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Tools for your Home Digital Animation Studio

Synfig Studio
There is the Rolls Royce of digital animation tools that any professional animator would probably aspire to but if you're just starting out, animating for a hobby, or just not in any position to get the top level gear then I've put together a few options below to get you started.

Many of the tools I've written about before so I'll provide links to those articles if you want more information. You'll also notice that your software studio can potentially consist of entirely free software.

Hardware.

I'm going to assume you already have a computer. One with real processing power is ideal but even most low budget laptops have enough power to get some pretty decent results. Beyond that you'll need either a graphics tablet or scanner to get your drawings into the digital realm.

Bosto Tablet
  • Graphics Tablet
    A graphics tablet is not absolutely essential but it will make your life a whole lot easier. You'll get more out of many animation programs which have tablet support.

    There are two main types used in the animation industry - those where you draw directly onto a screen with a digital stylus (pen) and those where you draw onto a pad that matches your pen movements to the cursor on your computer's screen. The former can be in the thousands of dollars whilst the latter can be obtained for under $200.00.

    Wacom is the leader in the field of tablets and can be quite pricey as a result. I've heard their cheaper Bamboo range of tablets is actually quite good so don't discount them. Personally I have a Wacom Intuos 4, medium sized tablet that I was lucky enough to win in a competition a few years back. I wouldn't go back to not having a tablet now that I'm used to it.

    Bosto is a relatively new player in the tablet market. Worth a look if you really want a budget priced tablet where you draw directly on the screen. Prices start from as low as $649.00.

    Drawing on a tablet is quite challenging at first but the more you practice the more it feels just like drawing with a pencil - though less scratchy and no graphite lead smudges on the side of your hand.
     
  • Scanner
    If you just can't adapt to drawing on a graphics tablet or haven't been able to buy one yet then the scanner that comes with most multi-function printers will be your friend. Unless you're really good at drawing with a mouse or touchpad a scanner is the only way to get your drawings into the digital work space.
     

Software


There is a whole range of software out there to choose from that isn't high end or expensive. If you're serious about eventually working for an animation studio you'll need to work towards learning Adobe Flash or Toon Boom but if you're planning on being independent then you can pretty much use whatever works for you.

It goes without saying that you'll need some kind of image editor/paint/drawing program. Paint.net is free and a good place to start. I use it as my 'go to' image editor when I don't need anything too flashy and feature packed. I use Serif DrawPlus when I need more advanced tools.

As far as animation/film making software goes, I'm not going to list every option just the software I've used or am at least aware of.

  • Script Writing
    You can write scripts in a word processor but if you want them laid out in industry standard format so that your actors can clearly see whose saying which line then Celtx is a great free option. You can also storyboard with it, as well as have your scripts formatted to the style of production you're planning. It also has online collaboration features if you need to bring others into your production.
     
  • Spring Board.
    Storyboarding
    Digital storyboarding software is an absolute godsend. No more scribbling on bits of paper and trying to fit in scrawled notes in the margins. Good storyboarding software lets you draw directly into the thumbnail panels and you can fit as many notes underneath as you need and still be able to read it the next day (if your handwriting is as bad as mine when I storyboard on paper).

    Toon Boom Storyboard is the pricey option but if you want something that will do a perfectly fine job for just $40.00 (and free to try) try Springboard. I can't sing the praises of Springboard enough. Once I found it, it transformed the way I did storyboards and made them something I looked forward to working on.
     
  • Animation
    Your choice of animation software will depend entirely on the type of animation you wish to do. This article would be too long if I tried to write about them all. So here's a list of those I've used with links to either their website or the article I wrote about them.

    Pencil - Free 2D hand drawn and Flash animation tool (tends to be very buggy!).
    Plastic Animation Paper - Free 2D hand drawn animation development tool (and one of the best I've ever used for hand drawing frames of animation.
    Synfig Studio - Free, professional 2D bitmap and vector animation software. Quite a learning curve but definitely the best of the free software.
    Serif DrawPlus - Supports both 2D hand drawn and flash animation though this software is more of an illustration tool.
    Anime Studio Pro 9 - Very versatile animation studio not just for Anime but all styles including cut outs and even 3D to a limited degree. If you're just a hobbyist then the standard version is cheaper but still very powerful.
    Crazy Talk Animator
    Crazy Talk Animator Pro - 2D puppet style animation. Can use photos or your own artwork.
    Papagayo - Free lip syncing calculation tool that integrates with Anime Studio.
    Koolmoves - 2D Flash Animation Software.
    Blender - Free 3D modeling and animation software.
    Daz3D - Free 3D Scene designing tool that draws upon an extensive library of 3D models. When paired with other software it becomes a powerful tool for 3D animation.
     
  • Video Editing
    Depending upon how professional you want to get, many of the animation tools above won't actually allow you to make complete animations with them. Instead you build your scenes individually and import them into your video editing software to create the final cut of your animation. The benefit being that it gives you access to much more powerful video and titling tools.

    I've tried a few video editing programs but the one I use is Serif MoviePlus. It's inexpensive, powerful and most importantly, is able to preview what you are editing in real time.

    If your budget doesn't stretch to a video editor then WeVideo is a fully featured online video editor that will give any bought software a run for it's money. You can get started with a free plan for personal use and upgrade if you find it useful.
     
There's plenty of additional choices of hardware and software out there for equipping your home digital animation studio. If you haven't found what you're looking for above, be sure to keep searching online and see what else you can dig up.

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