Anime Studio 5
Emru Townsend · January 21, 2007 | In case you were wondering, you didn't sleep through the releases of Anime Studio's first four versions. In its earlier lives, the software was known as Moho.

The name change is significant. When e frontier acquired Moho, why did they change the name to Anime Studio instead of, say, Animation Studio? One reason might be simple branding: Prior to Anime Studio's release, e frontier had been selling a comics production program called Manga Studio. Neither product is tied specifically to the Japanese style, but it occurred to me that it was a marketing masterstroke. The anime/manga culture on both sides of the Pacific has a strong fan-creation component; the implication that these programs will allow you to make anime and manga taps into that.

While that's brilliant from a marketing standpoint, part of me questions the implication that this program is the best one for creating anime, while Adobe Flash, Toon Boom Studio and the rest aren't—as if anime, already a slippery term, boils down to a matter of process.

Anime Studio 5
e frontier
Windows 98/Me/2000/XP, Macintosh OS X

Shop for Anime Studio 5:
The irony is that Anime Studio's process has very little to do with actual anime production—or, for that matter, how any traditionally animated show is made. Landing somewhere in between Flash and Adobe After Effects in methodology, Anime Studio actually encourages very little drawing. It's certainly possible to draw and import images frame by frame, but that's not Anime Studio's raison-d'être. The software's main character animation tools are skeletons, forward and inverse kinematics, and skinning.

These tools allow the animator to create an articulated skeleton, attach it to a drawing (skinning) and then animate the character by manipulating the skeleton (forward and inverse kinematics). Customizable constraints keep feet from sliding across the floor or elbows from bending unnaturally, while the software distorts the original drawing as necessary to accommodate the skeleton's movements. If you construct your drawing and its skeleton well, the results can be pretty good. Muscles can flex and extend, outlines can seamlessly curve to follow limbs, and so on.

These are useful tools—there's a reason they're found in so many 2D and 3D programs—but they're pretty much the only character animation tools. If your forte is traditional, hand-drawn animation, you'll find the resulting motion a bit awkward without serious finessing; and if you're going to work that hard at it you might as well stick with another program.

This is why I find the name Anime Studio is ultimately problematic. I found that while the mechanical aspects of anime like lip sync, speed-line backgrounds, and reusable footage were well taken care of, as soon I wanted to add some personality to my work, I found myself adjusting and tweaking, sometimes to the point where it might have been more efficient just to rely on drawing and scanning.

This frustration partly stems from my bias toward animating by hand; others may not have the same discomfort with what I consider to be a mechanistic approach, as the popularity of Flash makes clear. But there's also no getting around the fact that there is a distinctive Flash look; as in most artistic endeavours, the tools influence the aesthetic.

That maxim actually points toward Anime Studio's strength. While it isn't really suited to creating the next Evangelion, it's perfect for simulating cutouts as in South Park or creating silhouette films. (The bizarre Bendito Machine, which was created with Moho, illustrates this point dramatically.) The more advanced (and more expensive) Anime Studio Pro includes many other features like rotating and shearing layers, particles, importing 3D objects, moving in 3D space, scripting, and reusable animation, which opens up many other possibilities, especially for motion graphics—you can consider it a lower-cost Adobe After Effects.

Like the screwdriver that can substitute for a hammer in a pinch, Anime Studio is good at what it does, but isn't always going to be the best tool to use. So long as you bear that in mind, its low cost (Anime Studio lists for $49.99, while the Pro version is $199.99) and ease of use makes it a worthwhile addition to the beginning or seasoned animator's toolbox.
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