Since the dawn of the digital 2D revolution, there’s been much heated debate on which software is more user friendly, produces better quality work, and has a better price. While some brands offer more functions and features, they come a pretty high cost and you might not use all of the application’s resources. Then there are some brands that offer a very intuitive experience while chiming in at a very low price tag.
Let’s take a look at a few:
1. Toon Boom Animate Pro is currently the most popular app with endorsements by Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Disney Toon Studio and FOX. Hailed by independent animators like Nick Cross, John K and Adam Phillips; Animate Pro offers a total production and post production package for the indie filmmaker. Though drawing is somewhat pleasant and the rotary function smart, the interface is cumbersome, you’re constantly in preview mode (unless you have Harmony), and the backwards compatibility is not friendly with users who have different versions. Price sets at $1,199 per seat. (https://www.toonboom.com/products/animate-pro)
2. Adobe Flash (previously Macromedia Flash and formerly Future Splash Animator) is/was the leader of the digital 2D revolution. Flash is still used in many of today’s television and film productions by studios large and small worldwide. In its newest form (CS6), the interface and pre-set tools are straightforward and user-friendly, but also suffers from being non-backwards compatible. You can create custom Command triggers that’ll help increase speed and productivity, and because of the straightforwardness of the app, you can manipulate each frame as needed. There are also many plugins to help speed up your workflow and expand Flash’s capabilities. You can buy CS6 and earlier versions starting at $700 or $50 through a Creative Cloud subscription. (http://www.adobe.com/products/flash.html)
3. Toon Boom Studio is another all-in-one animation package geared towards animation fans, students, teachers and hobbyists. At $190 per seat, you’ll get access to tech support and other “member” features, which makes it a pretty good entry level piece of software.
4. Toon Boom Animate is the watered down version of Animate Pro. Again, the drawing aspect and rotary disk functions are pretty smooth but the difference between Animate Pro and Animate are hardly noticeable other than the word “Pro.” For $499 you can’t really complain much for this all-in-one. (https://www.toonboom.com/products/animate)
5. TV Paint Professional is an exceptionally well tailored suit on the 2D scene. The interface is a bit bloated, but straightforward and customizable. TVP’s drawing tools work with both vector AND bitmap and the entire program feels as if it was created by artists for artists in this all-in-one package priced at $650 USD. Per seat of course. (http://www.tvpaint.com)
6. Adobe After Effects. Now, while you can’t exactly draw in the program itself, After Effects is a serious animation tool aside from being a standard-bearer for post production. A superior 3D camera, a militant bone rigging setup, and you can work with just about ANY style of artwork you can imagine, After Effects is top notch when it comes to “puppet” style animation. It’s priced around the $600 range, but again that may differ with a Creative Cloud subscription. (http://www.adobe.com/products/aftereffects.html)
7. Anime Studio Pro. I haven’t had a chance to use this personally, but from some of the work I’ve seen being produced with it; I’d say it’s one app that shouldn’t be overlooked. The interface is structured off of Manga Studio and a little bit of Flash but handles symbol animation pretty crudely. At $299 per seat, it’s a fairly priced piece of software. (http://anime.smithmicro.com/)
8. Pencil is a free bitmap animation tool. It has a simplified interface similar to Flash but its drawing aspect is a little rough around the edges. If you’re a hobbyist or fan of animation and just want to get your feet wet, this is a great introductory app that doesn’t affect your wallet. (http://www.pencil-animation.org/)
9. Vectorian, Flash’s doppelgänger if there ever was one. The interface and usability is almost as intuitive as Flash minus the action scripting, though most animators hardly use AS unless its site and app building. For being a free app, it’s mostly geared towards motion graphics rather than traditional 2D animation. It can handle it, but its a bit on the slow side. (http://vectorian.com/)
10. Adobe Photoshop. That’s right. Before the Creative Suite era, you would scan in your animation frames and prep them for clean up or coloring, then you’d bring it to After Effects or whichever app you were going to animate in. CS introduced the Animation Timeline which then allowed you to create complete animated works in just Photoshop alone. You can snag older versions of it online for around $350 while the newest version CS6 goes for $670 online or for $50 per month through Creative Cloud. (http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop.html)
11. Retas Studio. With the growing trend of all-in-one apps, CelSYS introduced Retas Studio as a self-contained animation package. For those of you unfamiliar with Retas!; it’s the standard tool of use by some of the most famous Japanese and Korean studios and dominates the Eastern animation scene. The interface is pretty complicated but its incredibly powerful tool. The cost comes in at $980 USD. (http://www.retasstudio.net/)
12. Toonz is the long time software of choice by Studio Ghibli and maybe a few smaller studios throughout the globe. From what’s available online, it’s user interface lives in the same cumbersome space as Toon Boom only a simpler and easier on the eyes. It offers an abundance a feature called “scripts,” that are similar to Flash’s Commands and Photoshop Actions, where with a push of a key will take care of repetitive tasks like applying a similar effect on several scenes, etc. Without being able to buy the program out-right, it’s hard to really say how useful this app is. And then there’s the mystery price; it’s not listed on their website. You have to contact them and get a quote. (http://www.toonz.com/)
Although some of these apps have some big names behind them, that doesn’t always mean that it’s the right tool for you. The phrase; “TV show and Feature Films are made with them…” is really just a marketing ploy to get artists and animators to break out the plastic.
What does a good tool feel like? Well, it depends. Personally speaking, I like using software that allows me to focus on what’s in front of me without having to constantly reach for a hotkey or move a bunch of panels around just to get some more screen real estate. Even though many applications say their an all-in-one, you have to raise the question on whether you really need all those features and how often are you going to use them. In a studio setting, you’ll only be using the app for one purpose and the rest gets sent to another person or department.
The pros know that having good tools will help you produce good work, but they won’t do the work for you.
For your consideration: The software and hardware you buy for your business is an investment which should pay itself off. Now, that doesn’t give you a license to spend carelessly. You really need to consider if the amount of work you’re bringing in can justify the hefty spending on name-endorsed products. If you can, go for it. But if you can’t, try to see if you can make do without for a while. Most clients don’t care what you do the work in so long as the work is done and you keep them happy.