News: Sneak Peek – Flipbook in the all-new SketchBook Pro coming this summer

I’ve been part of the Autodesk Sketchbook Pro beta team since about 2006 and have bugged them forever about putting in a timeline to animate with. They finally listened late last year and we’ve been testing it ever since but of course I couldnt talk about it even though I wanted to. About four months ago they approached me to demo that very thing and show what it can do! Well today they put up a preview of that tutorial. This marks a new chapter for Sketchbook and I am very proud to say I helped bring it to fruition! This is BIG news for those who LOVE Sketchbook Pro’s ability to have great pencil tools right out of the box unlike Photoshop. Having used it I can say that’s it’s pretty damn cool and if you dabble in animation at ALL you will love this new feature!

Check it out on!



Software: 2D Animation


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. (
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.  (
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. (
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. (
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.  (
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.  (
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.  (
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.  (
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. (
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. (
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. (

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.

Esteban Valdez is the founder of Echo Bridge Pictures, a 2D animation production company, in St Petersburg, Florida.  @echobridge

Software: Drawing programs

Sketchbook Pro

With the news that Adobe is intending on forcing artists to pay monthly I sat down to compile other choices for digital artists of which there are many. Most cost over $25, some of them are free and even two are online solutions.

I categorized them bitmap and vector. My personal favorite is Sketchbook Pro because of it’s ease of use, superior pencil mimicking and small foot print (how much space it takes up on the hard drive) all which contribute to make it the best solution in my opinion. As you can see it’s relatively cheap in comparison as well.

Below is a comprehensive list of drawing software available to the digital artist in 2013. If I missed your favorite, comment below, explain why and I will gladly add it.

Bitmap software

Adobe Photoshop (PC and Mac)- $49 per month subscription

When it comes to drawing programs Photoshop is without a doubt the most well known Right out of the box it’s not the best drawing software but and is relatively decent when you finagle with it a bit. My favorite tools in Photoshop include the Liquify brush and the Free Transform tool

Autodesk Sketchbook Pro (PC and Mac) -$59
Hands down my favorite simply because it’s so easy to use, can be installed on a Motion LE1600 Tablet PC which you can get dirt cheap these days, it’s got some killer drawing tools and you can easily create custom brushes as well as edit the toolbar to your liking.

Corel Painter (PC and Mac)-$199
Painter is an extremely powerful tool but it’s interface has been sorely lacking since it’s introduction back in the early 90’s. Features include mixable paint, dripping watercolors and a brush nozzle that will let you turn any art into a brush. Personally not a fan.

Ambient Design Artrage (Mac/PC/Android)-$49.90
Artrage started out as a winner of a proof of concept software contest for the release of Microsoft’s Windows XP Tablet PC edition. It has since grown into a powerful painting and drawing app and is easy on the wallet to boot. There are many features but my favorite is the mixable paint. Drag one color over another and the two smear! I don’t believe any other program can boast that.

Open Canvas (PC) -$59
Not very familiar with Open Canvas. Anybody? Beuller? Beuller? Beuller?

PaintTool Sai (PC)-$5
PaintTool Sai’s interface to be convoluted and poorly designed and I had trouble even finding out how to make a brush to draw with. It felt like an old program that has not been updated in years.

ArtWeaver (PC)-$37.65
Artweaver is a relatively decent piece of drawing software and it’s interface is reminiscent of old school Photoshop 5 or 6. It has many of the tools you’d need to sketch but I find it lacking

TV Paint (PC/Mac/ Linux/Android)- $1522.79
A very expensive and powerful piece of software that is much more than a drawing tool. You can storyboard, composite and do particle arrays with it. That said, I find it’s interface and toolset to be one of the worst I’ve ever seen and really would only use it if forced to. It’s pencil tools however are almost as good as Sketchbook Pro’s.

Pixarra Twisted Brush (PC) -$19
Not a bad Photoshop replacement but it’s interface seems a bit cluttered and not so user-intutitive. Does support pressure sensitivity though.

CG Illust (PC)-$80
This online software and being free it’s certainly the right price but I found it to stutter if I drew too fast. Your results might vary.

Sumo Paint (PC , Mac and free ONLINE)-$19
A truly remarkable piece of software that you feel right at home using because it’s essentially the same thing as Photoshop… Online. (Online)
Pretty much the same thing as Sumo Paint and free as well. it has pressure sensitivity which works well. Tends to stutter a bit if you draw too fast.

Project Dogwaffle (PC) Free
Project Dogwaffle is an ambitious project of one man who has built it into an interesting array of tools. It’s basically easy to use, can be used to draw with and even has animation and particle plugins. that said, I don’t think i would ever use it in a professional environment but the prive is right.

Sketchpaint (PC)-Free

Gimp (PC/Mac)
The GIMP is arguably the most powerful free photo editor available today. With that comes the Photoshop comparisons. Often lauded as the “free Photoshop,” the GIMP does offer many features similar to Photoshop, but it has a steep learning curve to match. Unless I’m missing something though, it does NOT support pressure sensitivity which is a deal-breaker for me.

Vector Software

Autodesk Sketchbook Designer– $75
A capable vector editor similar to Sketchbook Pro

Adobe Illustrator -$49 per month subscription
Long the juggernaut of vector editing, there really isn’t anything that can beat it as of yet. Personally I’m not a fan of it’s drawing tools as well as it’s kludgey interface but if you want streamlined crisp vector art, Illustrator is hard to beat.

Pixelmator (Mac)
Not the greatest painting/drawing tools, but is a great alternative to Photoshop for most people.

Intaglio (Mac)
Intaglio supports both bitmap and vector but is primarily a very simple Illustrator clone.

Artboard (Mac)
A VERY simple vector program.

Inkscape (PC /Mac/Linux)- Free
Currently the only free vector drawing program and it works very well for what it is. Not as advanced as Illustrator but what do you expect for the price?

Acorn (Mac)
Vector-based. Used by tons of UI designers.