Anime Studio Pro 6 review

Anime Studio Pro 6 is a professional animation tool that can create broadcast-quality animations complete with visual effects. Available in two versions, Debut and Pro (we’re reviewing the Pro version here), it offers a low-cost entry to the world of animation and a useful alternative to Flash for creating animation.

Smith Micro touts its software as being ideal for designers and artists who’ve never dipped their toes into animation. This is underpinned by Anime Studio’s support for importing both Photoshop and Illustrator native files. However, a lot of work can be done inside the software itself, with a full suite of vector-based drawing tools.

These tools work a lot like those found in Flash but behave sufficiently differently to Adobe’s system to have you scratching your head at first; after a short learning curve you’ll be drawing simple characters and props with ease, though. The basic tools include a Freehand Pencil tool, an Auto-Curve Bezier Point tool and a Primitive Shapes tool. There’s also a series of tools to quickly bend and twist your artwork intuitively. Adding perspective is a simple case of choosing the Perspective Points tool, clicking and dragging.

Similarly Anime Studio offers a range of options for shearing, bending and adding random displacement into your artwork. Although the tools may initially appear simplistic (and you won’t have the same degree of control as in Illustrator or Photoshop), once you’ve mastered the toolset it’s possible to create sophisticated art quickly.

You don’t need to master the drawing tools straightaway, however, as Smith Micro has included a range of pre-built assets, including its characters Jace, Thorn, and Thunder (a horse). These are useful for seeing how the bone system works – more on that later.

As well as the characters, the new library allows for easy browsing and insertion of a wide selection of assets. Some assets are pre-animated, allowing you to see in action how the software hangs together. While you might not want to use any of this supplied art long-term, it does enable you to quickly create your first animation without worrying about creating the cast. Including these pre-animated elements was a good decision on the part of Smith Micro, particularly as it hopes to persuade you to use its online marketplace for assets, where you can pick up free content as well as paid-for art.

Character building

Anime Studio Pro offers a simple-to-use bone system to help control how different parts of your character can move. If you’re familiar with the Puppet tool in After Effects, you’ll instantly feel at home with this concept. The software does a good job of working out how the regions where bones meet should bend to allow movement, making character animation a breeze, even for inexperienced users. This is the mainstay of Anime Studio Pro and makes it effortlessly usable.

Anime Studio Pro boasts a wealth of other features to make animation creation easier, including a tool that allows you to create special effects layers that simulate smoke, water or insects. Scripts are easy to add to a project and offer some useful customisation options.

Studio Pro 6 uses an audio waveform amplitude algorithm to calculate and automatically animate lip-synching for your characters. This generally works effectively, and takes a lot of the menial work out of creating the illusion of living characters.

Although the built-in drawing tools are usable, many digital artists will want to use their existing software of choice to create their assets. Thankfully, Anime Studio Pro 6 allows easy import of the most common formats, including PSD, AI, JPG, OBJ (for 3D elements) and existing movies. You do need to save your Illustrator artwork down to version 8, which limits some of the effects you can use, but this is a small price to pay for the ability to bring in complex artwork.

There’s also a new motion-tracking feature that allows you to glue an object to a motion-tracked point in imported video. This feature doesn’t offer the same sophistication as Apple’s Motion or Adobe’s After Effects, but it seems to work well when you choose a tracking point with a reasonable amount of contrast. There are no limits to the number of points you can track, which is a welcome bonus.

With support for 3D objects, Anime Studio Pro has opened the door to a broader range of animation options. Although 3D objects are supported natively, don’t expect to be able to adjust them in Studio Pro – you’ll need to use your existing 3D software to create and maintain your models. This does give you a useful outlet for your Daz Poser models, however, and making use of 3D models exclusively allows you to create an entirely different style of animation to the usual 2D drawn look. Camera controls make it a breeze to track, zoom, pan and tilt, and there are even a couple of camera scripts to simulate a hand-held camera or do an automatic orbit around your scene.

Anime Studio Pro has been built to allow easy export to a number of formats. As well as the usual QuickTime and JPEG animation profiles there’s built-in SWF export, which is ideal for users who deliver their content with Flash Player. Also, there’s a function that lets you upload an exported movie directly to YouTube, although if this isn’t your video-sharing site of choice you’ll need to go down the old-fashioned manual route.

OUR VERDICT

Anime Studio Pro 6 offers a full suite of animation tools allowing new users and old alike to quickly create compelling animations. Don’t be put off by the Anime title; this is capable of creating every style of cartoon animation and it does it with aplomb. The price of the software is very reasonable when compared with competing products, and offers a genuine low-cost entry to professional animation results. The drawing tools especially take a little getting used to, but overall this is a fully featured piece of software that hides its complexities well, and is thoroughly worth the money.

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