It was tempting to post a video review of this product, because it was really *really* easy to create animations using Anime Studio Debut 6. However, I didn't, because the program is too fun to play with, and I found myself wasting valuable time at work rather than getting my job done. Hence the title of this review.
I'm not an animator by trade, but I did go to college, initially, for film production and animation, so I do know what I'm talking about. Kind of. That was a long time ago, when "computer animation" meant "drawing a computer on film cells and making it move." Regardless, there are some obvious pros and cons to ASD6. There are some limitations, too. The primary limitation is that it's a 2D animation tool, so don't expect the ability to create 3D rendered objects. However, that's also a benefit, as the tools available for 2D animation are simple and the lack of 3D keeps the interface simple. Well, simpler, anyway.
The app is built around layered images and 'characters' and of course a timeline. Build a character, plunk it onto a background (which could be a layer of several background elements, such as waving grass or flying seagulls), and move everything around. Import supported sound files (limited file types though - bad!) can be "lip synched" to a character's mouth ... assuming the mouth is built correctly ... allowing relatively easy speech animation.
- Intuitive skeletal system - where you can add 'bones' to shapes. The bones can be linked, allowing easy character positioning. So, if you drag a character's hand, the arm segments move appropriately.
- Lip synching works great - although I had a hard time building my own "mouth," using some of the stock characters showed how easy the end result is.
- Easy timeline - move to a place on the timeline and change something on one or more images and you get a new keyframe. Pretty easy.
- Built in drawing tools are very basic. Expect it to be difficult to create anything 'stunning' ... without an outside image app like photoshop or fireworks.
- The "bones" are fit into shapes and joined easily enough, but I'd rather create a character the other way around: building a skeleton and then applying images to each "bone" in a more object-oriented way. The biggest downside to the current method is that it's difficult to re-skin an existing character, you basically have to create a new image of a character, and add new bones.
- The UI is sufficient, but I'm one of those guys whose been using a Mac long enough that I expect the application itself (buttons, widgets, etc) to look good.
- Lip synching - yeah, it's a pro, too, but I got frustrated trying to make my own mouth and had to resort to the one from the stock library.
My recommendations to the developers, should they ever ask (or read this review) is:
1. Instead of a library of images, work from a system of templates. A male and a female human torso, naked, from front/angle/side/rear, with appropriate bones in place, would be a great start. Then add clothing, etc to allow the stock characters to be easily built up. Then, I could concentrate on creating superhero outfits rather than trying to tweak the allowed angles of a human elbow so that it looks realistic.
2. Shift from layers to objects - For example, if I have a character, that character is an object. If the object is defined from several angles, allow me to set an angle change (from front to side view) as a keyframe, and back again. Have child objects change as well, so that lip synching could work seamlessly across that transition.
3. Improve the drawing tools by 7000%, or get rid of them entirely and build better integration into 3rd party apps. The drawing tools are really kind of embarrassing.
Okay - this review is sounding kind of negative .. so why 4 stars? because it's good for what it's good for - creating simple 2D character animations. If you opted for a simple character in the vein of South Park, you could probably crank out a short clip in under an hour, from scratch. That's pretty impressive. And, there's a Pro version of this app, so I can only guess that if you REALLY want the more advanced stuff, that's a good place to look.
The word "debut" in the title is very appropriate: for a first time project, this is a very low cost options, but one that you'll quickly graduate away from. For people like me, who are just looking to play around and maybe create a quick way to put funny video shorts on their blogs and such, ASD6 is pure gold. So, for its blend of simplicity and the most appropriate features for down and dirty animation, I give four stars.