To those familiar with Toon Boom’s software release cycle, it should come as no surprise that the latest version of Toon Boom’s Studio – the company’s ‘beginner’ animation package – is exceptionally well-executed. This, after all, is a company whose products have leapt forward in features, value for money and sheer usability with every new release.
In version 6, things are no different. The headline features see many of the pro-orientated mechanics of digital animation stripped down, repackaged and deployed for a novice audience. Toon Boom gives the beginners’ market the required features, yet strips out all of the unnecessary complexity. The focus here is on getting the best results in the simplest way possible.
Take the bone-rigging features, for example. Just a few years ago, such animation features would be the sole preserve of £1,000-plus packages, only fully employed by pro animators with a complete understanding of bone mechanics and character rigging. In use here, however, they’re quite brilliant. A skeleton effect layer overlays your character and automatically generates each body part. This can then be moved about to create either simple gestures or complex walking and movement patterns by dragging each limb to a new frame. The program then generates a motion tween between the two co-ordinates, resulting in a fluid movement. This cycle can be saved and redeployed later in the animation, meaning that once a walk cycle or movement has been created, it’s simply a case of repeating this effect whenever needed.
There are also many more features to bolster Studio 6. The rotoscoping assistant has been refined: feed it an imported video and tweak the live-previewed adjustments to first trace, then colour your animation. The results are excellent and, again, easy to use. The core animation production tools have had something of a brush-up, too. TWAIN-based animation (scanning, colouring and animating your drawings) is as simple as ever, while if you prefer to work fully digitally, the drawing and colouring tools are straightforward to use and responsive.
Even so, should you still feel uncomfortable working with any of the program’s features, there are Toon Boom’s ever-excellent bundled tutorials and templates. These enable you to follow along and experiment, drawing from the huge library of pre-designed movements and characters.
There are, as ever, a couple of drawbacks to making animation so beginner-focused. For one thing, many of the parameters and settings are locked behind a user-friendly interface. Should you wish to get a little more hands-on with stop motion or rotoscoping, you’ll need a beefier package. Still, for beginner and intermediate animators looking for a simple, powerful package, there’s nothing better on the market.