Ranging from free to the price of a small car made of cardboard, these programs will get you started with a career in animation. This article is intended to be a definitive list of all available animation programs.
You many notice that some of these programs are not primarily for animation. Some, like Flash, are designed for other tasks. However if animation can be created with the software it will be considered for this list.
Which Animation Program is Right For You?
For each of the following animation programs we will display its price, complexity level, a link to the program and any other relevant information you might find useful. Hopefully this will educate you in finding the right animation program for you.
2D Animation Programs
The following animation programs are all primarily designed to function in 2D.
Toon Boom Studio 4
Toon Boom Studio is one of the best animation programs for internet users, and is well known for its depth and quality of their technical support. It’s a solid application that is made for animators, by animators. This makes it a perfect choice for creating your own original cartoons.
Developed with the premise that animation programs do not have to be overly complicated to produce effective and fun cartoons, Animationish is a great application to learn the basics of cartoons.
The producers of Toon Boom created this animation program with kids in mind. It’s a simple program to get the hang of, with basic drawing inputs and previous/next frame navigation. Even the output controls have been slimmed down to make it as easy as possible for kids to grasp.
Adobe Flash has been around for a long time in one form or another. It has the benefit of being easy to use, but is missing some key toolsets that would truly benefit animators. That’s why Flash does not currently get top billing from most animation studios.
If the price does not scare you away you’ll find that Flash can provide a great interactive experience but is not an ideal animation program for cartoons.
While it’s primarily used for compositing and effects, After Effects can be used to create animation. It’s clearly overkill to use this program just for animation, but the fact that you can means it must go on this list. Frankly, I can think of several things I would rather do with a thousand dollars.
Pencil is an interesting animation program in that it allows for both vector and bitmap drawings. It’s as if the drawing tools of Photoshop were combined with the powers of Flash. The software itself has been pared down to its most essential elements, meaning it’s an excellent introductory animation program.
The creators of the Windows-only Synfig have ambitious goals of their animation software being used to create feature film quality animation. After watching an impressive demo it looks like they’re not far away from their goal. Synfig can create complicated lighting and camera effects, it’s up to you, the animator, to use them properly.
Another Windows-only animation program, CreaToon uses a cut-out animation process, similar to Toon Boom. The application itself seems a bit less polished, but the ability to use bitmap images within the program is useful.
Toon Boom Digital Pro
As internet animation programs go, Toon Boom Digital Pro is strictly for professionals, as indicated by its price tag. They have the credentials to back it up though. Besides the extensive list of TV and movies created with Toon Boom Digital Pro, internet sensations Adam Phillips and Bernard Derriman also use this animation program.
Toon Boom Studio Express
This pared down version of Toon Boom Studio is a good introductory animation program for newcomers. There are limits, however, especially since only one scene can be created at a time. You can easily purchase Express and then upgrade to Studio later if you find that you need the extra punch.
SWiSH was initially created to take advantage of the open .swf format established by Flash. Originally billed as a cheaper Flash alternative, SWiSH has become a solid Windows-only text animation program in its own right, allowing you to easily create impressive swooping effects and export them for the internet.
Ulead Gif Animator
Gif Animator is truly old school animation software. Animated Gifs have, in general, are almost extinct on the internet as Flash and DSL
speeds have become almost ubiquitous. This is a Windows-only application, and does not work in Vista. If you want to party like it’s 1999, this animation program will get you in the mood.
While TV Paint was a solid animation program before, when they purchased the Mirage name and rolled the two applications into a single animation program simply called TV Paint many animators rejoiced. TV Paint is solid production level animation software, and there is a professional version available for 950ï¿½.
Plastic Animation Paper
This truly exciting animation program comes to us from the beautiful country of Denmark. Plastic Animation Paper is meant to be a replacement to a traditional light table/paper animation combination. This software is currently available for Windows and Linux, however they are diligently working on a version for the Mac. There is a free version for you to try, as well as a professional version for 695ï¿½.
This Windows-only is a quirky little program designed only to create .exe files. This could be useful for a slideshow or looping display, however the animation part of the program is relatively limited.
Pro Motion is a Windows-only animation program designed for close-up pixel manipulation. This makes it ideal software for building sprite-based characters such as those found in video games.
3D Animation Programs
For the most part 3D is considered to be software for professionals, although the following applications are seeing use at home and open-source movies.
3D Studio Max
3D Studio Max wins the dubious honor of being the most exspensive animation software program on this list. You many notice that this and the next program, Maya, are both owned by Autodesk. While it’s a popular program for industrial designers and architects, it’s also found a core following in film and video games.
Increasingly Maya is becoming the 3D tool of choice for film, as it allows for a vast array of shading and lighting effects. Maya is also extremely customizeable, allowing for easy integration with third party software. This makes it an easy choice for animation production houses. There’s a Personal Learning Edition that you can download for free, which we recommend if you’re considering this software.
Lightwave is a truly professional 3D program, used to create many movies and TV special effects. Tackling Lightwave is not something you should enter into lightly. Fortunately there is a 30 day trial for this animation software, which we highly recommend.
Blender has recently made a pretty impressive splash when it was used to create the impressive cartoon Big Buck Bunny. This entertaining and professional cartoon should be all the reason you need to try out this open source animation program.
Truly a personal labor of love, this 3D animation program is the creation of Steve Glanville, a software engineer for NVidia. Anim8or, besides being difficult to spell, is a Windows-only application. It is not professional level animation software, but it was never intended to be. Regardless, it is a good introductory animation program, especially if you’re interested in learning how to animate in 3D.
The original intention of the Swift 3D software was to offer a 3D alternative to Flash users. This animation program will let you model and animate directly in the software, and then export to the Flash-friendly .swf format.
Photograph Animation Programs
Almost falling into the miscellaneous category, the following photograph animation programs use still photos to create animated movies.
This is the only Macintosh-only application on this list. iStopMotion is a fun program designed for stop-motion animation. It can work with the camera built into your Mac, or can quickly import photos to build your animations.
Morpheus is an animation program designed to transform your photos into into other things such as cartoons or animals. The morphing process itself is the extent of the animation involved, but it can be interesting to play with.