Plastic Animation Paper - Free 2D Animation Software

I discovered Plastic Animation Paper (PAP) Pro 4.0 for Windows quite some time ago and even had it installed on my computer for well over a year - unused. The full pro version of the software has been given away for free, no strings attached but with no tech support, since July of 2010. Not to be sneezed at since prior to that date this version sold for 695 Euro (roughly US$900.00).

When I discovered it I was still finding my way back into my love for animation and the bug to animate my characters more traditionally via classical, hand drawn 2D animation techniques had yet to take hold. I didn't really understand what PAP did or why you couldn't make complete, finished animations with it.

After finding some really great, very affordable, digital storyboarding software, PAP is the next tool in your digital production workflow for those of you on a budget creating traditional 2D animation.

Depending upon how finished your storyboard panels are you could even import key panels into PAP and use them as a starting point for developing the animation in each scene.

Screen Shot from the PAP website
showing the light box effect.
So what is PAP?

PAP has been created by professional animators and is intended as an intermediate tool for creating and even inking animated sequences before the frames are sent to another software application for coloring and further processing.

Essentially it's a digital version of a traditional 2D animator's drawing desk and light table. It's where all the grunt work of creating actual hand drawn animation is done. Although you could use it without, it's optimized to be teamed with a graphics tablet such as those produced by Wacom.

When you first install and run PAP the first thing you notice about the interface is that everything is non-standard. There's none of your typical Windows menus and even just opening the demo files involves trying to make sense of a non standard file browsing system.

It's actually strange how well thought out PAP is for the complex task it's intended for and yet it complicates simple things like opening a file with a non standard file browser. This is the software's biggest draw back  however, if you can get past this, by following the software's 12 lesson, online tutorial you'll discover a very powerful program indeed. Possibly one of the best for very fast sketching over multiple frames.

This is largely due to the extremely customizable nature of the software's menus in combination with keyboard shortcuts. You can literally use one hand on the keyboard to flip frames backwards and forward as you work, whilst every other command can be accessed with your other hand holding your tablet's pen.

A nice feature of PAP is placing the cursor over any tool button will bring up a description of what it does and its keyboard short cut in the help bar across the top of the screen.

Everything a 2D classical animator needs is here. You can import backgrounds for reference. Fast sketching and construction lines can be drawn with blue lines. Then all those lines can be erased instantly once they've been 'inked' in black. Black lines can also be converted to blue lines depending on how much clean up 'inking' you really want to do.

Sections from a frame can be cut out and moved around. Even entire sequences from multiple frames can be cut out and stamped down in different positions with ease. You can also save your cut outs to libraries and reuse them as often as you like (keep a library of mouths for lip syncing for example).

Speaking of lip syncing, PAP will even let you import audio so you can time your animation to whatever sounds you like, whether it's a voice track or music.

In terms of drawing its the easiest program I've used that fully supports my Wacom Tablet. More importantly manipulating the canvas is a breeze whether I want to zoom in/out or even rotate the canvas. Pressure sensitivity of the tablet pen is fully supported too - though I find it's better to turn that off and draw with a consistent line in blue as it shows through better when you switch the light box button on.

Once you know what you're doing PAP makes animating fun again. It doesn't clutter your work space with hundreds of tools, plug-ins, filters and other menu options that you may never use. Everything is geared towards one thing, drawing and refining animated sequences by hand in a digital environment.

A really rough walk cycle
that I did in about 10 minutes
as I went through PAP's
It's not quite the same as drawing with a pencil on paper but it's pretty darn close. If you're into hand drawing classical 2D animation, and you bought a graphics tablet because you wanted to eliminate paper from the equation then PAP is more than likely going to help you achieve that goal.

You'll need to team it up with additional software for coloring and creating your backgrounds, as well as software to composite everything together into your animated film. PAP can export frames to many different image formats and even AVI video files so your choice of software to team it with should be quite broad.

As a digital animation tool, I'm highly recommending it.

