Ashley Postlewaite
Issue: September 1, 2006


PRODUCT: Toon Boom Studio V.3
PRICE: $399
- Natural and intuitive drawing tools
- Easy-to-use palettes, universal color change
- Libraries facilitate the reuse of art and assets

Toon Boom makes robust software with intuitive interfaces for animators of all stripes. The company has wisely developed platforms for a variety of price points: Harmony, a complete, paperless animation system for larger studios; Opus, a complete solution for a more traditional 2D pipeline; Solo, a non-networked solution for smaller studios; and Studio, a non-networked solution for individual animators.

Renegade Animation recently reviewed Studio V.3. We provided the software to five individuals in different departments and asked them to assess its strengths and weaknesses. The testers employed differently-configured PCs: traditional Wacom tablets, a tablet PC and a Wacom Cintiq monitor. Here are our thoughts on Studio's various modules:

SCANNING: Scanning is a must for traditional animation or animation background painting. Unfortunately, the scan feature in Studio (import or vectorize) is a little weak. To produce high-quality files, we recommend scanning via Adobe Photoshop and vectorizing through Adobe Streamline. Employing two additional applications to produce scans is obviously inefficient. Individual users will have to decide for themselves whether the trade-off is acceptable. With Studio, frames on an exposure seat must be scanned one at a time. That has a considerable impact on efficiency, but considering Studio's price, asking for more is perhaps too much. Multi-frame scanning is available on two higher-priced platforms.

[Editor's note: Toon Boom says, "The scan and vectorize feature of Studio has been designed for traditional animators who would like to import scanned drawings in Studio to animate. This feature will only work properly if you make a clean version of your drawings with a dark clean pen (such as the one used in animation to produce clean drawings). If you try to vectorize a draft drawing made with a pencil, you might get unsatisfactory results."]

DRAWING: Our testers had a generally positive reaction to the drawing tools. Almost all agreed they feel more natural and intuitive than the vector drawing tools in Flash and Illustrator. Several users had issues with drawing quality, feeling that it was too aliased. Users with a traditional 2D background will find the workspace user friendly. It's set up with a virtual disc that can be drawn on and rotated like a real animation disc, making the transition to the digital world easier. The onion skin or light box feature works great, allowing artists to view multiple levels while animating — much like its traditional counterpart — with no diminished transparency, no matter how many levels are viewed simultaneously. The module also offers standard field guides to aid composition.

The staff member who used Toon Boom on a Toshiba tablet PC had an unusual issue. When he drew on the screen, he occasionally encountered a weird mirror effect. Drawings he made in the northwest quadrant of the work space appeared in the southeast quadrant. We are unsure if the problem is related to the software or to the laptop, however, artists planning to use Studio on a laptop may wish to check with Toon Boom about compatibility before purchasing. 

[Editor's Note: This problem is only related to the Tablet PC laptops that can be rotated from landscape to portrait mode. Studio has not yet been officially designed for Windows Tablet PC edition but Toon Boom is planning to port all the Windows Tablet PC features into Toon Boom Studio for the next version.]

EXPOSURE SHEET: Studio's exposure sheet is set up like a traditional 2D x-sheet, making it handy for traditionally-trained artists. The function used to move frames around could be more intuitive.

TIMELINE: The configuration of Studio's peg system makes nesting elements overly complicated. Toon Boom Solo does a better job than Studio in dragging and dropping keyframes.

INK and PAINT: Ink and Paint is a standard feature of current 2D animation programs. Studio features easy-to-use palettes, universal color change and the ability to do colored line work. It is a strong module, yielding maximum production value with little effort.

ANIMATION LIBRARIES: Studio's animation libraries facilitate the reuse of art and assets. It is a useful tool particularly for projects with tight budgets where re-use, properly planned, can cut costs.

CAMERA: The camera package is one of Studio's strongest suits. It's intuitive and provides a 3D view of the work area and camera placement. All of our testers praised the graph editor, the spline tool for moves and the ability to view the timing of elements.

LIPSYNC: Studio's lipsync is a nice feature for budget-oriented projects. It is an automated process that responds to a soundtrack based on mouths chosen for vowels and consonants. When budgets are very tight, it can be operated as "set it and forget it." Artists who are picky about lipsync may prefer to adjust frames after it does its magic.

SOUND: Sound was the one area where the software fell apart. Everyone complained about the inability to display the waveform in the soundtrack. The sound editing capabilities were almost useless. A dedicated sound editing program may be employed, but that means leaving Studio, which again lessens production efficiency.

[Editor's Note: Toon Boom says, "There are features that allow you to see the waveform in Studio. You need to turn this feature on prior to using it. A sound waveform is available in both the timeline and Exposure Sheet. From the timeline, right click in the time bar and select Show Waveform. In the Exposure Sheet, make the thumbnail view active to see enlarged thumbnail of the waveform for every frame."]

OUTPUT: Studio does a great job of exporting true QuickTime files, as well as multi-file formats (SWF, AVI), DV Streams and image sequences. Output is restricted to TV, video or Web. HDTV and film are not supported with this platform.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Studio does a credible job for the individual animator, particularly considering its cost.