Creative software could change way computers are used

Umajin is a huge threat to other more expensive and less user-friendly creative software programs, says user

Palmerston North-based Unlimited Realities recently won the Australia-New Zealand Consensus Awards for its Umajin software and is now pushing the product into export markets.

The software, aimed at children and young adults, combines text, photos, vector shapes, drawing brushes, sounds, videos and 3D animations, says David Brebner, founder and CTO of Unlimited Realities. “Umajin allows kids to express themselves, and create documents and interactive storytelling,” he says.

The Umajin (pronounced like “you imagine”) engine works like a gaming engine, with its own programming language and support for a range of media, he adds. One of the creative features is the painting application, which allows users to paint with an object, say a plant or a banana, instead of, for example, a black brush, says Brebner. “We can stretch a texture across the drawing that the user is making.” Users can quickly grab video content or photos from handheld cameras and bring that into the scene they are creating. Or users can use a blue screen and superimpose themselves, he says.

“Once they have seen it done, it is amazing how quickly kids will latch on to the idea and figure out what to do to make it match the scene they have envisaged in their mind,” Brebner says.

The Umajin platform has its own font renderer and supports auto-macronisation, so that every font can have Maori vowels, says Brebner.

About 300 schools are using or testing the software today, he says.

Unlimited Realities is also looking to enter the market in Japan and Korea, but there, the company is more likely to go for the after-school market because the curricula are restricted and schools can’t make their own decisions, he says.

Taihape Area School is one of the schools that use Umajin.

“I have been a [power] user of computer software since 1980 when we bought our first educational computer,” says principal Boyce Davey.

“27 years later, and after much usage of varying products, I purchased one copy of Umajin. Four weeks later I purchased 50 copies for the school. This year I have started using it for my own presentations, instead of PowerPoint,” Davey says. He adds that Umajin is powerful and easy to use.

“The students are loving its versatility. Umajin is going to be a huge threat to other more expensive and less user-friendly creative software programs,” he says.

Chris Gullery, principal of St Marys School in Wanganui, says he was impressed with the deep features-potential the software offered.

“With just a few tweaks [Unlimited Realities] are still working on, Umajin has the potential to be the next best thing,” he says.

“The students particularly enjoy the way they have control of dimension when using fonts, art tools and placement and movement features. Students from five [through to] 13 ‘got it’ in minutes — it is that intuitive.”

Umajin is not designed to do everything yet, he says, so it lacks a few of the rich tools that other creative software offer. “However, it makes up for that with easy access, fast, crash-proof stuff that kids love,” he says.

“Umajin is the best platform for multi-application interactivity in student investigations I’ve seen so far,” he adds.

Auckland Media Design School is currently testing Umajin. While the school might not implement it in the curriculum just yet — because the students learn to use mainstream, high-end products like Maya, Massive and Flash — head of school Jussi Luukkonen is very excited about Umajin.

“This software has the potential to profoundly change the way we use computers, especially for kids,” says Luukkonen. “Children can become computer literate much easier and faster using Umajin than using any [other software] available.

“Many schools use the Microsoft Office package and that is a crime against humanity — it is killing creativity,” he says.

Umajin supports Windows and Mac OS, and the company is also considering versions for mobiles. It also has a developer platform for building rich internet applications, games, interactive documents, e-learning and web tools, says Brebner.

Brebner started the company 11 years ago, when he was still at university. Today, he’s got 16 staff, of which two thirds are developers.

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