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Software Review: Toon Boom Animate 2

Ever dreamed of being an animator or film maker? This 2D animation suite includes every tool needed to turn that dream into reality...

There’s something magical about 2D animation. It exudes a level of artistry that’s not present with the photons and calculations that 3D animation entails. It’s a craft that has captured the imaginations of audiences for over 100 years. There’s been a decline since the mid-Nineties, and now the film industry is producing both animated and live-action movies in 3D. But there’s still a thriving 2D animation industry aimed at television audiences, and for any short-film makers 2D is still more approachable and affordable.

If you’ve ever fancied yourself as a 2D filmmaker then there’s never been a better time to jump onboard. The desktop tools available right now enable anyone to create high-definition, broadcast quality – if not film quality – animation on a Mac. You’ll find a wide ranging assortment of programs available for 2D animation production, including Flash, Pencil, Anime Studio Pro, and Toon Boom Animate. All feature tools then enable you to draw using a mouse or tablet, import or paint imagery, work with digital frames (or cells) and export to a wide variety of media formats.Toom Boom Animate 2 is the latest program aimed at 2D animation, and possibly the most complicated and feature-packed.

It includes the ability to draw and import scanned drawings, animate frame-by-frame, import and synchronise sound, animate using the Smart Puppet system, set camera moves and work with advanced video effects. New to version 2 is greater inverse kinematics manipulation, the ability to export SWF files with effects, direct import of scanned drawings, improved HD imagine compositing and over 100 performance improvements.

It’s also possible to now attach the camera to objects, adjust the camera movements in real-time and work with gradient and texture painting tools. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find even more new features. Needless to say, if we were to list every new feature we’d easily fill an entire review. As you may have guessed from the technical terms, Toon Boom Animate is aimed at animation professionals, and includes so many features that it’s quite possibly the only 2D animation tool a studio needs. Its target user-base is anyone familiar with animating in Adobe Flash. This is especially apparent when the program is opened for the first time, as a pop-up window appears asking whether you would prefer a layout that’s similar to Flash.
Even if you’re not familiar with Adobe’s animation program it’s a good idea to say yes, as the layout is both intuitive and well laid out. We noticed some clever touches not listed on the box that Flash users will really appreciate. Take adding extra cells (or frames) in the timeline. Instead of manually adding individual cells – as you would in Flash – you can simply drag a red flag at the end of the timeline to lengthen or shorten the total number. Using visual effects is much easier too. To add a shadow or motion blur, simply select a layer and add a new Effect layer using the Add Layers button. Our favourite feature is the way the program handles colour. If you prefer to create your own colour palette, as most artists do, it’s possible to do so and name each colour individually.
If you decide to change the eye colour of a character mid-way through production, simply edit the individual eye colour file and the change will be applied across your entire film. No more working through a project frame-by-frame while dropping in a new colour! The new features make this a substantial update over version 1, especially if you’re working in high definition. Videos rendered in 1080p look sharp and crisp, and they export in next-to-no-time. There’s a notable speed increase across the board, too. When working with dozens of layers that include video effects and imported imagery, the playback window is smooth and responsive. 2D animation can, of course, be created the old-fashioned way, frame- by-frame. But if you want to draw your character only once, and then animate it by moving the individual joints and body parts, then that’s entirely possible. The Smart Puppet system enables you to place each body part in individual layers, and then join them together using a rigging system. Once completed you can click and drag a character’s hand, and the entire arm will move accordingly.
This means that you can a create a walk cycle for a character by only moving its feet, and the program will do the rest for you. Traditional animators would call it cheating, but it’s certainly a quick and efficient way to animate. With the myriad windows spread across the screen it’s easy to become swamped by the abilities of Toon Boom Animate. Adobe’s Flash may be simpler in terms of tools and effects, but as a result it’s an easier program to work with – certainly for beginners. This is a program that will take time to become accustomed too. It will enable you to produce striking and professional looking animated films, but prepare for the long haul if you’re new to the program – this will take time to learn. As for any existing users, this is an essential upgrade. It’s worth every penny.