Over the last week or so, I had the chance to play around with ToonBoom Studio, which is a software for creating graphics and animations using a large range of techniques. I won’t start to enumerate the whole feature set, which you can see in the video tour, or the detailed features list. However, I will talk about my own experiences with the software, about what I was able to do and of course about integrating it with XNA.
The first thing that needs to be said is the ToonBoom is not just a software for drawing images, but has features designed specifically for creating animations, which lack in other drawing packages such as Photoshop, GIMP, or Paint.Net. So because they serve different purposes, you can’t directly compare Toon Boom with these tools.
The interface is nice and after a few hours of fooling around, and reading some tutorials, you get the hang of it and start being productive. After some experiments that are not really worthy of being shown, my first serious attempt was to try and draw the following image in ToonBoom.
My favorite feature of ToonBoom is the ability to take an image, and put it on the Static Light Table (semi-transparent background) so you can draw over it using the ToonBoom drawing primitives. In less than an hour, I was able to create something similar to the source cat image, but all done with vector graphics.
Now it was time to animate it, and the technique that seemed easiest to me was the cut-out animation technique. In this technique, you can isolate areas of the image, creating body parts, and link them together to create a hierarchy of part, just like you would do a skeleton in a 3D modeling animation. Then, in order to animate, you simply set the keyframes with different position and rotation values for each body part, and ToonBoom will take care of interpolating and animating your scene.
Since this was also a learning exercise, it took several hours, but in the end, I had the following animation:
Considering it’s my first jab at 2D animation, I was very satisfied with the results.
The whole cat drawing was based on someone else’s art as a source image, so I felt like a little cheater 🙂 This is why today I found one of my older “concept drawings” (if you can name it so), and decided to try and make the character in ToonBoom.
As you can see, my art skills are not something to be proud of. However, about 2 hours later, the result looked much better.
I’m sure a talented artist would have done this much faster, and with much better results, but from my point of view, it is a great progress. Some things I did to help me out:
- I used my concept art for static light, and drawn over it using the brush tool, or the poly-line tool
- I used random images on the internet to try and understand how to make a sword look sharp
- I used a picture of Mickey Mouse as inspiration for drawing the shape of the boots
- For the clothing details, I took them one at at time, and tried to add some simple details (the belt, the buttons, the shine on the boots) to make them look more interesting.
From now on, if I want to animate this particular fellow, rigging him for the cut-out animation technique should be rather easy.
A point of interest is how to integrate this tool with XNA for creating games. The first thing to know is that ToonBoom doesn’t have any special features to connect it to XNA.
What it can do is to export the animation as a sequence of images (at the framerate you desire, where intermediate frames will be generated automatically by the software), so after that, you still have to take those images, assemble them as sprite sheets, and write code to animate them in your game. You can’t fault ToonBoom Studio for that, because there really isn’t any software out there that does more than this.
But I can still dream. [dream state on] Just like ToonBoom Studio has a plugin to load a ToonBoom animation project in Flash and just use it directly, I think there is potential for something similar to be done for XNA. If the project format was open, I’m sure someone could create the necessary components (Content Importer + Content Processor + Runtime classes) to ensure an easy transition of animations and scenes from ToonBoom to XNA. Not for the vector art (which would need to be converted into sprites), but at least for the animations and scenes planning. [dream state off]
With that said, I think ToonBoom Studio is a wonderful tool for 2D drawing and animation, and I wholeheartedly recommend everyone to go and download the trial, and see for yourselves if it can help your game. I, for one, am going to use it for all my future 2D game graphics needs.
P.S. Creator’s Club Premium Members get a nice discount for Toon Boom Studio. See this for more information.
P.P.S. Some links with Toon Boom tutorials:
- http://www.connectedconcepts.net/toonboom/, with an index of previous tutorials here.