Article from Issue 239/2020

Graham looks at OpenToonz, Qtile, SageMath, starcli, Fermentrack, Mindustry, and much more.

Animation powerhouse


OpenToonz is an open source version of Toonz, a widely used and influential 2D animation platform that's been in existence since the early 1990s. In particular, it was famously used by Studio Ghibli to help create Hayao Miyazaki's remarkable Japanese anime movies, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Howl's Moving Castle. Like Blender, Toonz has gone through a metamorphosis from a long-standing macOS and Windows proprietary application to an open source project that finally runs on Linux, a process that started in 2016 and is still finding its own feet. All of which means any of us can now install OpenToonz and start creating our own surreal voyages of animation discovery.

As you might expect from an application with such a long and prestigious history, OpenToonz is seriously capable. Its capabilities start with the way you can create the images used as the source for an animation. Not only does it contain powerful vector tools for sketching and drawing, it can also scan or camera-capture hand-drawn cells from the real world before cleaning them up, making them color consistent, and finally converting them into vectors. Vectors are the key to this kind of animation. Not only do vectors let you easily edit specific elements of your drawings across multiple timelines, they allow you to create keyframes. A keyframe is a snapshot of vector positions at a specific point in time. OpenToonz can smoothly tween between keyframes to create perfectly smooth animations. When combined with the inverse kinematics support for limb movement, you can create amazingly realistic animations without having to draw each individual frame.

But OpenToonz isn't anchored to the 2D realm either. Much like animations in Blender, the rendered scene is merely a viewport from a 3D stage, where the rendered 2D output is the result of framing a multi-layered composite visible from a virtual camera; you can even add multiple cameras. This enables you to create the kind of complex three dimensional and multiplane parallax movements you see in modern animations, where the camera changes angles around a supposed 2D object, all of which can then be synchronized with motion tracking and a custom scripting engine.

The downside to all of this functionality is the learning curve. There's an awful lot to take in and understand without even considering the study and talent required to draw and create the source material in the first place. However, the user interface is relatively easy to understand, at least if you've used a similar tool like a video editor before. There are tabs for the main functions: Basics, Cleanup, Drawing, Timeline, Animation, Palette, XSheet (exposure sheet, or animation notes), Browser, and Farm (network rendering). All general editing, animation, and drawing can be accomplished from the Basic view. You only need to switch between tabs when you're focusing on a specific task. Every page is crammed full of functionality that will take some time to learn. But the project's popularity is growing, and it has matured to a point where the Linux client is stable. This means that, like Blender and Krita before it, OpenToonz will likely soon have a community of avid creators to help on-board the next generation of animators. We can't wait to see what they create.

Project Website

1. Drawing tools: OpenToonz relies on good illustrations and is well-equipped to edit and create them. 2. Viewport: This is actually a 2D composite of a 3D view that can be staged and manipulated. 3. Onion skin: See the frames before and after the current frame for any layer. 4. Layer editor: Isolate each element in your animation and edit separately. 5. Tabs: The complex UI is simplified somewhat by dividing functions into their own pages. 6. Column view: Each layer has its own column that is then used as a kind of functional spreadsheet to build the animation. 7. Palettes: Color and palette control is a big part of OpenToonz's professional output. 8. Playback: Add sub-cameras, alpha channels, snapshots, and even a soundtrack.

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