[Update]: Better late than never. Below is my very first attempt at animating one of my own characters with PAP. It's still very rough but watch as Jac the cat continuously makes one of his famous 'Flutterby leaps'. The animation is based on one of the many paintings I've done of Jac and his elusive butterflies. This took me about two hours to go from really rough shapes to something that looked like Jac.

Jac's 'Flutterby leap'

Featured Animator: Enjoyinglifeinseoul (ELIS) - Lucky Coin! Lucky Day!

GoAnimator Enjoyinglifeinseoul (ELIS) is the February winner of my GoAnimate, Get Featured in TET's Blog contest. ELIS has had his account with GoAnimate since March of 2011 and in that time has had eight staff picks and created 40 animations.

ELIS decided to feature his latest animation, Lucky Coin! Lucky Day!, for a number of reasons as he explains below;
First, I wanted to feature something new on your blog. If I had not finished this on time, I have no idea which one of my old ones I would have selected. 
Second, I chose it because this might have been the best time I ever had making an animation. It was a blast making fun of myself and I was laughing the whole time. 
Lastly I chose it, because I made it for Commedus, (Without him and our friendship this animation would never have come to be and I will go into that more in a moment.) I also pay tribute to several other animators in the animation, which I like to do from time to time.
Lucky Coin! Lucky Day! is a humorous look at what can happen to those who don't believe in 'magic', in this case the power of a lucky coin. Aside from the laugh out loud script, visually the animation features wonderfully detailed backgrounds, that are becoming ELIS's trademark, enhanced with quite a bit of custom flash work that's worth looking out for. Watch the animation below then continue reading as ELIS takes you behind the scenes with some very detailed notes about his process.

Lucky Coin! Lucky Day! by enjoyinglifeinseoul on GoAnimate

Video Maker - Powered by GoAnimate.


The whole idea sprang from the Coin/Penny. Last fall I was making the bills that were used in this animation for an installment of my Mr. Robsomeone series and I thought, “Ah I should put Commedus on the $1 bill as a joke.” And then I thought, “No a penny would be even funnier.”

So I created the penny, but in the process, as Mr. Robsomeone would say, “Inspiration struck!” I thought about Commedus being a magician by trade and the English phrase “Find a penny pick it up and all day long you’ll have good luck.” I thought “Wow I could make an animation on that.” From there the animation came to life.

Let me explain the friendship Commedus and I share. We respect and encourage all the time. We also praise and give each other a hard time, often in the same sentence. We have a lot of fun with it, sometimes in the forums or comments, other times in messages.

So I came up with the idea of rejecting The Commedus Penny and magic. If you’ve seen the animation you know how well that went for me. Mean while I wanted to show the opposite results from the decision I had made. So I enlisted Miramanee, a good friend of Commedus to play the other lead role. She naturally accepts and embraces the Commedus penny and magic, and things go quite differently for her.

As for the other roles, I had thought of playing all of them myself, but decided since this was a gift, I wanted to get more people involved. I had mentioned it to Smirks, earlier in the week and he said he would gladly play the other roles if need be. I think both he and Miramanee, did a wonderful job with their lines, especially since they had to play 3 or 4 roles each. Thank you so much you guys!

Challenges, Problems, and Techniques

I’ll start with the first two and that will lead to my solution. The main challenge/problem I had is mainly my own fault and that unfolds two parts.

As you know I love to make my own backgrounds and I usually make them highly detailed often with small insignificant things that I am sure many viewers miss. My girlfriend often teases me about the amount of time I spend on them and that not many people will notice, or that the scene I spent three hours making only lasted 3 seconds. To that I say. “But I will notice.” And she just laughs.

The problem with me making highly detailed backgrounds is only a problem, because I do not script write. I come up with an idea, think of a beginning and an end and fill it in as I make the animation. This allows my creative juices to flow continuously, it is also is a pit trap.

You see I will start making a scene and then jump to another and another as the ideas come in. Then I will add some more sequences to the various scenes, with the character’s actions etc. However, sometimes I will look at one of the scenes/backgrounds and think, ah man it needs this detail or this would look better over here.

