Taking Animation to the Web

Toon Boom to broaden its software reach with Studio, which provides movie-quality capabilities

Toon Boom Technologies Inc., which made its name with animation on the big screen, is now moving to the World Wide Web, adding to its animation software a new product designed for Web animators.

Toon Boom Studio Version 1.0, which will be released in upcoming weeks, includes capabilities to do movie-quality, two-dimensional animations for the Web.

Users can draw vector graphics directly into the software using a digital pen and tablet. The three-dimensional scene planning lets users frame a scene using multiple cameras, and changes are applied to each drawing in a layer so users dont have to "tween" every drawing. Changes to color palettes are also automatically updated, preventing users from having to repaint.

Toon Boom officials said they saw the Internet as a natural expansion of the companys animation work. Animation is becoming an increasingly important part of a Web sites ability to attract and keep customers, they said.

Drawing tools in the product include Bezier-based curve editing and onion skinning. Other features include a synchronized exposure sheet, timeline views and an automated process to synchronize lip movements to a soundtrack.

Beta customers praised the tools rich animation features and said it could work well in conjunction with Macromedia Inc.s Flash animation tool.

"It had all the tools I was looking for. Its definitely geared more toward an animators sensibilities," said Matt Ducharme, a beta tester and an animator with FableVision Studios, in Watertown, Mass. "The 3-D camera is one of the main draws. It just ups everything to the next level."

Another plus is the real-time playback available within the tool and the relatively small file sizes, Ducharme said. The one weakness he cited was that the onion skinning doesnt provide a way to distinguish between forward frames and backward frames. But, he added, it will be an easy fix for Toon Boom.

Ducharme said he wouldnt be able to create a mock space and pan a camera through it by using just Flash.

"Its extremely easy, and its pretty amazing," said Doug Mitchell, a Flash developer for Nickelodeon Online, which is owned by Viacom International Inc., in New York. "The scene layout and 3-D camera work would be totally time-consuming in Flash."

Mitchell, who has been using the beta product to create "Webisodes" and narrative cartoons, said Toon Boom Studio would be best used in conjunction with Flash.

Toon Boom Studio is compatible with Flash 4 and Flash 5.

"You get to see another dimension you dont see in Flash," Mitchell said. "Theres definitely a lot more you can do with perspective. You can attach a camera to an object thats moving around. Thats virtually impossible in Flash."

Nickelodeon Online is still evaluating the product.

Toon Boom, based in Montreal, is best known for its USAnimation software, which is used by movie and production studios such as Warner Bros. and DreamWorks SKG. USAnimation was used to create the "Rugrats in Paris" animated movie.

Toon Boom officials said they saw a new market in the Internet, realizing that animation could help contribute to a Web sites stickiness.

The company is not trying to replace Flash for Web animation, officials said. They said they believe the two can work in conjunction.

Toon Boom Studio is tailor-made for animation, while Flash is more of a "Swiss army knife" capable of scripting and many other tasks, the officials said.

File sizes for the animations are typically less than 150KB. Toon Boom Studio 1.0 works with Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows ME and Mac OS X.

The commercial release is slated for June 20; a public beta started late last month. Pricing is $499.