Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Toon Boom Animation Animate
In terms of both features and price, Animate sits between Toon Boom Studio and the more expensive Toon Boom Digital Pro. There are some anomalies, however.
- Inverse Kinematics, symbols library and animation, cut-out tools and animation, selection of digital and traditional animation methods, post-production special effects
- No TWAIN support, no mouse-zoom, expensive for students and non-professionals, activation required but no way to deactivate at present
If you’re a traditional animator who still hasn’t gone digital, or you simply want to take 2D animation further, Animate is definitely worth a serious look.
In terms of both features and price, Animate sits between Toon Boom Studio and the more expensive Toon Boom Digital Pro. There are some anomalies, however. For example, you can’t directly scan in bitmaps and convert them to vectors as you can with the other applications, but of all three Toon Boom offerings, only Animate allows you to export directly to Flash Video (.FLV) format (and to .MOV).
There are tools for freehand drawing and tracing, comprising brush and pencil tools with a number of size and contour settings. A Draw Behind mode can be used, as the name suggests, to paint behind art that already exists, and you can select the Flatten option to merge drawing objects and brush strokes into a single layer. This is useful when you’re fixing a drawing or using lots of brush strokes to build up a shape.
There’s also a Shape tool, to draw with circles, lines and squares. Basic transformations such as repositioning, rotating, scaling or perspective skewing can be carried out using the different handles of the bounding box. The Contour Editor tool can add, remove or modify points on a vector line and control them with Bézier handles – which, while useful, was occasionally awkward to use. There’s a multifunctional zoom, hand and rotate tool for scene movement, but a simple mousewheel control for the zoom would be welcome.
Animate offers a library for storing drawings and animation as templates for reuse in scenes or sharing in their projects. You can also reuse separate elements of your drawing multiple times in one scene, by saving them as Symbols in the library.
Animate allows you to import graphics, but this is where the lack of a TWAIN scanner import option becomes apparent, especially for the traditional animation path of scanning peg-based key drawings. It’s an odd omission, when this built-in facility is offered not only by Toon Boom Studio, but also by cheaper rivals like DigiCel FlipBook. You can, of course, scan images using other applications first.
In addition to common image formats, you can bring in .PSD files with layers intact, as well as QuickTime movies and Flash files in .SWF format.
There’s an extensive standard colour palette, as well as settings for gradients and transparency. It’s also possible to create high-quality scenes by importing textures in .TGA or .PSD format, or add effects such as blurs and glows during post-production.
Animation takes place on a layer-based timeline: you can use the Flash-style Motion method, with Animate interpolating the movement between keyframes, or you can follow a Stop-Motion route, with no digital interpolation. The camera position is also animated, so when creating a scene you can make use of multiplane camera moves. As in Toon Boom Studio, this is a depth-enhancing feature, where the action moves through stacked layers in the Z-axis.
The simplest animation is layer-based, with objects following a motion path. You can add a trajectory layer called a Peg, to which you can attach drawings and other layers, then move, rotate, scale and skew them through three dimensions according to a path you specify.
Another string to Animate’s bow is the ability to morph similar shapes (but not colours) over time. It’s a timesaving technique that’s more useful for effects animation, such as water or smoke, than character animation. You can also make use of cut-out animation techniques, either for South Park-style cartoons, or more complex puppet control. A Cutter tool is provided for this, to chop a character model into discrete pieces ready for independent movement. Special functions place the selections in layers to be animated individually.
To fix gaps between limbs you can use classical articulation, where one limb overlays the other, or Patch articulation, where a colour-fill patch is drawn onto a third layer to cover the joint lines. To animate limbs, you set pivot points and then rotate, scale, skew, move and select with the Transform tool (Forward Kinematics). A selection of limb movements can be stored inside symbols, thereafter to be selected using the Library’s Drawing Substitution window and swapped in and out during animation. Lip syncing is also possible.
You can also create a hierarchy of body parts in a simple drag-and-drop process, then control animation through Inverse Kinematics (IK). IK constraints, known as Nails, can be added to pin feet to the floor, or rigidly control movement. You can also set an easing preset so that the motion isn’t so mechanical.
Like other high-end 2D software, Animate additionally offers a traditional hand-drawn route, with a frame-based Xsheet (or dope-sheet) to track the drawing workflow and establish timings. You sketch a series of rough keyposes in the Drawing View for the main action, using the Onion Skin tool to create ghost views of the previous and subsequent movements, followed by a series of intermediate (breakdown, in-between and clean-up) stages creating and tracing all the rough drawings before painting.
When using the Drawing View, a Light Table feature can be enabled to see the other layers. The Advanced Art Mode is another useful option, as it allows you to edit the lines and subsequent colour fills independently in the Drawing and Camera views, yet only displays a composition of the lines and colours in the final drawing.
Though it’s more than twice the price of Toon Boom Studio, Animate manages to feel more accessible to newcomers and professionals alike. Video training is included and the PDF user guide is very comprehensive, but might be better supplied as a printed workbook. Animate requires that you activate the product before using it. It’s a simple process, but a way to deactivate the product hasn’t been implemented at time of writing.
Mac users should also be aware that Animate doesn’t install on anything below an Intel Mac running Mac OS X 10.5, whereas most competitors support at least a G4 Mac. We used it on a MacBook Pro and apart from requiring some keyboard workarounds it worked OK, though a Wacom tablet is fairly essential for drawing with this setup.
While not in the price range of Toonz or Animo, Animate is still an expensive option for a new animator. If they don’t need tools like IK or integrated FLV export, there’s no urgent need for TBS users to upgrade.
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