Hello – my name is Matthew Lyles Hornbostel, and while I’m more known for 3d animation, visual effects, video and video game production, and so on, I do enjoy experimenting with cartooning once in a while. I did a cartoon sequence for the intro to one of my old movies, and have made a variety of still cartoons and comic books.
I can tell you that all animation, whether it’s 3d animation, live-action video, cartoons, or animation with miniatures, is at its core a series of still frames. These frames may be individually positioned or drawn, or recorded in real time, but all of it is a sequence of still images.
There is no secret to making a cartoon quickly or efficiently; ultimately any shortcuts taken tend to be visible and obvious in the finished animation. Cartoon animation is time-consuming. It is “acting in slow motion”, as some animators have put it… and it involves a great deal of work and attention to detail, to do well.
Often you’ll see animators record reference video of themselves acting out a scene in the real world, or collecting photos and video clips of relevant locations, scenery, machines, animals, objects, and people… the reason that good animators do this is so that they have reference with which to believably draw, or position, the frame-by-frame movements of their animated worlds and characters. A good animator can pay attention to muscle and bone structure, light and shadow, physics and weight, and all the many ways in which objects move in the real world – and recreate those attributes in their animations. .
When I did the old cartoon sequences and comic books, it was all sketches on paper. You can sketch frame after frame, in pencil or pen, on paper, and scan them (if you want that particular organic look) or do a series of stop-motion scribbles, paintings, markers on a dry-erase board, and so on… these give a variety of visual looks that can be very distinctive.
Today most animation is done directly in the computer, using a graphics tablet and stylus – for good reason!
Current software tools, like the old light boards, allow the animator to flip back and forth between frames and overlay them, to ensure realistic motion from frame to frame. These tools also allow for easy erasing of mistakes, tweening (that is, interpolation of a shape between multiple frames) copying and pasting of frames, and a plethora of coloring, drawing, and filling tools. All of this helps make modern animation more efficient and user-friendly, albeit still very time-consuming.
Here are a few of the available cartooning tools:
– Pencil. Freeware. Windows, Mac, and Linux-compatible – and capable of both vector and bitmap animation.
– Synfig. Freeware. PC only, pretty solid quality with some advanced effects.
– CreaToon. Allows cut-out style animations.
– Flash. You can animate in Flash (if you have the cash).
– Toon Boom. A professional animation toolset.
– ImageReady. Comes with Photoshop and can be used to make animated GIFs.
– Jasc Animation Shop. Paint Shop Pro’s alternative to ImageReady. I used this many years ago.
– Cosmigo Pro Motion. Another GIF bitmap animation tool.
– After Effects. I know it’s primarily a compositing program, but with vector paint tools, bitmap cutout manipulation, and Flash export options, there is absolutely no reason you can’t use AE as a cartooning tool.
– Claymation Studio. This is a decent app if your focus is on stop-motion animation captured with a camera.
– Anime Studio Debut. Intermediate feature set; pretty good animation program.
– Flipbook. It’s an advanced animation application.
– P.A.P. a freeware Windows animation program.
– Awesome Animator. Cheap animation program for Windows.
There you go – a list of fourteen animation tools for you to look at. Have fun animating!