The problem is that I have already made many additional scenes in the animation based on the original ones. It is no easy task to just add something new or move an object that has already been placed in multiple scenes. After all you have to send things backwards or bring them forward, with the amount of detail I usually include, it can be quite tedious and time consuming, not to mention hard on your fingers and wrists. “Oh the pain! The swollen knuckles!

The solution that I have come up with is that, from now on, I will look at each background and try and create like a painter does a canvas from the back forwards, and I will do my best to make sure it is complete before I add additional scenes in that sequence. At least that is what I want to do in theory. I am also going to try and screen write. Shutter the thought.

In closing, one technique that I further developed making this animation partly addresses the problem I just mentioned about adding new elements to a highly layered scene. This involves placing the new element, but instead of sending in backwards “X” number of times, copy the other props that are in the foreground as a group by holding shift as you select them. Then delete the originals and paste the copies. I came up with this near the end of making my entry Hitting the Highway in TET's contest. And refined it more on this one.

It can save a lot of time, but you need to select the various props in the correct order. What I do is open a blank scene and then paste the objects there first. This way you will see if any that should be in the background are now closer up and vice versa. This technique also only really works, if the objects are not themselves behind other objects that were not behind the new pasted one. Otherwise it leads to a lot of confusion.

Speaking of confusion, I feel that perhaps I have gone on for quite long enough. I have written a novel, so I will will finish with one last thought...

I made two interior backgrounds in this animation. The Pub, which might be one of my favorites of all time is highly detailed. However, when I was working on the curry house and adding details, I found that I really liked it for it's simplicity. Some times more is just more. Food for thought.

If you've enjoyed ELIS's work then why not check out more of his animations on GoAnimate.

Runner up Featured GoAnimators for the month of February included:

Animation, From Pencils to Pixels by Tony White - Book Review

Animation from Pencils to Pixels: Classical Techniques for the Digital Animator by Tony White is not the kind of book you buy your aspiring animator child who wants to learn more about how to animate. Rather it's the kind of book best suited to animators heading into their first year in 'animation' college or anyone who has had the animation bug for a few years and really wants to dive into deeper waters.

I say this because, right from the get go, Tony delves into the idea stage of animation. Not so much with the 'how do you get ideas' approach as the 'why you probably shouldn't steal other people's ideas' approach - and the consequences of that legally if you don't take his warnings on board.

It's not difficult reading by any means, despite touching on copyrighting, contracts and licensing, however if you were expecting a book on just the actual drawing and creating aspect of animation then it's quite a lot to take in right off the bat.

This is a reference book that any seriously aspiring animator should have on their shelf. Which is Tony's purpose for writing the book. It attempts to cover every aspect of the industry in detail albeit in a some what
unexpected but perhaps more logical order.

For example right after the chapter on Character Design and Backgrounds the next chapter is about Project Financing. Which doesn't seem a logical follow on but if you've got as far as character design then that's about the time you might want to start looking at how you're going to fund the rest of the project.

With chapters on The Rules of Filmmaking and Soundtrack Recording and Editing next you really do start to wonder when Tony's finally going to get back to talking about actually animating anything.

160 pages in and finally you get to the chapter on Storyboarding and Animatics but, 21 pages later, you're back to reading about Digital Desktop Production, with descriptions of just about every aspect of production including who does what in a typical team. Then you're back to reading about the Principles of Animation, which covers timing, charts, keys, walk cycles and more.

By following a logical order that's more in keeping with the entire production process Tony alternates quite a bit between the extremes of the very personal experience of working at your animation table, to the big picture views of how animation production works as a whole. Which can be a little tiresome as a reader.

Despite that the content of the book is excellent. While it does cover actual animation techniques in some detail the reason to buy it is that it covers everything else about the industry that I suspect other animation books do not.

Tony gives detailed discussion about the not very exciting but very essential use of production folders, how they are typically set out, organized and how to read the dope sheets they contain.

The chapter on Project Financing is particularly valuable - especially for those looking to try independent film making. It covers everything from animation markets, to scheduling and budgeting, investment, marketing and distribution possibilities and even short and independent film development. (Yeah, I know you can't wait to dive into all that!)

