I have been asked by many people how I make my animation… and then…how they can make their own. I smile 🙂 …and then say… how long have you got?
Animation is a massive topic! There are university courses lasting 3+ yrs to cover only the basics of this subject. In addition, there are so many different types of animation techniques to cover. I am a 3D computer animator so this article will mainly focus on advising people about computer animation. I will briefly touch on other forms of animations as background information only.
This article is aimed at advising amateur/enthusiast and helping you to decide what type of animation you want to create and then pointing you towards the best animation software suitable for that task. It is then up to you to learn the software but, more importantly, the fundamental animation techniques to build upon.
This article, however, will not make you produce professional level animation after reading it (unless you click on this link which is my website www.beanboxanimation.co.uk and ask me to create one for you and we promise not to tell anyone 🙂 )
Types of animation:
So, firstly, let’s figure out what type of animation you want to create because this will dictate what type of software you want to use.
Animation roughly splits into three areas:
1) Computer Animation.
2) Traditional 2D Cell Animation.
3) Motion Capture Animation.
A quick overview of the three areas:
Computer animation is the preferred modern technique for animation. Obvious examples of these are Pixar’s and Dreamworks’ animated movies like Toy Story and Shrek. The main reason why computer animation is so popular is because it has almost all the advantages with hardly any of the disadvantages of other forms of animation. Computer animation is further split into roughly 2 areas; 3D and 2D (more on this later).
Traditional 2D Animation was the preferred technique used before the arrival of Computer Animation in the 1990s. Typical examples are Disney’s Jungle Book and Bambi and the Anime style. These animations were typically hand drawn.
Motion Capture Animations are mostly done with 3D clay/plasticine but can also be done with any types of props like lego, plastic and even poo. Thankfully I haven’t seen the latter nor has smell-a-vision been invented yet. A good example of Motion Capture Animation is Aardman Animation’s Wallace and Gormit.
If you are looking to produce either 3D or 2D animation using computer software, please read on. If you are, however, interested in producing Traditional 2D Animation or Motion Capture Animation, this article may be of little value to you after this point.
What is your animation about? What type of animation is it?
Professional animators have access to very advanced software that can make any type of animation at any level but these type of software are very expensive. Although, very powerful, they take years to learn. They are not the answer to the typical questions of “how do I make a simple animation”. To answer this question, we need to look at much simpler and free animation software that is much quicker to learn. But there is a price to pay. The easier the software is to use, the less creative flexibility you tend to have.
In order to make the task of animation easier, each piece of software has been specially designed to create one type or genre of animation. This means it is important to know what type of animation you want to make so you can pick the correct software for the job.
The most common type of animation (and incidentally the most difficult to do well) is character animation, interaction and conversation between several characters. This makes sense because most of us want to make stories about people. Expect some Keanu Reeves acting though (com’on some of these software are FREE!).
There is lots of free character animation software out there. Some is very good and some is frankly terrible! They roughly all do the same thing which is to try to make it easier for casual animators to customize their own characters and then animate them. The workflow is kept as simple as possible and is usually as follows:
- Pick scene for the characters (e.g. in a park, house, desert or some other location)
- Design the look of your characters
- Pick asset and props to populate your scene.
- Record/use some dialogue
- Animate characters to fit the dialogue or story.
- Watch the results or output to a video file.
One important thing to note is that these type of software allow you to animate (actually, more like direct) actors but not build your own assets (ie scenes, models of props etc). Instead, you may need to purchase new assets or work with what is provided. To be able to build your own assets is a completely different skillset called modeling and texturing. There is other software out there that allow you to build/model assets but I believe that may be a follow on article?!
List of recommended FREE “make your own animation” software in order of complexity, starting with the simplest:
This is a really good 2D animation software. It allows you to customize your own characters and scenes by using premade assets. You can even record or text your own dialogue. The animation produced will be similar to the Family Guy style so it is great for telling short, character driven, stories for fun or even for business.
This is a fairly good 3D animation software with a lot of flexibility. The beauty of 3D animation is that it allows for more customisation over 2D animation. You can have (almost) full control over the camera so your scene setup is more interesting than 2D animation. There is more to learn than other 2D animation software but it is still fairly simple to learn. The quality of the animation produced will be similar to simple mobile phone games and apps.
This is a very good, powerful, 3D animation software. It is harder to use and there is more to learn but it does produce good quality 3D (cartoony) animation. It offers quite a lot of customisation to both characters and the scene. It also offers some special effects like fog, lighting and even simple video editing. Pretty damn impressive. If I wasn’t using professional animation software, and wanted a free tool, I would use this one!
Iclone: http://www.reallusion.com/iclone/ ($200),
Okay, so this one isn’t free but it is well worth the price! It’s a powerful animation tool but kept simple. It has loads of flexibility and even has powerful tools that the other 3D animation software don’t, such as motion capture from Microsoft Kinect and inbuilt physics engine to simulate things being destroyed so that you don’t to. The animation quality is similar to the computer game “The Sims”. Worth checking out.
So, those are the best pieces of character animation software around but what if you want to do an animation that is not character animation? Below is a list of “misc” software that may cater for your need.
Pivot Animator: www. pivotanimator.net
If you want to create stickmen type animation, I highly recommend PivotAnimator. It’s a bit fiddly and time consuming but it is easy to learn with a lot of flexibility for your stickman animation. The software is not limited to only stickmen animation though. You can use photos of people and animate them. Don’t expect to be able to do 3D animation though. It is more akin to the South Park animation style.
TouchAnimator for the iPad (£2.99, com’on almost free!!)
If you wanted to just mess around with some quick character animation (with no scenes, dialogue or cameras to worry about), TouchAnimator for the iPad is really good. It allows you to animate a fully rigged character using the swipe gesture on the iPad. A very specialized software but it is very convenient and fun because it is mobile.
I have saved the best animation software for last!
If you want to make spaceship and robot blasting the hell out of each other, and let’s face it, what red blooded geek male, young or old, and usually spotty, doesn’t want to animate that? I would recommend Blender. This is an awesome Open Source 3D package which means it is totally free. This is one powerful piece of software that will allow you to animate almost anything. Unlike the other software mentioned above, this software allows you to almost do everything i.e it allows you to also build your own asset if you have the skills.
In the hands of a professional, it can and has been used to produce movie quality animation and VFX! It is truly an awesome piece of software but like Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility learning curve”. It will take a very long time to learn how the software works and more importantly the art of animation but it is well worth it if you are serious about learning animation. There are professional animation companies using blender as their main 3D software!!! That is how good and powerful Blender is.
So good luck with your animation adventure! I hope you enjoyed this article but, most of all, I hope you found it useful and maybe even inspired you to get started! Animation is extremely fun, but it can also be very hard work (depending on the level of quality you want) so be patient. If you require more than an amateur animation, why not get a professional to do it for you! Contact www.beanboxanimation.co.uk for a chat :).