The Coolest Cartoon Video App You've Never Noticed: ToonCamera
Jan 2, 2013 5:00 AM PT
ToonCamera is an app for iPhone and iPad from Code Organa, and is available for 99 US cents at the iTunes App Store.
ToonCamera is an app that's been flirting with stardom in the iTunes App Store: I've seen it rise as high as the No. 8 paid app in the Photo & Video category, as well as claw into the Top 100 paid apps in the store. Along the way, it's boasted a high 4 or 4.5 star user review rating. Let me put it this way: If ToonCamera were a Hollywood actress, she'd make a lot of enjoyable "B" movies but have the potential to break out with an Oscar-winning performance if given the right role.
So what is ToonCamera? ToonCamera is an iPhone or iPad app that applies a real-time cartoonish filter to photos and videos. You can view the filter results while framing a photo or video, as well as change them and see how the different effects could be applied to turn an image or video into a cartoon photo or animation. There's no "Looney Tunes" effect that will turn a furry rabbit into Bugs Bunny here, but you'll get results that look hand-drawn, painted, or even colored with crayons.
In fact, I'm no animation buff, but by "cartoon," the results are more old-school than the slick computer-generated animation that characterizes Pixar or DreamWorks productions.
Learning the Controls
At the bottom of the app is a row of controls that are so close to self-explanatory -- but not quite -- that you can almost use ToonCamera without paying attention to the how-to information screen. Still, you ought to pay attention to save some aggravation later.
Basically, the left icon lets you change the cartoon and art style so that you're getting a line drawing, brush painting, or crayon-like effect (there are a dozen or so options). The squiggling-lines icon lets you change the line style, and this basically makes the images lighter or darker or more or less distinct.
Because there's no number or visual gradation on the control itself, I found it hard to tell which line setting I was using at any given time -- or which setting looks best with which cartoon style. Consequently, each time I wanted to create a cartoon, I had to futz around to see what worked.
Right out of the gate, I had trouble figuring out how to make ToonCamera shoot video instead of taking still photos -- and then, how to load an existing video or photo from the Camera Roll on my iPhone. In retrospect, it's not hard, but if you tend to dive right into an app instead of taking the time to learn the controls, you might get frustrated in the heat of the moment while you're trying to capture something with your camera.
The camera-video-camera roll switcheroo icon is a circle made out of two rounded line arrows, set above and between two other icons. Tap it and you'll toggle between a camera icon, a video camera icon, and a traditional bound photo album icon. If you tap the camera icon, you'll take a snapshot. If you tap the video camera icon, you'll start taking video.
Fortunately, it's easy to discard the results instantly when you make a mistake. Tap the album, and you'll be able to load existing photos and videos to turn into cartoons.
You can also easily force the LED flash on, as well as toggle between the front and rear cameras on your device.
Thinking Through the Composition
The challenge of using ToonCamera to shoot video or take photos is recognizing an opportune moment to capture something toon-worthy. This is hard. Plus, if you create a video using ToonCamera on, say, the crayon setting, and you save the video to your Camera Roll, you're sort of stuck with the crayon setting in the final version.
However, if you simply record the video with your regular camera app, you can apply various effects to the video and experiment until to find the perfect result that matches the scene. (You can apply effects to saved ToonCamera art, but it seems to be like applying a filter to an already filtered image -- could be cool but it could also be a blob.)
The point is, some snapshots look awesome as line drawings and some don't. One effect might make the faces of your friends look like gooey warm putty while another gives them sharp dark shadows and eye lines that make you think of the monsters that hide in your closet. Or, it's just perfect. It all depends on the subject, the light, the effect, and the desired use. You will have to play with ToonCamera to find these moments of delight, no way around it.
When it comes to snapshots, ToonCamera will give you lost of filtered effects that would be worthy of prints to hang on your wall -- but really, you don't necessarily need ToonCamera to turn a photo into a drawing because there are plenty of apps that already do that. The video, option, though, is what makes ToonCamera worthy of 99 cents and earning a spot on your iPhone.
Photos for Special Purposes
So what makes a good use of ToonCamera? If you thought enough about it in advance -- and are the Christmas Tree sort of person -- you could take a photo of your Christmas Tree all dressed up in lights and ornaments and apply various ToonCamera effects until you get something that looks cool. A raw photo of a Christmas Tree isn't exactly the kind of art you might want on a holiday greeting card -- or even an emailed invitation for a party -- but a ToonCamera version could give you the right amount of artsy flair without trying too hard.
The same goes for a video -- you could take some tree-decorating video and then send that along to your mom with a "thinking of you" note. I'm just saying -- Moms might dig that sort of thing.
Similarly, I can see a ToonCamera shot or video of a waterfall, a snow-covered tree, or a nifty angle shot of a building. When you align the ToonCamera version with the right purpose for your own life, you'll know it -- kind of like an Oscar-winning performance when everything comes together.