EDITORIAL NOTE: As of October 16th 2015 Toon Boom will be discontinuing their Toon Boom Studio software, and replacing it with their flagship Harmony program. We recommend their Harmony Essentials version. To find out more, read our in-depth review of Harmony 12 here
Over the last decade Toon Boom has become arguably the leading 2d animation software company.
This rise to prominence has been powered by the success of their Studio program, which I would say is the best and most affordable 2d animation software on the market today.
Sure, their Animate and Harmony programs have some extra powerful features and on paper are technically better, but being more expensive they are really geared towards the professional or studio that needs those extra features and tools.
But at this price point (currently $249) there is nothing else on the market that can compete with Toon Boom Studio’s toolkit. So let’s take a closer look.
Features and Tools
To me the coolest aspect of this software is it’s versatility. As the name suggests it is an all-in-one animation studio, allowing you to do 5 different animation styles.
Yep, that’s right…5!
– Traditional drawn paper animation (with scanning utilities)
– Digital animation, paperless workflow
– Flash-style cut out animation
– Live action capture (for stop motion)
– Mixed media – live action and animation composited together
This means that for most folks, Toon Boom Studio is the only piece of 2d animation software they’ll ever need.
Since the interface and infrastructure of the program is a Toon Boom standard, it means that upgrading to their Animate, Animate Pro or Harmony software later on down the road is very straightforward.
This is a key point to note for teenagers, schools and educational institutions, as it can open up a number of career prospects. Since many professional studios and freelancers use these higher-end programs, they are more likely to employ graduates who are already familiar with the software, rather than spending time and money on getting them up to speed.
With such a vast array of styles catered for it is no surprise that Toon Boom Studio comes jam-packed with tools.
For the traditional animator there are a wide variety of excellent brushes with adjustable line quality, and an onion skinning feature to allow you to see your previous and next drawings.
If you prefer working on paper first, then Toon Boom comes with great scanning tools and a pegbar recognition feature which saves you having to either attach a pegbar to your scanner or manually line up your drawings after scanning (not fun believe me, I’ve done it!)
There is also a line detection and completion feature which is very handy and a lifesaver to anyone who has been through the pain of “leaky” drawings – i.e. when you try to paint your characters using the “fill” tool but there are small gaps in the line which causes the colour to seep out and fill other areas.
You also have the ability to do Flash-style cut out animation, with the keyframe “tweening” feature which allows you to set keyframes and the software interpolates between them for you. Combined with the bones tool for creating a skeleton within your characters and you’ve got a nifty piece of kit that gives you real creative freedom.
I was really impressed with the camera tools in Toon Boom Studio, with the multiplane camera being extremely easy to use.
What’s really great about Toon Boom Studio is that it even comes with 54 special effects that you can add to your animations without needing to use any third-party software. If you want to add rain, snow, fire or a multitude of other FX just throw in one of the presets and you’re done.
Import and Export
As you might expect Toon Boom Studio supports all the major file formats such as GIF, JPEG, TIFF, TGA, and PSD, and allows export to QuickTime, AVI, SWF (Flash), and direct upload to Facebook and YouTube.
You can even output in HD quality now, which is really something, as many other animation software programs on the market charge a fairly large mark-up for access to HD resolution and output, but Toon Boom Studio brings it as standard.
Sound is handled very well in the software, with multiple layers allowing for a pre-made audio or dialogue track, as well as the ability to add sounds within the software itself, reducing the need for external editing software.
The auto lip-sync tool is a great way to get a quick result from a dialogue track as you can set up a few mouth shapes and the software will take care of the rest. Maybe not to a purist’s taste (like me) but at least it can give you a quick result which might be handy in certain circumstances.
I’m not going to lie to you, there may be a bit of a learning curve when you first start on Toon Boom Studio, especially if this is your first foray into animation.
Thankfully the software comes with a help manual and set of tutorials and there are an absolute ton of free videos and tutorials online, both on the Toon Boom website, as well as YouTube and other animation sites.
The silver lining is that once you’ve got the hang of it you’ll find it very easy to adapt to the their more advanced software should you choose to use it, or even something like Adobe’s Flash or After Effects, as they have a somewhat similar interface layout and workflow.
All in all, I think Toon Boom Studio really is the best 2d animation software on the market today for the price and level of entry.
It’s massive toolset and all-round ability means that you won’t really need any other software to get your animation projects completed, and you have total creative flexibility to choose or mix any animation style you want.
Sure, there are other dedicated software programs out there that have more specialised toolsets and features depending on what style of animation you want to do, but none that can do everything quite like Toon Boom Studio.
If you can handle a small learning curve then Toon Boom Studio is definitely worth it, particularly if you are looking at animation as a possible career choice, as it can be a great primer to using other more advanced animation software programs later on down the road.