OpenToonz is the messy poop left on your screen as Toonz Premium passed by.
OpenToonz wants to be a game changer for the animation industry by offering their software open source, with the hopes it will become an industry standard. The short version goes like this. I hate the interface. It's dated and ugly, and it isn't user friendly in the slightest. Everything is hard to find, if you ever find what you need to begin with. It isn't modern, it isn't elegant, it's not especially organized or flexible.
You're forced to acknowledge the truth of what the press release really means. Dwango clearly didn't actually acquire Toonz. It's obvious. When I read "agreed to close the deal under the condition Dwango will publish and develop an Open Source platform based on Toonz" (toonzpremium.com), I didn't realize it was so loosely based! There is no genuine connection between OpenToonz and the needs of a professional studio. There is not even an apparent connection between OpenToonz and any of the Toonz products offered by Digital Video up until now.
I don't understand the terms of the deal between Dwango and Digital Video, but it's obvious Dwango got the short end of the stick when they signed off on being the promotional "tool" for the premium animation software Digital Video is clearly still clinging on to. It's painfully obvious to me that OpenToonz will never be an industry standard, but it could be the punch line when we talk about Toonz Premium's potential to become an industry standard. It certainly won't be utilized in any of my projects. Read More to see screenshots and learn more about my first impressions.
While the original Toonz was released in 1993, the OpenToonz interface looks like it has refused to abandon the '90's aesthetic! So what? Well, let's talk about aesthetics alone. Animation is a long, tedious, challenging process that requires hours upon hours in front of your screen. Is that experience enhanced by an outdated, ugly interface? No, it's made even more miserable! Like any game ever made, how awesome the game play is won't matter much to me if I can't stand looking at it. However, let's instead talk about the heart of the user experience and interface design. Aesthetics are important sure, but what's really important is usability.
I have limited animation experience. For months I've been exploring beginner options that don't cost $600+. The options are few and far between. I was excited to hear about a professional quality software, studio tested and developed over the course of more than 2 decades, being released as open source. It sounded too good to be true... and it is. As mentioned earlier, OpenToonz isn't actually the software seeking to be a world standard in 2D animation, it's only based on the products that led to the development of the software seeking that glorious position.
What does that have to do with interface and usability? As someone wanting to begin exploring animation, the target market for a software like this, I found nothing intuitive about this software. The interface is just not friendly. It's not obvious at first glance, or even second glance, how I'm supposed to do anything. The usability for someone new to the software is basically non-existent. Navigating the space is frustrating and confusing, things seem out of context, poorly placed, or unnecessarily hidden.
In the upper right, you can find "Cleanup Settings". I don't know about most people, but Cleanup is something I do after all the hard work is done. Although, here it also says "(Global)". My limited experience says, "Okay, global would be the big picture kind of stuff, like my overall project settings." Perfect. I should be able to set my project dimensions here and get started. Nope. Even after the long headache of actually figuring out which combination of lock/unlock icons to click as you input your resolution and DPI settings, the document doesn't change. And DPI? Am I printing my animation out? Am I scanning in something? Are you guys still inexplicably using DPI and PPI interchangeably for no reason? Why is the default 64? How do I commit the changes? Too many questions already, and I still haven't even got the basics of my project established in the software.
So, eventually I can find those identical "Cleanup Settings" in the menu bar as Camera Settings, in the Output Settings dialogue, and it will instantly change the document size to reflect it. Still not sure what the Cleanup Settings are since they weren't affected. But screw it, let's try a little animation and see what it looks like! I suppose I'd go to InknPaint for that (shown above)? Okay, so after playing around I see that's just for the selected frame. "Maybe I'll fill it in with a nice sky blue to get started... no, I can't. Apparently I can do all this on the Cleanup Tab, so what's the InknPaint tab for? Where the hell are the drawing tools? I found them, but when I go to fill, I get the universal sign for "No!" Why can't I fill a color? Maybe I need to just pick a color? How? Not the right layer type? I can't tell. What's a level? Is that a layer? Dammit! Screw it, I'll just start drawing..."
"Yuck! It looks all pixelated! Oh, I see, it smooths out after I'm done making the stroke... weird... at least it registers pen pressure on my tablet. Brush is too small... how do I make it bigger? No settings. I'd like to zoom in, too, do I have to grab for my mouse wheel every time?" So, it occurs to me I can just look up the shortcut settings somewhere. I find them. There are no default shortcuts set. None. You have to set every single shortcut yourself! It goes on and on like this, for everything. It's not clear where to look for what you need and even if you find the right place, it's still not what you'd expect. Not to fear, I can just reference the handy, free, PDF: "Start-up manual for OpenToonz".
Yikes! I guess when they say "world standard for 2D animation", they only meant the part of the world that speaks Japanese. Oh well.
Animation is hard work, but it's a simple concept. I need easy to use tools for drawing and coloring. I need to draw a picture, then another picture, then another. I need easy to identify layers and frames, simple and clear options for adding and removing frames where I need them, moving existing frames where I need them, and easy to manage onion skin settings. I need software that understands why I want to work paperless and supports, as simply as possible, the tools I need to work paperless. Let's take a look at a good example of what that might look like:
Keep in mind, I have basically no experience with Pencil2D. However, within a couple minutes I'm doing more in this software than over an hour in OpenToonz. I was able to easily find out how to adjust the resolution in the camera layer dialogue and the changes were visual and instant. When I select a tool, the settings are immediately available, simple, and clear. Creating layers is fast and easy, moving and inserting frames is fast and easy, the interface is clean, simple, and modern, and the software is open source.
Besides Pencil 2D, another option could easily become an industry standard for 2D frame animation. By adding the ability to insert and remove frames where needed, move selected frames, I'd love color options for onion skinning, and boom, Photoshop would be my go-to for animation. It already has powerful drawing and painting tools, layer effects, filters, simple and useful timeline animation features, countless online resources, tutorials, and add-ons, simple layer management, support for plenty of file types, decades of development experience and it would only be $10/mo. Not too costly for a budding animator, streamlined into industry standard workflows and formats, and a dedicated development and support team. What's the holdup guys?
OpenToonz was just released today and these are only first impressions as an inexperienced animator. I can imagine OpenToonz being an appealing option for people still interested in hand drawing/painting on paper, but I think that group also might also just want to make the claim they're using the same software Ghibli used (or software based on what Ghibli used), because I'm not sure it's worth the headache when compared to something like MonkeyJam.
I think there are far better free and inexpensive options than OpenToonz in Pencil2D, the previously mentioned MonkeyJam, Sketchbook Pro, and Photoshop. Personally, I'd still rather play in Photoshop, using a work around to features not yet implemented, than incorporate OpenToonz into my projects. I just can't imagine OpenToonz becoming an industry standard for paperless, and I can't imagine an industry standard that doesn't excel at paperless.
This article written by, yours truly, Noble Valerian. Feel free to comment and criticize below, especially if you have a wee bit of animation experience and have had a chance to scope out OpenToonz. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Digital Arts Instructor