Anime Studio Pro and Debut 9 were released yesterday and Smith Micro sent us a review copy of the Pro edition. Anime Studio, if you’re unfamiliar, is an affordably priced animation software package that addresses both the needs of the casual animation enthusiast (through Debut) and the hard core animator with previous training in other software (through Pro). If you’re looking at both versions, you’ll definitely want to take a look at the comparison chart and decide which version has the features that meet your needs.
The first question you’re probably going to ask is, what’s it capable of? If you have the skill and the talent, you can create professional animation using this software. That work can be further beefed up by Anime Studio Pro 9’s ability to work with art created in other software. If you’re a casual fan, looking to keep it fun and dabble in the software, they provide pre-constructed characters, props and scenery. More pre-constructed content is available for purchase through their website.
Here’s an brief example of animation created in Anime Studio by someone who clearly knows what they’re doing:
If you haven’t used the software before, you’ll want to take the time to go through some of the tutorials. The interface isn’t entirely unfamiliar if you’ve used other creative software, but there are features and behaviors unique to the Anime Studio Pro series and you might find yourself a little confused if you don’t. That’s my only significant criticism of the software. I’m so used to using other programs that use certain buttons and shortcuts that I had to change the way I think a little bit.
There’s just over 40 tutorials and 10 plus documents discussing technique are available on their website. Thus far I’ve found the included PDF Tutorial Manual to be enough to get me up to speed on the software, but it’s nice to have the online resource handy.
Creating a basic character from scratch using shapes and refinement tools takes very little time. As this is a vector-based software, it’s very easy to move points around or to turn off edges on a shape as needed. Once you’ve fully constructed your character, you’ll want to create a rig for it. One of the features of the software is the Smart Bones rigging system. It’s designed to make it easier to control your rigging and repeat complex movements. It doesn’t take very long to get rolling on this once you understand how the bones are linked together and affect one another. You’re also able to refine how much influence one set of bones has over the body of the character you’ve built. I had a rig built for a very simple character and refined it within a couple of minutes tops.
Creating key frames is very easy. You move to that frame in the time line, adjust your character or object as you see fit and then the software will generate the key frame for you.
Another major feature implemented in this version of AS9 is the Editable Motion Graph. This allows you to edit motion curves with Bezier handles instead of relying solely on tweening and easing in and out. This allows you to further refine the motion of objects. I tested this feature using the included tutorial file, which had a tree waving in the wind. I followed the basic instructions in the Tutorial Manual and then refined the motion until I felt the elasticity as it waved to and fro felt right. Here’s a demo video for the Motion Graph feature that uses a bouncing ball animation:
The program is capable of doing automatic lip-sync, but this may not always produce the most accurate results. Automatic lip-sync analyzes the audio file you’ve imported and creates key frames for the mouth animation where it sees fit. If you’re looking for more control, you would use the Phoneme lip-sync, which requires you to break down words of dialog into their basic sound elements. This requires more effort, but will ultimately produce better results.
I came away impressed with Anime Studio Pro 9. If you’re new to the software, I don’t think you’ll be able to leap in and start animating right off the bat, but the learning curve isn’t all that significant. You’ll be up and running pretty quickly. The tutorials are easy to understand and even the slightly more advanced features, like the physics engine and using 2D objects on a 3D plane aren’t daunting. If you’ve used the software before, the new and improved features really seem like they’ll save you time, which is the greatest gift anyone can give. I’m looking forward to continuing to dig into this program and seeing what I can create on my own. So, if you’re wondering where I am, this is where I’ll be spending all of my free time for the foreseeable future.
Here a very brief, seven second long animation I was able to put together without having used any version of this software prior to this review. I played around with the z-index of the layers in conjunction with the tracking camera. I used the zoom camera a little bit. The old toonzone cat mascot was rigged using Smart Bones and I used the Actions feature to create reusable animation for the eyes and mouth, because I wanted those to be separate of the main timeline animation.
Anime Studio Pro 9 is available for $199.99 and Anime Studio Debut 9 is $49.99. However, there is currently a Limited Time, Special Introductory Price in effect at Smith Micro’s website which has Anime Studio Pro 9 at $149.99 and Anime Studio Debut 9 at $29.99. Visit here for a Debut vs. Pro comparison chart and here for the purchase page.