Software options

As I’ve been working on my animatics, I’ve been using the software Frames 4 from Tech4Learning, the first animation software I encountered about 5 years ago, and which inspired me on this path.  Frames 5 has just been released, and I’ve been looking at it to see what kinds of changes they’ve made, as I try to decide what software I will use to make the actual movie. The contenders are as follows:

Frames 5 from Tech4Learning


Adobe AfterEffects

ToonBoom Studio 6

 $40  $295 Part of the $900 Master Suite… $329, on sale for $150

Obviously Frames has the best price, it’s easy to use, and I’ve liked it well enough, but I’ve been feeling all along like I wanted more, and I am not sure that the new version will have enough “more” to keep me using it. It started out as stop-motion software, but has added some nice features, but I don’t think it is robust enough for my growing needs. It is marketed to schools, and I have bought it for mine and have taught workshops with it frequently, but I don’t think I will stick with it for my personal animation use.

Contour Design Shuttle Pro V2

I haven’t used DragonFrame personally. It is stop-motion software that was used by the TA in my last animation class as RISD|CE, and so I threw it into consideration. It’s nice that it comes with a controller, and connects directly to the camera to capture the images, but I have so many devices already (including a Contour Design Shuttle Pro V2) this probably wasn’t going to be a critical feature for me. It looks like many of the features of this software are to control the camera – setting the exposure, depth-of-field, multiple exposures, etc – which is great for stop-motion, but of limited use for me doing traditional hand-drawn animation.

Adobe AfterEffects is obviously a powerhouse option. I have an older version of it, but I want to stay current, and after trying a few routes to get pricing, I discovered that it is a pain to acquire separately from any of the Creative Suites. The current version of Photoshop also has animation capabilities, but I have limited patience with Adobe in general as a company. For starters, they are expensive, and although there is educational pricing, even that ain’t cheap. I feel like every time I turn around, there is a new version, and all too often, they screw up perfectly good features and interfaces. I have been using Photoshop and Acrobat for more than 15 years, and have picked up InDesign in the past couple of years, but I have also watched what Adobe did to Dreamweaver and Flash since buying out Macromedia, and I haven’t liked it. I also had bad experiences with the way they managed their font sales and copy protection. Even though Adobe does so much industry-standard stuff, I am wary.

Which brought me to ToonBoom Studio 6. This company just does animation software, and Studio is on the high end of their consumer software line. They have a professional line above this.  ToonBoom regularly sends me emails with deep sale prices of their software, and this one came through this week: $150, down from the regular price of $330. I downloaded the trial version, and felt very quickly that it was likely going to address the kinds of things I want to do. It can control a TWAIN scanner, and it has direct preview via a connected camera, although I have not been able to determine if my Nikon D40x will work directly with it. In addition to importing image files (which is what I would do with the photos from my Nikon on the copy stand), it can vectorize them, and then it has easy vector animation tools, including bone-animation and rotoscoping. You can change the camera to zoom and pan. It utilizes layers – which I tested out with the 30-day demo version I downloaded, because I want the ability to composite in the backgrounds and to color my drawings in the computer – and you can even space them out as in 3D to behave like a multiplane camera.  It can export in HD. Although I expect I would have to spend some time with the tutorial videos, the interface felt pretty intuitive from the start – so I bought a copy of ToonBoom Studio, and will try working with that next as I move from doing the animatics of the whole story toward the actual animation.

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