Anime Studio is a vector-based 2D animation program that allows the user to create high-quality animation in a variety of styles. Originally developed by Mike Clifton as “Moho” in 1999, it was subsequently purchased by e-frontier in 2006 where it was re-named “Anime Studio.” Smith Micro acquired Anime Studio, along with several others in 2008 and has been developing it in two different versions: the pared-down Anime Studio Debut, and the fuller, more professional Anime Studio Pro . The most recent version, Anime Studio Pro 6.0, released in June of 2009, is the version we'll be reviewing here.
"Most of the existing 2D animation programs out there are ink & paint systems. These require you to draw the frames by hand, and then help you paint in colors and do compositing. This is still a huge amount of work. There really wasn't an affordable product that would let an animator simply manipulate a character to create an animation without drawing every frame."
Vector-based animation is clearer and sharper than raster-based media because the 2D primitive images (points, lines, curves) are drawn by the computer using a mathematical formula. Pixel-based raster images are usually better for photo-realistic images. Anime Studio Pro 6.0 uses these basic primitives to help the user create 2D cartoon style animation, but it's also capable of other animation styles as well; flash cartoons, cut-out style and ASP allows for a pencil drawn style as well.
ASP also features some very basic functionality in 3D, so, in a sense, it's a 2.5D program with the ability to create 3D style camera moves and import .obj objects into a scene. Vector morphing allows for quick animation, instead of the more time consuming frame-by-frame animation style (although you can do that too).
Basic Start Interface for Anime Studio Pro 6
But before we start going over what ASP can do, let's take a look at some of the new additions to version 6.0.
What's New in Anime Studio Pro 6.0
Along with these new additions, Anime Studio Pro 6 has full support for HD import/export, layered Adobe Photoshop documents, built-in pen tablet support and professional level export formats like 720p, 1080p, avi, mov and flash.
Export possibilities are excellent in ASP 6
Anime Studio Pro is a very easy program to use. Perhaps this is why it has become such a favorite of amateur animators. But don't think it's only for amateurs, ASP is a fully professional program that growers deeper as your animation skills improve. As Mark Clifton points out in the quote above, simply being able to manipulate a character using the bone-structure that ASP provides makes animation so much faster and easier. It also allows for more experimentation as well.
The combination of layering objects and then using bones which operate using inverse kinematics (IK) which moves any other bones (and connected body parts) to move naturally, is what really makes ASP a stand-out program. Coupled with the new library palette, you can easily create a scene, add props and characters and start animating right away. The new GUI is very simply laid out with dockable palettes around a central work area. All of the tools have pop-up text indicating what they are for. You really can't ask for a simpler animation program.
The bone oriented animation style of Anime Studio Pro
Anime Studio Pro's new auto-shading feature is very cool. You can easily apply ambient occlusion-like shading consistently across a scene which not only looks great, but saves a lot of time. The new Scatter Brush tool in the vector tools palette allows you to place random instances of a shape along a draw path. It's very easy to customize by dropping other objects into an installation folder. I wish there was more control over the random effect though. This will no doubt be upgraded in a future version.
One of my favorite new additions to ASP 6.0 is the ability to add multiple audio tracks on the timeline instead of only a single audio track in previous versions. The is a much needed improvement because now you can add dialog and music/effects on separate tracks and control them using the Sequencer panel. You can even pan sounds left and right to reflect on-screen animation of character voices or effects.
You can import an impressive variety of media in ASP 6
It's very easy to add custom content as ASP comes with a nice assortment of objects, props, sounds and scenes to get you started. Importing 3D objects, images, movies, Anime Studio objects and Adobe Illustrator/Photoshop files are a snap. Renderosity.com has a huge Marketplace where all kinds of 2D and 3D content is for sale that will work with ASP (plus lots of free items in the FreeStuff section). Smith Micro's own Content Paradise (which comes up as a link when the ASP opens) has a good collection of content as well.
I found Anime Studio Pro version 6.0 to be an easy to use, intuitive program for creating 2D animation. It's feature set is geared towards users who start as beginners, but want to develop their skills towards a professional level. The bone system combined with the ease of importing content to a scene and the quality of the animation when exported makes this one of the best mid-level applications around. I highly recommend this product especially in combination with other Smith Micro products like Poser as you can import your Poser objects as content in your animation scenes.
Anime Studio Pro 6 costs $199 for the Pro version (upgrade is $129) and $49 for the Debut version. Surprisingly, ASP is available for the Mac and Linux as well AND in both French and German languages. The Smith Micro site is very informative and the forums are well managed and active.
Be sure to check out the two demo videos I've uploaded to the Renderosity Video Center. They cover the new library and integrated lip-sync. The Video Center at Renderosity is relatively new, but there is a lot of interesting content being added every day.
I was fortunate to receive a copy of Anime Studio 6: The Official Guide, written by the well-known writer Kelly L. Murdock, from Course Technology PTR at about the same time as Anime Studio 6. This extremely well-written book is a step up from the very good “Fast Start” PDF that comes with Anime Studio 6 (and which pops up along with a link to the 300 page manual for ASP when you open the program initially). Now, I really liked the original manual, as it's in color and is very detailed, but Mr. Murdock's book is slightly better organized and, well, it is more personal. You feel like you are learning from a person and not just from a product manual. At well over 500 pages, Anime Studio 6: The Official Guide is a book intended for those “new to animation and software.” The book takes you through the entire process of animation using ASP, initially in general terms, but becoming very detailed as the book progresses (and your skills improve). Alas, the illustrations are in black & white, but they are clear and detailed, so they are useful. Plus, there aren't more illustrations than are needed to make a point.
Sections of the book include “Working with Layers,” “Using Cameras & Bones” and “Extending Anime Studio with Scripts.” There are chapters that tell you how to use particles, 3D layers, lip-sync, changing camera views and many, many more. The book also comes with professional animation samples from Splinter Arts and Tui Studios, along with all project files for the book and a 30-day trial version of Anime Studio Pro 6.
Anime Studio 6: The Offical Guide is $39.99 and is available now. I recommend the book, especially if you are starting out with ASP for the first time.
All supporting images are copyright, and cannot be
Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.
Please note: If you find the color of the text hard to read, please click on "Printer-friendly" and black text will appear on a white background.