If you’re inspired by the slew of great animated films released this year, these are the best applications for learning animation.
Animation is having a moment right now. Just this summer, we’ve seen the release of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, Suzume, and Hayao Miyazaki’s latest The Boy and the Heron. While the film and TV industry is yet to fully embrace animation as a medium and not simply a genre, animated films, and series are getting harder to ignore with every passing year. With such great work being produced, it’s hard not to be inspired. Being able to string together images to form a fluid animation is a thrill unlike any other form of art, and it’s easier than ever to get started.
While animation has become easier over the years — you don’t have to hand-draw thousands of images unless you want to — the available software applications range in skill level. Some like Blender are considered great for 3D animation because it’s free and there are many tutorials, yet it’s not the most beginner-friendly if it’s your first time using 3D animation software. Alternatively, some animation software on mobile may be too simple to teach you the fundamentals, which makes it harder to move on to more complex applications. Below are a few of your favorite software applications for every operating system:
Best Beginner Animation Software for PCs and Macs: Open Toonz
OpenToonz gets a lot of praise because it’s a comprehensive 2D animation software that has the added benefit of being free! This open-source animation software is an evolution of Toonz, which Studio Ghibli once used to animate the all-time classic Princess Mononoke. Later, the studio made improvements to the software, which is now OpenToonz. The learning curve can be steep if you’re a complete beginner, but if you can learn this, you’ll be set. OpenToonz is robust in terms of features, so you’ll have plenty of tools to work with as your skills develop.
Pencil2D is billed as an easy-to-use 2D animation software, and many agree that you can pick it up fairly easily. The quality of the animations may not look the best, but Pencil2D is ideal if you just want to learn the basics.
Krita is somewhere between the other two; it has more features than Pencil2D, and it’s easier to pick up than OpenToonz. With a ton of brushes and textures, you can make animations look gorgeous, while you can customize the sleek UI to fit your animation style. Additional features like layer management and PSD support make it a natural transition from Photoshop and other Adobe apps.
Best Beginner Animation Software for Mobile: Animation Desk
With how powerful tablets are nowadays, you can easily learn the animation ropes on your iPad or Android tablet. Among the many different animation apps, Animation Desk differentiates itself by providing a slick user interface that streamlines the animation workflow. With a stylus, this app becomes even more intuitive, blending the advanced features of a digital animation workflow with the tactility of hand-drawn animation. The app is free to download and use, but you can unlock additional features by subscribing for $2.50 per month.
Alternative: Procreate (iOS only)
Anyone with an iPad and an Apple Pencil either owns this app or has at least heard of it. It’s hands-down the best illustration app on the iPad, but many don’t know about Procreate’s animation features. With the animation assist feature, you can turn simple sketches into fully-fledged animations, giving you a big helping hand as you learn animation basics like keyframes. This powerful app can be yours for a one-time charge of $13 — you read that right, you don’t have to sign up for another subscription.
If you’re just looking for a fun animation app on your phone, FlipaClip (also available for iOS) is probably what you’re looking for. It’s free and a lot more limited than other animation apps for mobile, but if you’re unsure whether animation is for you, you could give this a try first.
Best Beginner Animation Software for Stop Motion: Stop Motion Studio
If you’re not interested in the drawing part of animation, you can give stop-motion animation a try. While this type of animation is notoriously tedious and extremely time-consuming, it’s a way to bring your ideas to life without ever picking up a pencil/stylus. Whether you’re using clay figures, Legos, or people as the subjects of your stop-motion project, Stop Motion Studio can turn your series of images into an animated scene. The app is available on iOS, iPadOS, macOS, Windows, and Android for $10 on desktop and $6 on mobile devices.
Best Beginner Animation Software for Gamers: Flipnote Studio/Flipnote Studio 3DS
Flipnote Studio was a simple 2D animation tool for the DS and the DSi. It was the perfect piece of software to showcase the novelty of the hardware, making use of the touchscreen and stylus to allow users to create flipbook animations. Nintendo even created an online service, Flipnote Hatena, that allowed users to share their clips. It was a beloved app and free to boot. As a sign of how much people love this app, a developer recently created a Flipnote Studio player for the Panic Playdate handheld. While it’s no longer possible to download the software through legal means, DSi consoles were preloaded with the software, so you can pick one up if you want to use Flipnote Studio — a standard DSi costs about $40.
After the DS was superseded by the 3DS, Nintendo offered Flipnote Studio 3D. The sequel worked a lot like the original, with the exception that users could draw up to three layers within a frame to create a 3D effect. Flipnote Studio 3D was also offered for free by Nintendo, and it had a loyal fanbase. Unfortunately, the 3DS eShop servers were taken down earlier this year, so it’s no longer possible to download this game through the appropriate channels. Yet, it’s nothing an enterprising individual couldn’t figure out if they so wished. A used 3DS console can be found for around $110 on the low end, though a 2DS, which lacks the 3D functionality, can be found for as little as $60.
Alternative: Game Builder Garage for Nintendo Switch
Game Builder Garage is a piece of software developed by Nintendo that simplifies the craft of making games. This node-based software is a surprisingly comprehensive way to learn about game development, but it’s also a great tool for learning animation basics. If your goal is to animate games, Game Builder Garage is one application you’ll want to consider. You can pick up a copy of this game for $30 from the Nintendo Switch eShop.
Cover image via DCStudio at Freepik.
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