2D animation is often associated with traditional hand-made animation. These last years Flash animations have also invaded the 2D animation realm. This visual style has gained so much momentum that even 3D apps such as Maya, LW, MAX and even Poser have incorporated cell-shading and flash export capabilities. However, there are also animation tools specially designed to create 2D animations and overcome the limitations that some programs, such as flash, have. One of those tools is Anime Studio from e frontier, which comes in two flavors: Anime Studio and Anime Studio Pro. In this review we will be focusing on Anime Studio Pro.
Anime Studio Pro is a bone-based animation program. This means that you will animate your characters using a bone system similar to that of a 3D app instead of making a frame-by-frame animation. This is a two-sided sword, actually. It makes it easier for you to make your animations since you don't have to worry about creating every single in-between (although you do have to worry about tweaking your interpolation using function curves), but at first hand it limits what you can do with your characters (for example, making a 360º turn-table of your character to create a a very dramatic shot). I say "at first hand" because Anime Studio Pro lets you import 3D models that you can manipulate in 3D space while combining them with the standard 2D animation.
The image below shows an example. The head is a 3D model, but the mouth is a shape projected on top of that 3D model.
In Anime Studio you make your objects using splines, very much like vector graphics applications. Just as you would expect, you can change the line and fill color. There's also the option to add special styles to your lines, such as soft lines, gradient fills and such. They don't show in the work-view so you have to create a "preview" every time you make a change. This can slow you down a little sometimes and I don't really know why Anime Studio works like that, because programs such as Flash can display those kinds of effects. Maybe it would be useful if the program generated a "preview version" that you can see when you are working (something like using "textured display mode" in Poser, where the program shows a low-resolution version of your texture just for preview purposes).
If you are a skillful mouse user, or if you have a tablet, you can draw free-form lines. The manual states that if you use a tablet, the free-form shape will recognize the pen pressure and adjust the line width, however that didn't work on my Genius tablet (Wacom users, feel free to try and let us know the result by using the feedback form at the bottom of this page).
As I mentioned earlier, animation is handled using a bone system. Bones are placed on top of your character and are attached to it using Anime Studio's layers. When a bone is attached to a figure you can then adjust the "envelopes" to define the bone influences. There's also a tool called the "Manipulate Bones Tool" that lets you test your bone deformations while you are adjusting your envelopes. It is important to note that the Manipulate Bones Tool works different on frames other than Zero, because it's also used for animation.
The characters and objects are animated just like any other program. Just select the frame and then move your objects to create a keyframe. Anime Studio lets you animate the bones for your characters, shapes (in this case think of shapes as "props"), layers, and even curve points. You can animate all the objects contained in one layer by moving the actual layer. This can be used to simulate moving clouds, for example, or maybe falling objects. The curve points can be animated to simulate deformations and can yield different results (such as the famous squash-stretch).
Anime Studio Pro also has some nice built-in particle effects, such as fire, smoke, and snow. You can create your own particles if you need a more "unique" look, though. You can even use images or movie files as "sprites" for your particle systems. Particles are also shown in preview quality on your work view, so you have to create a render test if you want to see how the particles will actually look. Sprites, on the other hand, are not so distant to what you see on the viewport since they are pre-designed images.
The manual includes some brief introductory tutorials so you can start working right away, while teaching you almost everything you need to know to become productive. e-frontier's Content Paradise offers some items that you may find interesting. There isn't as much content for Anime Studio as there is for Poser, but I don't consider this a bad thing. Creating new figures for Poser can take days, if not weeks, of work, while creating figures for Anime Studio shouldn't take more than a couple of hours.
I still have to explore more options out there, but Anime Studio Pro is a powerful and yet easy-to-use program in its own right. A lot of people feel intimidated by animation, and especially by 3D animation, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Anime Studio as a first contact with the animation realm (there's a demo version of Anime Studio (non-pro) available at e frontier's website). People that feel more serious about it can go directly to Anime Studio Pro.
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Animation Alley is a regular featured column with Renderosity Staff Columnist Sergio Rosa [nemirc]. Sergio discusses on computer graphics software, animation techniques, and technology. He also hosts interviews with professionals in the animation and cinematography fields.