|Xtranormal to debut
in WSU Online course
This fall, WSU Online will use Xtranormal technology in an online course.
The on-campus version of Human Development 205 has people break up into groups based on perceived personality traits – “Are you a golden retriever or a pit bull?” The online version will create scenarios using animated characters and ask students which they identify with.
“It brings to life what is usually done by reading a graphic or filling out a form,” said Brian Maki, media manager at the Center for Distance and Professional Education. “The animated characters allow traits like facial expressions and body language to be part of the scenarios.”
PULLMAN, Wash. Washington State University is enlisting cartoon characters to fend off avian flu, SARS, foot and mouth disease, mad cow disease and other bringers of global pandemic. The characters also will fight biological attacks, such as the intentional spread of foot and mouth disease.
You can’t fight a pandemic without dependable laboratory results. When those results are delayed, the impact can be horrifying. During the 2001 foot and mouth disease outbreak in Great Britain, for example, 10 million sheep and cattle were killed, carcasses were stacked and burned, and losses were estimated at $16 billion.
“An early diagnosis was not made, and it spread like crazy,” said WSU Professor Terry McElwain, executive director of the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at WSU.
Program expands globally
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched a national effort to certify and coordinate state labs doing testing for these diseases. Patricia Lukens, quality systems manager at the diagnostic laboratory, helped the USDA develop a three-day training course in Quality Management Systems in Ames, Iowa.
“We plan to make this training available to lab workers in the U.S. and around the world,” said Lukens.
The diagnostic laboratory and WSU’s Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health are working with the university’s Center for Distance and Professional Education (CDPE) to create an online version of the training course, including videos, to be piloted in Kenya and Tanzania. That’s where the cartoons come in.
The videos use animated characters to play the parts of laboratory staff and trainers, delivering complex training materials in an engaging way.
“The certification training is important for public health, trade and the well-being and income of farmers,” said Barb Martin, USDA coordinator of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, who has worked with laboratories around the world.
Like giving sidewalk chalk to Monet
CDPE media manager Brian Maki builds the characters with the online program Xtranormal.
“We don’t have to worry about background, wardrobe and asking a staff member to do a dozen takes,” he said.
Xtranormal creates cartoons that lip-sync whatever you type. In most hands, the characters are robotic. But giving the program to Maki is like giving sidewalk chalk to Monet.
Maki creates his own backgrounds using green screen technology. He records audio at the campus National Public Radio studio and adds precise gestures, facial movements and mannerisms.
“We can also do this in different languages by pasting the experts’ script into Google Translator,” Maki said.
Laboratory representatives from Kenya and Tanzania will come to WSU in August to assess the videos.
“If the information changes, you don’t do a reshoot. Xtranormal lets you just do a retype,” Maki said.
“It’s fun to have a team you can work with,” Martin said of the CDPE. “You tell them your creative ideas and they can make it all come true.”