If there’s anything kids enjoy more than hearing a story, it’s telling one themselves. And that’s a good thing — psychologists widely believe that imaginative activities like storytelling help children to acquire language and learn basic social cues.
In that spirit of creativity, on Thursday Google released Toontastic 3D, an app that teaches kids how to create animated storybooks using their device’s camera and microphone.
“With Toontastic 3D, kids can draw, animate, and narrate their own adventures, news stories, school reports, and anything else they might dream up,” Google stated in a blog post. “All they need to do is move characters around on the screen and tell their story. It’s like a digital puppet theater […] but with enormous interactive 3D worlds, dozens of customizeable characters, 3D drawing tools, and an idea lab with sample stories to inspire new creations.”
Toontastic isn’t exactly new; it’s the product of an acquisition. In 2015, Google bought Launchpad Toys, the company behind earlier Toontastic titles for iOS. But to be sure, the new Toontastic is an improvement in a number of ways. Characters and backgrounds are now in three dimensions. It’s now available for free on Android.
Toontastic provides presets for kids to choose from, but affords a level of freedom, too. First, they pick how many acts they want their story to have and choose from three predetermined story arcs. Then they select from one of eight pre-drawn scenes or create their own with drawing tools. Finally, they pick (or draw) characters and animate them by moving them around and recording voiceovers with a microphone.
Andy Russel, a Launchpad Toys co-founder and a Toontastic product manager, told TechCrunch the goal was to “[make] a tool that feels a little bit more like a toy and how kids create by play than your average video editing tool.” And they hoped that by making it free, they could get it in the hands of more kids.
Toontastic is a little barebones right now, but Google said that it’s looking at adding more templates for story arcs over time. Future updates and new features will be made available at no extra charge.
The app’s debut comes three years after Google announced plans to create specific versions of its most popular products for those 12 and younger. The California-based company rolled out YouTube Kids, a child-friendly version of the video sharing service shortly after, along with more robust parental controls across its existing catalog of apps. This also made it easier to find apps, books, music, movies, and other mobile content that’s age-appropriate kids and younger family members.
Toontastic 3D also dovetails with the release of TeleStory, an augmented reality video camera that allowed kids to record and share their own TV shows.