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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Animate on your DS

So ever since I found out that there is an animation program for the DS I got hooked on the whole homebrew scene. If you're interested in the research I did for it, check the swench posts about said DS Homebrew Research and the one about the Installation Process.

What got me started was the post on Tim Sormin's blog, in which he wrote about the current progams: Animanatee, Flickbook and Inchworm. You can read his review and thoughts about it there.

If you're more into a sketchbook type of program, then Colors! would be more appropriate.

Visit Tim's post for more information as well as the official site of course.

I would have liked to get Inchworm, but since the creator is looking for a publisher, I don't know if and when it will get a release. You can sign up for an email notification regarding the official release though.

So after installing all the necessary components I tried out Animanatee.

Once you start the program, you're prompted to the main menu:

The main menu gives you a nice quick overview on how to use the DS buttons and the rest is pretty self explanatory. Choose "New" to start a fresh clip and it will give you this:

The top screen will show you at all times what your current frame looks like. Or if you have your animation play, then it will always play on the upper screen, even if you are in the animation menu screen or working on your current frame within the lower screen. I actually found it to be very neat to have it play while you work separately on the shot, because it gives you real-time feedback and you don't have to switch to a menu or push a few buttons and lose time. Yes, I know, it's not a big time waster, but I like things quick, efficient and intuitive.

Speaking of quick and efficient: as you work on your shot on the lower screen, no buttons or menu tabs are in your way, therefore giving you the full screen real estate to work with. As the main menu told you, click Y and A (or Left and Right on the D-Pad) to move forward and/or backwards frame by frame. If you want to change the size of your brush, or color, or switch between foreground layer and background layer, etc. just push either the right or left shoulder button on the DS and the animation menu shows up on the lower screen:

This menu gives you all the basic animation options you'd like to see. Add, duplicate or delete frames, clear the full frame, redo and undo, activate onion skinning (showing one previous frame), switch between layers (foreground/background), change the frame rate (from 1 to 30), step through each frame or quickly go to the end or beginning of your shot, change the size of the brush, and pick a color.
The three last black rows are for your custom colors. If you colored something red using the given palette and change the color later on, everything that's red will change. So use the preset colors and don't change them. If you want to create custom colors, then click on one of the black frames within the last three bottom rows and go from there.

Once you're done with your clip, push Start and choose any slot to save your work. You will also see the "export avi" button on the upper right corner.

You need to choose your slot first and then click "export avi" for it to work. The movie will be saved in your Animanatee folder, which you can easily copy off the MicroSD card onto your PC.

I never once had to look up any manuals or extra instructions online, there is no confusion about what to do, the program is very intuitive and a joy to work with.

If I had to nitpick, here's what's missing:

- more than two layers (FG/BG), that would be really cool
- onion skinning for the frame ahead and maybe more than one layer, although one is enough for me
- a way to copy one frame and insert it on any frame you want to
- the possibility to load a sound file (that would be awesome!)

But again, the program is free and a lot of fun, I love it! After a few minutes of trying it out for the first time, this is what I got:

Now on to "Flickbook".

Reading through Tim's post I expected it to be a lot more refined than "Animanatee", but I wasn't into it at all.

First the good things: you can zoom into your shot (and zoom out), you have more layers (up to 4) and a way to copy the full frame or just a section of your choice and paste it wherever you want to, fancier ways to scroll through your shot, etc. So it's addressing points that I missed in "Animanatee" and adding other cool functions.

But what killed it for me was:

- the lack of an undo button (if you accidentally drew something on your frame, you would have to erase it using different colors, basically "fixing" your drawing)
- no looping function (bye bye bouncing balls, walk cycles, anything that requires a loop, plus it's annoying to always click on "back to first frame" and "play" in order to watch your clip multiple times)
- a somewhat clumsy menu ("Flickbook" gives you the chance to reskin your menu, which is a cool option, but the default layout was just not that intuitive, plus some of the icons didn't really tell you what they were for, forcing you to look up the online manual - no, I don't mind manuals and reading, but after Animanatee's ease of use you notice a difference)
- too many steps needed in order to export your clip (you need to use a second program on your PC for it)

There are other things that I didn't like too much, but there's no need to slam something which is free (go here for a more detailed overview of the software). Don't get me wrong, it's not bad, it's just not what I am looking for, especially after having tried out Animanatee. I think I read that Flickbook is more widely used, so what do I know. They are almost identical, but even if it had a looping function and an undo button (the two things I miss the most), I'd still go with the other program because it's so efficient and easy to use.

There you go.

If you don't have a homebrew kit for your DS but want to test out the two programs on your PC, just download a DS emulator and give it a shot.


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