Pencil Animation Software Review – A Free Classical Animation Program
Pencil is an open source animation program meaning it is completely free to use in any way you want with no license restrictions (you can make a donation to the developers if you so wish).
Just go to the site and download the latest version for Windows, Mac or Linux (no registration required either).
Now since i’m an old-fashioned sort of a gent and believe there’s no such thing as a free lunch, I was a tad skeptical at first and wondered if it would be any good, but upon opening the software was pleasantly surprised to see that in fact it is actually very good.
The interface is pretty standard for animation software and clearly laid out with most things fairly self-explanatory.
The standard drawing tools are all there and obvious to any one who’s used a paint program before.
The drawing tool gives a nice sketchy line quality particularly if you’re using a Wacom tablet, and you can work in either Bitmap or Vector mode (vectors give you a cleaner line and good if zooming in since they don’t lose quality or go “pixelated”).
The Onion Skin feature is clearly visible with an on / off button, so no need to waste time going through menus to find it. However, it only shows the frame before and after the current one…it would be nice to have an option that allows you to show more, but unfortunately there isn’t.
You can also export your work in a variety of formats like jpeg and png sequences and Flash movies. The QuickTime .mov export is only available in the Mac version though which is pretty annoying since you’ll have to then compress your images in a 3rd party program to make a movie which can be uploaded to YouTube etc.
The real strength of Pencil is that it has been designed primarily for traditional 2d drawn animation, which I really like. So don’t expect to be able to do Flash-style cut out animation like you can do in Anime Studio Debut because you’ll be disappointed.
If this is your first foray into animation then you may find a bit of a learning curve since it does require at least a rudimentary knowledge of how it all works.
There’s also no shortcuts. Traditional 2d drawn animation is VERY labour intensive and there is no getting around the fact that it requires lots of drawing to get something moving (you can’t do computer-aided “tweening” in Pencil like you can in other programs such as Flip Boom All Star and Anime Studio Debut).
Of course, a purist like myself finds this aspect the big attraction to this style of animation, but I would readily agree that for many youngsters it’s a hard way to learn.
Also, the fact that Pencil is free cuts both ways. It’s great because you can just download and get started, but on the other hand there isn’t a lot of support or updates. You kind of have to go it alone, albeit there is a user forum and community who can help out.
All in all I would say that Pencil is a wonderful little program for practicing traditional drawn animation without the need for expensive lighttables, cameras and lots of pencils.
However, it is limited to one style of animation, and young beginners may find it frustrating if it takes them a long time to see results.
Download a free version here
For other top animation programs, see our reviews here
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