High-quality, standalone, and kid-friendly for the under-11s…
1. Spore Creature Creator. Free trial. The best fun introduction to 3D modelling software controls such as expanding and rotating in 3D, making bones, texturing — and then your creatures are auto-animated. It should suit any child from age four upwards — just ignore the bizarre “12+” age-rating the full game had in the UK. The full $25 game also includes additional Creator modules for vehicles and buildings, and many more creature parts. Older Spore fans, those who are moving more toward game design rather than creature-building, may be more interested in Spore‘s Galactic Adventures construction kit.
2. Muvizu. Free. Some initial supervision needed, but an intelligent child over the age of eight should be able to get the hang of it fairly easily. Capable of some very professional-looking 3D output, because it’s a very simple front-end into the Unreal game engine. Needs a strong modern gaming PC with a powerful graphics-card, and plenty of free space for the video files you’ll be making. Well supplied with excellent free video tutorials, and also comes with a shed-load of free content. Why is all this free? Because they make money by taking a cut if someone uses it for profit.
Oh, and because it runs on a videogame engine, your scenes run in real-time and so “what you see is what you get”. No waiting overnight for a scene to render, or finding after a six-hour render that the lighting is different than it was in the stage view.
3. Animation-ish. Polished $60 “starter” children’s 2D animation software, from the Toon Boom stable. Best used with a graphics tablet and pen, rather than a mouse.
4. Flip Boom Classic. Another children’s 2D animation software from the Toon Boom stable. It’s “the next step” after you’ve outgrown Animation-ish. Best used with a graphics tablet and pen, rather than a mouse.
5. Pencil. Free. One for the gifted kid who can’t be parted from her Wacom tablet and Miyazaki DVDs (hi, Giuseppa!), but who hasn’t yet persuaded Granny to drop $700 on Toon Boom Pro Animate.
6. CrazyTalk, from the makers of iClone. From $50. Easily animate any picture of any face, and make it talk.
See also their excellent new (Dec 2010) offering, CrazyTalk Animator…
7. MIT’s Scratch. Free. MIT’s acclaimed little graphical programming-language environment for kids. Teacher will love you for using it. The other kids will name you “Brain Box”.
8. LittleBigPlanet. I wasn’t sure about including this. A game that’s only for the expensive Playstation 3 console, although Amazon sells the game itself for about $25. A videogame, sure — but a creative one that lets kids get very creative with building new objects and levels. I guess the $15 game World of Goo or the older Crazy Machines would be the nearest alternatives for Playstation-free homes. More for the game-builders than the storytellers in your class or group.
9. Stickman 5.5. Basic $10 “stick-man” animation software.
10. Stykz. “Stick-man” animation software. Free.
Also worth a look:
Creatoon 3. Recently ceased development, and is now free.
Some toy manufacturers occasionally have little “make your own animations” websites, and these seem likely to become more common as the Web moves toward using HTML5 for 3D in the browser.
If you’re a camera-head who wants to venture into Aardman-style stop-motion, using real-world cameras and plasticine or Lego models, then I Can Animate seems to be the most recommended software for children, although there’s also iKit Movie and SAM Animation.