The book is primarily geared towards 2D animation but there are some chapters on 3D animation that demonstrate how the principles learned in 2D animation are just as relevant to animating 3D models. In fact, Tony is a big advocate of 3D artists having good drawing skills and 2D animation knowledge.

All through out the book are chapters discussing Tony's short film Endangered Species - to which the book is a companion. The film pays homage to many great animators and animation styles and techniques since the early days of Disney through to the more recent 3D Pixar movies. Tony uses parts of the film as an example many times through the book and even includes a scene by scene break down of how it was created.

Unfortunately the finished version of the film is not included on the CD ROM. Not only that but the tiny pixelated work in progress version that is included is an embarrassment to all the effort that went into not only creating the film but writing the book also. In fact all the video embeded into the PDF book included on the CD ROM is of terrible quality. How it got approved for release by someone who prides themselves on quality is beyond me.

The film takes far too long to download (considering it's being loaded locally on your computer). Aside from being tiny and pixelated, it's also water marked with 'work in progress' through the lower half of the picture. Added to that is, on my computer at least, the music overpowers the narration so much I could never understand what was being said.

Fortunately you can see a good quality version of Endangered Species on Tony's personal website - which is not mentioned anywhere in the book? Perhaps he didn't have a website back in 2006 when the book was published? Thankfully it looks fantastic and the music no longer overpowers the narration. Well worth checking out along with Tony's other work.

What drew me to buy Tony's book over others was that it specifically talks about digital animation. Wisely it doesn't actually go into the hardware and software in any great detail which means although the book is somewhat outdated, having been published in 2006, it's fared quite well in pointing you in the right direction for hardware and software requirements.

For example, there is a chapter on The Paperless Animation Studio. Back in 2006 Wacom's Cintiq drawing tablets were relatively new and perhaps only within the reach of animation studios. These are much more common place today and are gradually dropping in price.

Other software such as Toon Boom, Adobe Flash and Maya (3D) are mentioned but not talked about specifically. Only general principles are covered that reflect the common animation techniques used in each. In doing this, none of the principles discussed are tied to a specific release of the software.

Summing up, Animation, From Pencil to Pixels is the most comprehensive book on the animation industry you'll ever own. Indeed you could make it the only book you ever buy. It touches on just about everything including an entire section in the included PDF book called Mega-hurts that deals with the health and well being of the animator.

That said, its major focus is classical 2D animation. Whilst the principles of 2D animation should be a part of any animators training it does make this book more of a starting point from which to leap into the area of animation that specifically is of interest to you.

For example if 2D classical animation is for you then your next purchase might be one of Tony's other books, such as How to Make Animated Films: Tony White's Complete Masterclass on the Traditional Principals of Animation or the industry staple by Richard Williams, The Animator's Survival Kit: A Manual of Methods, Principles and Formulas for Classical, Computer, Games, Stop Motion and Internet.

If you're into 3D animation you might try The Art of 3D Computer Animation and Effects.

Animation, From Pencils to Pixels is as detailed as an entire overview book can be (at 500 pages, 905 if you  include the PDF on the CD ROM). It's a great reference book that you'll go back to but you will need another more specific book if you want to get into the finer details of actually creating animation.

Springboard - Fast Digital Storyboarding on a Budget

Storyboarding an animation is one of my least favorite parts of the creative process and yet it's also one of the most important after writing the script. It's where the planning of the visual representation of the script takes place.

The Problem....

I've struggled with storyboarding because I knew there had to be a better way than drawing tiny thumbnails on a sheet of paper with script and camera direction notes crammed underneath - an example of which can be found in my post for my music video animation, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. This method isn't exactly client friendly as my handwriting scrawls can become unreadable even to me over time.

The other technique I employed was using the storyboarding features of Celtx Script Writing Software. Celtx allows you to import your scanned thumbnails (or any digital image) into its storyboard where you can add text and camera direction into scrollable text boxes below each image - and never run out of room. I employed this technique for my business clients. You can see an example in the blog post I wrote about the animation I created for My Network One.

