From Pencils To Pixels – A Quick Guide Choosing A 2D Animation Program

Even though it may seem like there are more and more CG animation movies every year, there seems to be a dwindling number of 2d animated movies, adverts or short films out there. Even the Disney Studio, where it all started, has said they won’t be producing drawn animation for the foreseeable future.

Thankfully it is still going strong in Japan among the Anime community, and a growing number of independent filmmakers and artists are rediscovering traditional animation techniques as a wonderfully expressive and fantastically accessible medium.

Add to this the fact that the digital revolution has meant that you no longer need expensive, heavy equipment, and anyone can now produce animation from their bedroom using just a tablet or laptop, and upload it to the web in seconds.

However, before you rush out and grab the first piece of animation software available, there are a few things you need to think about if you want to find the right one for you. Here’s my top 5 suggestions.

Free or paid?

First of all, the important question to ask yourself is your budget. Are you willing to spend some money, and if so, how much? An animation program can cost anywhere from nothing up to a couple of thousand dollars. While there are a couple of decent free programs out there, I believe a reasonably priced paid package delivers the most features and support.

Professional or beginner?

Have you ever animated before or are you a complete beginner? Are you looking to animate professionally or just dabble a bit in your spare time? Answering this question will help determine not only your budget but also the learning curve you’ll be able or willing to tolerate when using a software, as some are more complicated than others depending on your skill level.

Age level?

Related to experience level is your age. Are you an adult looking for a piece of animation software for yourself or a parent looking to get your child involved in some cartooning? Some animation programs are specifically designed for children and teenagers so the interface is a lot “friendlier” and has an easier learning curve.

Frame-by-frame or Flash-style?

What kind of animation are you thinking of doing? Do you prefer traditional frame-by-frame drawn animation like the old Disney movies, or are you more interested in the stylized Flash-style animation found on the web and cartoons like South Park and Peppa Pig? No 2d software is the same and many are designed with a specific style in mind, or in some cases will give you the option of doing either.

External equipment?

Partly related to the style of animation you’re looking to do is the question of whether you have or will be buying any external equipment or purely looking to do it all digitally. Some animators like to work initially on paper with a lightbox in the traditional style and then scan and colour their drawings in the software program. Others prefer to draw directly in the software itself and will often do so using a tablet and pen.

Animator Reveals Complete Process of 2D Animation

The complete process of animating cartoon characters for a feature film, or just a quick 2D animation for YouTube is a process that, depending on the project, needs a lot of time and effort. A 5 min animation can take from 1 day to 2 months. Really? How do I know if my project is going to be 1 day long or 2 months long? Well, you have to answer, how good do you want your cartoon animation to look? Simple = 1 day, Amazing = 2 months.

Either one needs to go through the complete process.

1. Conception

2. Audio

3. Visualization

4. Preparation

5. Animation

CONCEPTION

It all starts with an idea. An idea turned into a script that can later be transformed into cartoon characters affecting each other in a 2D animation story. That idea is visualized in the head of the producer or director (usually the same person in NO BUDGET projects) who then decides what style is the project going to have.

The style can be cut out characters like Cartoon Network, more Classical like Disney, or maybe you want Anime style. Then you have to design the main characters and decide what best suits your project. How are your cartoon characters going to look like? How do they look from behind? Front? Above? below? How do they look in different poses?

After that, according to the budget and the style, the producer decides the software where all the animation is going to take place. If the style needs a cut out feeling, with lots of 3D and traveling cameras, maybe After Effects or Flash will be the choice, or if the series are more classical, or anime, in which cut out is not what is wanted, but a more organic look, like anime or Disney, then Toon Boom or Anime Studio can be the choice.

AUDIO

Then you bring in the voice actors to record all the dialogs, and, basically produce your story for a radio show, in which you listen to steps and sound effects. This will give the animators the correct timing to perform actions with their cartoon characters in an organic way.

VISUALIZATION

After all the necessary decisions are made, then it’s time to visualize the cartoon animation story into a series of drawings. Storyboard. In there the animator and director put their knowledge of cinematography in practice, they decide the shots and from where the cartoon characters are best depicted for what moment of the story.

Then after the storyboard is complete, then you make an animatic of the storyboard, in which you put together the storyboard and the audio together with correct timings and then, you take important decisions like, maybe change a few lines, or see the character from another angle and so on, remember, the most important thing about your 2D animation story is to make people feel something. So these decisions are KEY.

PREPARATION

After that important milestone you begin preparations. In a big studio, one team handles the cartoon character rigging and the other draws the different backgrounds and sets for the story. But in a very low-budget project, it’s usually the same person who does the character rigging and sets.

ANIMATION

Finally, after all of that, which is almost 70% of the work, comes the fun part. The animation. In which you bring the story to life, you make your cartoon characters be affected by each other, they get mad, they cry, they laugh, they fall in love, whatever your story is about, this is where you breathe life into it.

In this step, all the hard work pays back. And, of course, when the project is low-budget (less than $10,000 bucks) or even NO BUDGET, the writer, producer, director, storyboard artist, character designer, background artist and animator, is a team that consists of 3 people, or sometimes it’s the same person, one author. But even then, when your cartoon animation has your heart in it, the hard work is worth it.