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Review: Smoovie for Mac

Stop-motion animation without the learning curve has arrived.

Stop-motion animation is one of those pursuits that looks like it would be fun but can also be very time consuming. Ask anyone at Aardman. For those of us with rather less commercial pressure on our shoulders, Open Planet Software has created Smoovie, a very Mac-like and easy-to-use application for creating stop-motion movies. There’s no real learning curve, the program has only a few sections and fairly straightforward options. It is designed to be fun rather than complex. But that’s not to say that it isn’t effective. Far from it.

An animations is made up of a series of still images, and Smoovie lets you set the frame rate – typically about 15 frames per second, but anywhere up to 30 fps. You can either drag and drop images from the Finder or from iPhoto, or you can capture stills using a QuickTime compatible video camera or the built-in iSight camera on a Mac. There’s support for the Apple Remote so you can take stills without touching the Mac and, crucially, without moving the camera. Once you’ve imported the images they appear in scenes as a sort of film strip and you can drag them to re-order them. If you are taking pictures inside the software, onion skinning lets you see a semi- transparent version of the previous shot so you can line up the next one. An Inspector panel enables you to control the movie’s properties and there’s the option to drag and drop a music file to accompany the animation.

You can also choose 4:3 or letterbox format. That done, it’s easy to upload to YouTube or export to iTunes, or to an .m4v movie file for the iDevices.
And that is really all there is to it – it’s fun, easy to use and really quite engrossing once you get into it. Some people might lament the lack of image-editing tools, but you can do that in iPhoto, Aperture or something similar prior to import if you’re that serious about your frames. The idea here is that it’s super simple and the Mac integration is great. Point your iSight at something, then use onion skinning and the Apple Remote to make tiny changes to your scene, building it into an animated sequence. It’s not only enjoyable and creative, it’s also a great introduction to the world of animation for people of any age.