USAnimation Web Edition is a Flash-only version of the 2D cel-animation software used by the likes of Dreamworks, Warner Bros, and Klasky Csupo. A comprehensive vector-based digital-animation solution, it’s aimed at smaller 2D animation production houses, new-media companies and Web-animation studios wishing to use creative tools that are much more naturalistic than Flash itself.
Web Edition is packed with almost all of the high-end features found in its bigger brother USAnimation V5. These include the powerful project-management feature found in the Manager module, colour palettes and ink features found in the Paint module, scan and vector batch-processing modules, the clever 3D scene planning, and most importantly the FlashRender module. It does not, however, feature the Camera and Transfer modules where you apply effects and back up to DDR (Digital Disk Recorder) or digital film recorders.
The user interface boasts few frills. Its main objective is function rather than good looks. Needless to say, a bit more attention put on the interface from the developer’s side wouldn’t hurt at all.
In the Manager module, you build a hierarchy of storage directories for all your production projects by creating an environment – which eventually will become the project name – job, scene, elements and drawings directories. As you process a scene through the system, the Manager module automatically saves or updates the scene’s files in the appropriate directories and sub-directories of this storage hierarchy.
The Xsheet module is a digital version of a traditional exposure sheet. This sheet consists of named columns, in which you fill out the information (numeric values such as size, angle and frame rate) needed to build the scenes in your production. The information can be anything from number of frames, camera movement and resolution, to elements such as overlay, tone, highlight and backgrounds that need to be grouped together. In effect, this sheet has similar function as the Layer in Macromedia Flash’s timeline.
Initially, the Xsheet looks rather intimidating and unintuitive for users accustomed to the Layer metaphor commonly found in other pro packages. Xsheet and Sceneplanning work tightly together. While Xsheet may be more of a database to keep track of your elements, Sceneplanning lets you visually drag and select the elements in your scene. It neatly lets you arrange your 2D scene layouts in a 3D perspective.
Since the module uses a system of pegs and spline paths to plot the movement of your cameras and elements, the possibilities are limitless. For instance, you can attach one element to another element’s peg to achieve parenting camera-rotation effects, and more.
The Sceneplanning module suits well when working with scene elements to export as Flash, since the camera angles acquired in this module can save developers tremendous time tweening panoramic movements and pans in Flash (although Flash developers may prefer to use ActionScript for this purpose). Moreover, the professionalism and the look-&-feel of the final camera output to Flash are astonishing.
After all the elements have been added to the Xsheet, you send them to the Scan module for processing. If your scanner is equipped with an autofeed mechanism, you can quickly scan in large batches of drawings. The software then vectorizes the drawings and saves them in the ‘Paint’ format.
In the Canvas module, you edit or quickly create masks (mattes) using your scanned images or any other imported images done in other graphic packages such as Adobe Photoshop. The Paint module lets you apply colour to your paint files with customizable palettes of different colours
Web Edition provides you with all the production advantages that come from using 100 per cent vector-based, resolution-independent technology – plus you can also output high-quality animation or selected drawings straight to Flash for further scripting customization. However, at this pricey proposition, you’d expect at least the ability to import 3D objects to the scene (as found in Softimage Toonz for instance) and more work done to the interface, if it’s to win the hearts of emerging Flash cartoon animators.