I take off my 3D animation hat one more time to talk a little about Toon Boom Studio, a 2D animation package created by Toon Boom Animation. Toon Boom Studio comes in two flavors: the Express version (aimed for beginners) and the full version. For this review I will be focusing on the second one.
Last month I shared my impressions on Anime Studio Pro, which is also a 2D animation package. Surely, one of the first questions to arise would be "what are the differences between these two programs, and what would make me choose one over the other?" Nevertheless, there is no easy answer to that question because both programs work in a very different manner. Anime Studio Pro's power and ease of animation is based on the bone system, while Toon Boom Studio uses hand drawn animation.
The fact that Toon Boom Studio is a program to animate using hand-drawn figures would make some people wonder why bother using a software to do something you can very well do on paper, however I could say the exact same thing about programs such as Photoshop or Illustrator. The workflow in programs such as Toon Boom studio is what will save you some work along the way (as well as some hundreds or even thousands of pieces of paper). Having said this, it is pretty obvious that having a good understanding of the animation principles is very important if you want to produce quality work with Toon Boom (this applies to any animation software, though, be it 2D or 3D).
In Toon Boom Studio, you draw your characters, backgrounds and everything else in the drawing view, which includes a Field Chart (known in Toon Boom Studio as a "Grid"). You have pretty much any drawing tool you would find in any other vector graphics software, and if you have a tablet you can take advantage of multi-width strokes using the pressure of your pen. Since we are using vector graphics, you can drag the control points and deform the strokes as you like. You can even deform those strokes over time to create your animation. Something important is the fact that you can customize the size of your drawing area to fit any kind of project or resolution. On the other hand, Studio doesn't include "presets," so you can't just go to your animation properties and change your resolution from NTSC to HD. Instead, you have to set those values for yourself.
Coloring in Toon Boom Studio is also pretty easy. You can use solid colors, gradients, or even textures. If you are willing to spend the extra time on that perfect shading, you can also handpaint your color tones, though. In the end, it's all down to how much time and effort you put into your work, but a little help from your software is always welcome. Studio keeps a color palette for you so you have easy access to the colors that you are using in your project. However, the palette is also meant to keep a constant color scheme through your entire project. You can call in the colors you have used in other shots instead of trying to recreate them, and be sure that your character won't resemble a digital chameleon, changing colors from one shot to the next. However, the most useful feature of the palette, is the fact that you can change your colors in it and the colors will automatically change for all your shots. Say, for example, that I didn't like the brown color of the ant, and that I would like it to be red, or even purple. I can just go to my palette and change the body color to red. The ant will then show up red, not only in the current drawing, but in the entire movie.
Maybe someone on your team had already begun making the animation on paper when you got the program. That is not a problem at all since you can bring all those drawings into Studio. You can scan the images, bring them into the program, and then trace them. This will actually trace the lines in your drawing based on the given tolerance. Since they are turned into vector graphics, you can easily modify or color them.
The program also features a sound analizer for automated mouth animation. Although animating the mouth is not so difficult when you know how to do it, it is indeed time consuming. It is obvious that you will always have to draw the base mouth shapes, but when you have them, Studio can tell you where they go.
Keeping your work is also very important, and this is where the Exposure Sheet comes in. All your objects are stored in it (as well as their animation over time). From a simplistic point of view, these may be considered as layers that show your frames over time. Content in Studio is reusable, and everything you make is stored in the local library for easy access. So, instead of animating the walk cycles every time, you can just load it from the library and use it whenever you want. There is also a global library that includes figures, backgrounds, and animated characters.
One of the most powerful features is 3D cameras. Using 3D cameras in Toon Boom Studio is like using 3D cameras in a compositing software. You create your "layers" on the Exposure Sheet, and you can use the different views to put them into position. You can then animate your camera using the "Pegs". You can either zoom or pan your camera using this feature, however you can't do 360º rotations around your objects. Of course, if you were thinking of doing that you'd be using a 3D software instead, not a 2D animation software.
When working in the 3D environment you have the top and side views. You can move the camera and layers to layout your scene any way you want. This is called Sceneplanning. As I said before, those transformations can be animated using "Pegs". In traditional animation, a peg is a bar that is used to move the drawing and create the illusion of motion. In Toon Boom Studio, you can create "digital pegs" that serve the same purpose. These can be used to transform an object (move, rotate, scale) or move cameras (zooming or panning). When you've finished your work you are ready to render your movie. The animations in Studio are rendered from the Camera View using the format of your choice. You can export SWF files, as well as image sequences, AVI, and MOV movies.
There are a variety of 2D animation programs like Anime Studio Pro and its bone system, or Toon Boom Studio and the frame-by-frame animation. The program of your choice will greatly depend on your workflow and animation technique. Keep in mind that even if you animate on paper, your drawings are always taken into Photoshop for coloring, so it's far better to have a unified workflow that will take you through the whole creative proccess, rather than working in chunks, and this is where Toon Boom Studio comes in.
For company information, please visit the ToonBoom website.
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March 19, 2007