I have been an aspiring animator for quite some time now and I own an outdated copy of Anime Studio Debut Version 6. Do I need to upgrade to take advantage of the software’s full capabilities such as lip synching? Are there any major differences between the Anime Studio Debut version and the Pro version? If I want to make a serious action short (possibly in anime form or in the style of Young Justice or the new Thundercats series), should I invest in a different program such as Toon Boom or the Pro version of Studio? Are my expectations unachievable or too radical for a beginnner/semi-beginner? I have used Pencil 2D, and Synfig before but I am wondering if any programs are easy to use (not too tedious like Pencil 2D, or Synfig) while supporting great looking visuals like (Toon Boom). Note that I understand some of the basics of Anime Studio from playing around (with the included characters and backgrounds) such as movement and the timeline but can’t seem to figure out how to create and rig my own character. Apologies for such a lengthy question.
The Debut version of the software can do some pretty amazing things, but it has limitations. It will do the auto-lipsync, but it will be limited in how many tracks you can lipsync. You can only import 1 audio track, which means you can only auto-sync one mouth. Of course, you can always import a single audio file that has pieced together multiple characters’ voices, and then you can manually sync them up. I won’t go into detail about techniques like this. If you want to learn more about actually rigging characters and using the software, you can always take my course, Animation Trainer.
That being said, it seems like I don’t need to cover that topic in detail anyway. If you really are serious about animating a series like Thundercats, you’ll want the Pro version of the software. The Pro version will allow you to save and reuse animation, which means you only have to make a character do something once, and you can piece it into any future scenes without having to animate it again; you just select your saved action and click to insert it. If your character always drew his sword from its sheath the same way, you could take the time to animate it once, and you’d never have to do it again; just click a couple times, and it’s done.
If you really want to get the most out of the software, go with Anime Studio Pro, version 9. The new smart bones that Smith Micro introduced can help you achieve fantastic results. Any vector point can be attached to a bone and manipulated automatically, based on the rotation angle of the bone. That means that when an arm bends the muscle can bulge, and stuff like that. You’ll probably want this feature if you plan on doing a lot of advanced shading on your character. If you were going to do something in the style of The Simpsons, you wouldn’t need it.
With Pencil 2D or Synfig, you get what you pay for. Since you’ve tried them, you know the value of a free 2d animation program. (3D animation software is another story. As for free 3D animation software, Blender has fantastic capabilities, but has a steep learning curve.) Anime Studio will be unlike either of these. In fact, once you learn to use the drawing tools and rig your characters properly, you’ll wonder why you ever fooled around with these other programs.
As for Toon Boom, it’s the industry standard. You’ll find Disney movies made with it (like The Princess and the Frog), as well as many, many other cartoons (The Simpson’s Movie, Rugrats the Movie, Spongebob Squarepants, etc.). That being said, I know of at least one production studio in Hollywood that’s using Anime Studio. I can’t think of anything that Toon Boom Animate Pro can do that you can’t do in Anime Studio Pro 9, and ASP9 doesn’t have the 4 figure price tag ($1199 at the time of this writing).
As for your expectations, I believe ASP is the easiest animation program to use. If you want high end results, be prepared to put in the time it takes to think through how to design 2 dimensional scenes. Here’s a clip I made after spending about a month with the software, with no real prior experience.
Of course, it’s capable of way more than this. It’s currently my software of choice for working on 2D animation projects as I freelance for various studios. iClone is my choice for 3D animation software.
Ultimately, to answer your question of whether or not I think it would be too difficult, I would ask you this question: As you watch a cartoon on tv, can you figure out how they animated a certain special effect or scene? Try recording a few minutes and playing it back frame by frame. Ask yourself if you are willing to put in the work it takes to make all those frames happen (24 frames a second). Every piece of cartoon content must be created. I think people forget that and get frustrated and give up when they realize that making a cartoon takes work. Watch the credits role, and see how many animators, voice actors, software people, and others it takes to produce a cartoon. One person can do it. I do it all the time. However, it will take work.
I hope this answers all your questions. If you have any other questions related to animation software feel free to ask in the comments section below.