Company: Toon Boom Animation
Pros: Bitmap vector conversion enhancements. New drawing tools and line styles. Up-to-date import/export options and user interface. Improved animation.
Cons: Demanding system requirements. Pro animation-based workflow confusing for newcomers. Lacks a decent manual.
Now available on Windows Vista as well as XP and Mac Intel/G5, Toon Boom Studio offers many advanced features for animation, particularly among the vector-drawing tools used to create the scenes. It’s here where the majority of enhancements in version 4.0 occur.
The Pen menu offers specialised brush tip options, where you can choose from the likes of squares, oblique lines or oblique oval lines, making animated calligraphy a simpler option. The new Scissor Tool is an alternative to the features offered by the Cutter and Eraser tools, still creating new paths and clean cuts, but also offering the useful ability to deform selected parts of the drawing using a bounding box.
These three tools are ideal for the cut-out style of animation found in TBS, lately introduced as the Puppet Tool in After Effects. Other motion effects are available by manipulating the element-holding pegs in a scene, which allow you to work with camera moves and motion paths, significantly improved in version 4.0 with the new “Orient to path” feature.
Workflow has also been enhanced, with a more dynamic and restructured user interface. New start-up options also bring TBS 4.0 up-to-date, including templates for formats ranging from HDTV and 2k film to iPod and Podcasting dimensions. Output options now include publishing animated content directly to HTML as an embedded QuickTime or Flash movie and the ability to add a preloader to enable faster loading of Flash-based animations on the Web.
TBS allows importing of bitmap images as vector drawings for use in projects, so you could import and subsequently animate multiple photos of a talking head, using existing special TBS sound dubbing features to add lip-synched speech.
There’s now greater control over vector-conversion options in the import dialog. You can choose to import the bitmap either as a black and white image in a similar fashion to the Live Trace function in the CS versions of Illustrator, or import with texture. With the former option, you have to experiment with threshold settings to balance between image noise and a clear, usable picture but you’re also given the option to add filters to the import based on the qualities of the image.
When the ‘vectorization type’ is set to the new ‘With Texture’ option however, TBS will import the bitmap and apply it as a texture on a vector shape, allowing for direct manipulation of bitmap images.
A new colour palette is created to hold the new texture, so that when you use the cutting tools it’s easy to patch any holes.
It’s also possible to import Illustrator files into TBS, so skipping the import bitmap step – version 4.0 gives the option of flattening the layers of Illustrator files or importing each layer as separate elements.
You might find much of the functionality here if you combine the CS3 versions of Flash, After Effects and Illustrator, but version 4.0 of Toon Boom Studio comes with workflow enhancements aimed at a production-level animation environment.
Moreover, a user-friendly interface and a fairly decent price to match means animation beginners will find this a worthwhile investment too, albeit after a fairly steep learning curve.