The first version of Toon Boom Storyboard was released some months ago (you may remember my Storyboard review in February), and it was meant to be used as a preproduction tool, helping you to visualize your story and share it with everybody in your production team. A few months ago, Toon Boom Animation released not one, but two new versions of Storyboard: Toon Boom Storyboard and Toon Boom Storyboard Pro. The first one is meant to be more of an entry level application, which means it has the basic functionality to help you create your storyboards and share your ideas. The Pro version offers all the basic tools, plus the ability to create animatics, and some extra functionality also related to the animation side.
In both programs, the GUI remains pretty much untouched. The drawing area takes most of the space, while the right side is used for the script, notes and libraries. The lower part of the window is reserved for your panels. There you can see your shots, scenes, or even the entire movie storyboard (in case you've made the whole storyboard in one single project). One of the new features is the ability to merge layers. As I said in my original review, all drawings in Toon Boom Storyboard can be made in layers (for example, one layer for your background, another layer for your main character, a third layer for any fill character, or props, and so on). Now you can easily merge layers so they are easier to manage. Maybe you drew your scene using different layers (buildings, streets, mountains, clouds, and so on), and you notice it is very difficult to manage them (for example, transforming them). You can simply merge those layers to make your life much simpler. This background could then be stored in your local library so you can easily access it in case it's used again on a different shot in your storyboard.
Toon Boom Storyboard (non Pro) is a storyboarding software package, while Storyboard Pro takes it to the next level, allowing you to create animatics for your projects. Having said this, it is pretty clear that some of the functionality available in the original Storyboard is not available here (for example, animating your cameras or layers). You can still use the camera transformation tool, for example, but you can no longer "preview" it or export it to a movie since Storyboard will only let you output documents, not movies.
On the animation side, Storyboard Pro offers nice improvements over its predecessor. The most obvious addition is the ability to use "onion skin" for your panels. What this does is to keep a "copy" of your previous panel as a reference, so you can decide the best way to draw the current frame. I find this to be an extremely useful tool for animators, because we make extensive use of "key poses", and sometimes we may find ourselves putting those key poses on our storyboard. Now with the onion skin, we can keep track of previous key poses as we work on the new ones, saving us time and also helping us check if the sequence is correct or not.
Storyboard Pro can also export an animatic of your project. The animatics now include a "frame count", which may look like a fancy feature, but it will be very useful if precise timing is required for your project (imagine that your current shot must run exactly for 5 seconds and 23 frames). Thanks to this frame count, you can know exactly when an action takes place.
If you are using Quicktime for your animatics on a Windows 64 bit machine, you should keep in mind that Quicktime is not fully supported on those systems. Toon Boom Animation states that their software won't work on Windows 64 bit (because of Quicktime). Nevertheless, I was able to export an animatic in Quicktime format on my computer running Windows Vista 64 bit; while the export worked fine, the video playback didn't work well since the video tends to freeze from time to time. Even if your export works, your playback performance may not be what you would expect if you are using a 64 bit OS. If this happens, you can very easily take your animatic to 32 bits OS and your playback should work as expected (my Quicktime videos never play correctly on my dual Xeon machine, with 4Gb of RAM, running Windows Vista 64 bit; however, even an HD video will play smoothly on my core 2 duo laptop running Windows XP with only 1Gb of RAM). My advice would be to use Storyboard Pro on the Windows 32 bit machines you may have (be it XP or Vista) since it would be very likely that most of the computers in your studio will be running Windows 64 bits.
You can run Storyboard Pro on your laptop so you can work on location. Personally, I am not too fond of the idea since Storyboard Pro requires a USB key to run (and the idea of losing that key is not something I would like to think about). To prevent this from happening, and still be able to work on a laptop, you could keep a copy of Storyboard on it and install Storyboard Pro on the desktop computer. Both programs can read each other's projects, which means you can start your project on Storyboard, then move to Storyboard Pro and make an animatic, then move back to Storyboard if you need to. Toon Boom Storyboard will not be able to playback your Storyboard Pro animations, though.
The animatics in Storyboard Pro are created like any movie. You can edit your shots, import music and sound effects, and also add transitions. In the previous version, you were able to make camera movements (pan, zoom, or any other move that didn’t need 3D spaces). However, that camera move worked only on your current panel, so if you wanted to make a long move across many panels, you had to split that movement across all those panels. Storyboard Pro now lets you extend your camera movement across multiple panels, or even across your entire shot.
While Toon Boom Storyboard lets you output your projects as a paperless storyboard, Storyboard Pro lets you export different formats that can be used in Toon Boom animation software, and also in your video editing suite (using either EDL or AAF files). These will create movie files for your panels or shots (depending on your choice). This is something that makes Toon Boom Storyboard Pro a valuable tool, because the animatics and project files can be easily and seamlessly used as a starting point for your actual shot. Just like before, Storyboard is meant not only to save you time in preproduction, but also to save you money, be it with paperless storyboards or even animatics. Whether you are an individual professional or part of a production studio, this software will surely make your life a lot easier.
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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.
August 27, 2007
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