Sound and Animation Tools

Page history last edited by Alan Liu 10 years, 9 months ago

[As of Sept. 5, 2013, this version of "Toy Chest" is superseded by Alan Liu's "Digital Humanities Resources for Student Project-Building."]


A star Red Star indicates tools that combine power (advanced, multiple, or flexible features) with ease of use. The star tends to be reserved for tools capacious enough for multiple uses or add-on uses that they might also be called "platforms" (e.g., TAPoR, Many Eyes, or Google Earth).  (Other tools may be more powerful, or more easy to use, but not in combined balance.)


Sound Tools


Audiotool (free, web-based application for electronic music production)



Audiotool is a user-friendly, flash-based interface that is meant to serve as a fully functioning virtual studio. Users simply drop and drag synthesizers, drum machines, sequencers, filters, samples, and note sequences into the workspace from a toolbar. In fact, each tool is tabbed with a link to its respective page on the Audiotool wiki, where users can learn precisely how it functions in the system.




From here the virtual workspace is as manipulable as the real thing. Users can click and drag to adjust knobs, push buttons, switch the wiring and sequencing of instruments, or simply move things around. In addition, scrolling allows users to zoom in on or expand their workspace.

The application also includes a fully-functioning multitrack recorder (though not as user-friendly as the free software program Audacity) where users can record, edit, save, and export their sound experiments. Audiotool is especially effective for looping and sequencing sound, so it is a productive medium for even the least experienced musician. (Just start pushing buttons, and you will be making music in no time!) The major drawback of Audiotool is that while it has a variety of options to choose from for sound creation, more sophisticated users (or those who play an actual instrument) will either need to import music recorded elsewhere (e.g., a guitar or vocal track) or export what they create in Audiotool in order to complete a project, and since Audiotool is a web-based application designed to function as a stand-alone virtual studio, the functionality of both importing and exporting is less than ideal.

(Description contributed by Thomas Doran)

Praat (free software package for phonetic analysis)




Developed and maintained by Paul Boersma and David Weenink at the University of Amsterdam, Praat is a free software package for phonetic analysis. Praat’s complexity and less than user-friendly environment largely stems from the fact that it is meant to support the sophisticated and rigorous analysis of phoneticians and linguists. Any user would benefit from a basic understanding of linguistics, but much can be learned along the way by playing with the software’s basic tools and functions. Starting from a sound file, which users can upload or record, Praat can generate sophisticated phonetic data and visualizations for users to analyze, manipulate, and export.




In Praat’s main editor window, users can view and edit both waveform and spectrogram visualizations of audio files as well as other data when available (e.g., pitch, intensity, formants, frequency, duration, vowels, noise, etc.). The potential for generating deeper linguistic analyses seems limited only by one’s understanding of linguistic prosody and phonetics. For example, Praat can measure and locate creakiness, breathiness, nasality, jitter, shimmer, voice breaks, or the spectral center of gravity (i.e., the frequency and distribution of different sounds) of a sound recording. In addition, Praat also has a drawing window for creating and annotating sophisticated graphs and a fully functioning statistical analysis engine. All work in Praat is fully exportable, the software is universally compatible, and savvy users may even circumvent the GUI with Praat scripting.

(Description contributed by Thomas Doran)

Animation Tools

FrameByFrame (stop-motion animation tool for Mac)


FrameByFrame"FrameByFrame lets you create stop-motion animation videos using any webcam/video camera connected to your Mac, including iSight. Just take some pictures and in a matter of seconds you‘ve got your very own stop-motion QuickTime movie."


(Suggested by Mary Jane Davis)

Pencil (2D animation software)


Pencil is a free, open-source tool utilizing four types of layers (bitmap and vector images, sound and camera) to create the effect of traditional, 2-dimensional animation. The animation sets key-frames on each layer, arranging the different layers on top of each other (all of which is organized in the timeline located at the bottom of the window), according to how it will progress through the time sequence.


A new document’s default settings create a bitmap layer with a vector layer on top of it, as the animator adds and deletes layers according to the desired animation sequence. Each layer has a track that enables the animator insert “keys” at certain frames in the track, and each key contains information about what the layer should show or produce at the frame where it is located. For example, within image layers, each key corresponds to a different image, and the sequence of these images creates the animation effect. The size, color, and opacity of each tool can be specified, and if the program is used in conjunction with a tablet and stylus (for example, a Wacom tablet), the pressure used on the stylus can be used to control the width and opacity of the selected tool. 


Pencil is ideal for those new to animation, due to its easy-to-use interface and overall simplicity (especially in relation to Adobe Flash or After Effects). While it lacks the same powerful platform of those two tools, the basic functionalities needed for simple animation can be found here. However, it is difficult to produce high-quality drawings without a graphics tablet, as a computer mouse is ill equipped for sketching. Pencil has recently offered an alternative for amateur animators by allowing them to import their existing images into the program.

(Description contributed by Mary Jane Davis)



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