The trouble with Celtx is, if you hand draw the thumbnails, whether on actual paper or in a graphics software program it introduces an additional step of importing the images into the software. Celtx also doesn't have any way to export storyboards either. Thus I had to resort to taking screen grabs - rendering those scrollable text boxes useless if they needed to be scrolled to read their full contents.

What I wanted was software that would let you draw directly into the storyboard panels (using my graphics tablet - or you could use your mouse), let you enter any amount of text and then let you export it all into a easily viewed presentation for clients.

Toon Boom Storyboard Pro... Overkill!

I knew the makers of industry standard Toon Boom Studio had a solution with their Toon Boom Storyboard Pro Software but that costs US$899.00 (even the basic version is US$199.00). It's also a fairly complex program with advanced drawing tools. In short overkill for my modest needs.

Springboard... Easy, Cheap and Powerful

I started Googling for an alternative and what I found was Springboard, a free to try digital storyboarding tool that I decided to pay up the US$39.95 for within hours of installing and trying out. However, if you wish to try it longer, the free trial lasts for 30 days.

Springboad 1.03 screen shot.
Springboard is suitable for both large and small film and animation projects. It can break up larger projects into sections so that you're not saving the entire project every time you make a small change here and there.

The screen shot above right pretty much shows you everything you need to see when it comes to using the software.

Program Layout and Features...

On the far left you have the Story Tree where you can sort everything into Acts, Chapters, Scenes, Sequences or Shots. Below that you have the properties for the selected item in the story tree.

To the right of the Story Tree you have some basic bitmap and vector drawing tools. It's not the most sophisticated drawing program you'll ever use but it does support layers and transparency. If you have a Wacom tablet it'll also support some basic functions of that such as turning the pen around and using the eraser.

The drawing tools palette includes some additional storyboard specific tools like arrows for adding directional information such as camera movements. There is even a camera tool that you can use to actually simulate camera movements when you come to compile your board into an animatic.

If you do have a favorite drawing program then there is some support to link it directly to this program so you can edit a drawing externally and have it automatically updated inside Springboard. Something you might do if you're creating high quality presentation storyboards for a film pitch to a client or studio.

The main part of the screen is filled with the storyboard panels themselves. You can adjust the resolution of these before you begin depending on what kind of quality you need and how big your project is. I set mine to size of 640 x 360 pixels (16:9) ratio. Not only can you draw directly onto the panels you can also import images into them, like a logo for example to include as part of your drawing.

The nice thing is that you can edit a story board panel at any time, whether you're zoomed into it or not, making it easy to work across two or three panels at once. Shifting panels around is as easy as dragging and dropping them within the storyboard tree.

Across the bottom of the screen is the text box for the selected panel. You can enter as much text as you need here as the program will format your text neatly next to your panel should you need to export your boards for any reason. Currently you can export just the images to various image file formats or the entire storyboard, including text to a customizable but neatly formatted HTML web page (perfect for uploading to a website host and showing online clients or you can format the pages for printing from your browser).

Just above the text box (not shown in the screen shot) is where the controls and timeline pop up when it comes time to edit, record and preview your animatic.

Animatics with Sound...

Animatics can not only include camera movements but also you can import audio as uncompressed .wav files. You can even record sound directly into the program with your microphone. Springboard will let you export just the audio track as a .wav file, so you could use Springboard as a way to develop a master audio track for projects too.

Free to Visualize...

I've found that Springboard takes the monotony out of creating storyboards. I can simply divide my script across however many frames I think I'll need then start drawing. I can draw just the frames I have ideas for or add in extra frames if I need them without destroying the flow of the page. Trying to cram in text under each frame is no longer an issue. I'm completely free to just concentrate on visualizing my story.

Unfortunately it's not all great. I did manage to crash this program, losing a number of panels in the process. I'm not sure how I did it and haven't managed to repeat the problem. As a result I'd recommend saving your work often.

That aside this software is excellent value, easy to learn and ideal for short film or animation projects. To see an over view of the software the video below by Youtuber drawtips runs you through most features. Note that he's a little slow to get started but stick with it as it's a really good overview.

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