Slick HTML5 App Muro Animates Super Stick-Figure Videos

Posted: May 31, 2011 in Analysis, information, internet, news
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Slick HTML5 App Muro Animates Super Stick-Figure Videos

Powered by Ritz crackers and Sour Patch Kids, Adande Thorne works late into the night creating the worlds in which his frenetic stick-figures live. But even when he’s working so diligently that he doesn’t notice that the sun came up, he is still churning out his short films much faster than he used to, back when he made his animations with a Sharpie, some pencils and a scanner.

Now he whips up his web-ready doodles in muro, an HTML5-based illustration tool created by artist networking site deviantArt. The free, web-based software, still in beta, allows Thorne to create a five-minute video in about two weeks, cutting his work time nearly in half.

sWooZie makes awesome videos using muro.
Image courtesy Adande Thorne

“I used to draw with paper and pen and scan it and go through this long tedious process and then one day a friend was like ‘Dude, why don’t you just jump on muro?’” Thorne told “When I started messing around with it, it cut down so much on the footwork I had to do. It just blew up after that.”

With its simple interface and sleek design, muro puts digital tools in the hands of people typically accustomed to working with brushes and canvas or pens and paper — it’s like Adobe Illustrator for non-pros. Originally designed to allow deviantArt members to add simple sketches to the site’s lively forums, muro put an easy-to-master tool in the hands of artists who use it to create a wild variety of works.

That’s exactly what someone like Thorne needed. Better known by thenom de art sWooZie, Thorne makes the kind of videos the internet loves: comedy acted out by slick and cute animations, complete with fight scenes and tricked-out DeLoreans.

The video that gained him internet fame (read: a post on Gawker) used a series of stick-figure animations to illustrate his miscreant behavior as a Walt Disney World employee. It topped a quarter-million YouTube views within a few days of its posting in January.

He followed that up with “Cheating in High School” and eventually “Super Sick Stick Figure Fight [FTW],” which went up in April and was the first of five installments he sees as his summer blockbuster. (See the second, “Cute College Girls [FTW],” which was released Friday, above.)


Thorne’s process is deeply rooted in the web’s DIY aesthetic. The artist, who also happens to be a pro gamer, shoots videos of sets in his home or out in the wild in Orlando, Florida, where he lives. He then illustrates and animates his characters on top of those images. His concepts definitely lean toward the nerdy — videogame references and lightsaber fights — but he’s got a style all his own. (See how sWooZie made his latest video below.)

His style is starting to pay off. Thorne, who completed a one-year program in computer animation at theDigital Animation and Visual Effects School, now makes between $1,000 and $2,000 a month from his videos through YouTube’s partner program. He once made $500 a day from a single clip.

“I used to work at the Hard Rock Hotel [as a lifeguard] making $400 every two weeks after taxes, and now I’m getting a little bit more than that just from uploading videos to the internet,” Thorne said.

There’s very little overhead. Since muro is a free program, Thorne incurs few costs beyond his time investment and the few die-cast car models he buys as props. That’s exactly what muro’s creators atdeviantArt want.

The original concept for muro was to build a simple drawing tool deviantArt members could use for sketching in the site’s forums. But while the developers were working with the prototype, codenamed “drawplz,” the company’s CEO Angelo Sotira got addicted to using it and asked lead developer Mike Dewey to make a larger version for use on bigger artworks. From there, muro blossomed into a much more robust illustration application.

“[Sotira] said, ‘Sometimes I get frustrated that I’m drawing so small,’” Dewey said. “I said, ‘I’ll make it so that it goes full-screen for you,’ and that ended up evolving into the full-fledged drawing application.”

It only took a few weeks. Sotira asked for a bigger version in the middle of summer 2010 and muro launched that August. Now deviantArt users fill the site with about 3,100 muro-made images each day even while the program remains in beta. Some artists are even using the program on their iPads, turning the tablet into an electronic sketch book.

Much to the surprise of its creators, muro is also being used for animation by people like Thorne.

“I don’t think any time while we were developing this did we say, ‘Yeah, OK, let’s make something for animators,’” Dewey said. “But once [Thorne] started doing it, I could see why he picked muro. It’s the ease of creation — when he has an idea, he can have it work it in a day or two rather than creating an entire 3-D model.”

‘My imagination becomes the only limitation I have.’

Thorne agrees, adding that as a storyteller, having muro has allowed him to do things he otherwise wouldn’t have been able to pull off without a big budget and far, far more time.

“If I write in a script that the Back to the Future car flies in and crashes through the wall and wood goes flying everywhere like splinters, my imagination becomes the only limitation I have,” Thorne said. “Because I’m using live-action and muro in combination, it’s like the perfect marriage.”


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