Holiday geek presents: Reviewing Anime Studio Debut
Is your loved one a cartoon or Anime geek? Are they an amateur cartoonist, a hobbyist or a professional looking to do more? CliqueClack reviews SmithMicro’s entry-level Anime Studio Debut for the holidays.
When SmithMicro asked NYCC-attending journalists about reviewing their animation software, I immediately volunteered. During my undergraduate days I worked in a CGI human simulation lab. Anime Studio Debut 9 reminded me of that, only cooler and less academic. Later on, when a friend asked for my recommendation regarding decent Manga and animation creation software, I couldn’t think of any. Luckily, I discovered SmithMicro.
Although I planned on giving the software a wholehearted thumbs up, I’m giving it a lukewarm recommendation instead.When the SmithMicro team gave their demonstration, everything looked incredibly easy and slick. Anime Studio Debut 9 provided a bank of figures to work with and an initial start up character. I was impressed by the capabilities they included off the bat. This is something you should buy as a gift only if the person in your life is patient and possesses a dedicated interest in animation, graphic design or CGI. If he/she contains an actual background in CGI or graphic design, it’ll help even more, but it isn’t necessary. The CGI human simulation software I used in the ’90s was a pain because the graphic figures easily distorted. If you improperly built your figure’s bone structure, it fell apart. If you placed the figure’s joints in the wrong position, it fell apart. If you wanted to customize the figure’s clothing, skin tone or posture, it took even longer. Remember Parks and Recreation when Ben spent two weeks creating two seconds of stop motion animation? My old software kind of worked like that. It took me a semester to perfect a walking scenario. While AnimeStudio isn’t as bad as that, it requires a lot of work. Most contemporary photo or video editing software allows you to get up and running with minimal training, but you do need to read the manual to effectively use Anime Studio Debut.
Although they’re providing capabilities similar to my undergraduate thousand dollar software for $50, I wouldn’t mind spending $30 extra for a smoother interface. In places, it feels like a program I would’ve used in the ’90s. The one thing I hated about my other human simulation software is if you weren’t careful about joint placement, the figure became skewed. This also happens in Anime Studio Debut. I secretly hoped that after 15 years, human simulation software for end-users would’ve improved on that end.
Regarding cool stuff, it’s pretty granular with character movement. The provided pre-constructed characters are incredibly nice. Also, you can use heads and eyeballs as props. You can move the thigh separate from the calf and the calf separate from the foot. Additionally, if your figure has a cape, it’s treated as a bone (which can move on its own). But, if you want to move an entire leg, don’t just click on the calf, as that’s all you’ll move (leaving the foot and thigh behind). They provide a minimal diversity of figures regarding gender and race. Also, the figures are your exact mirror image. Clicking on the character’s right leg, isn’t their right leg but their left leg. Although using the File->Import menu to add figures was non-intuitive, adding them from the library looked better with mini-previews. The Aya and Winsor characters are well developed concerning facial expressions and there’s a mini-easter egg concerning the Jai character. His dual-shaded hair ripples when you click on him.
My two biggest complaints surround the software interface. It isn’t intuitive and feels slightly clunky. Desktop-interface standards have developed since the 1980s. So, I’m surprised they don’t adhere more to standard practices. You can’t right-click on as many items as I expected to view a menu of options. Considering the number of pieces that comprise a figure, it’d be great to single-click to select/de-select individual joints and double-click to select an entire figure. Additionally, the software needs cleaner organization. Creating a new content folder should occur under the File menu, not the Help menu. Sharing videos on social media or creating a new character shouldn’t be placed in the all-purpose File menu. Do you want to select just female or male figures? You can’t. You have to open up each sub-category folder. The character category names are organized by partners and versions, which isn’t helpful for end users. The folders contain non-descriptive titles such as “New Characters,” “Partners,” “Version 5″ and “Random.” As the default props\backgrounds are slightly cartoony, you’ll have to import photos or make your own.
Suggestions for Improvement
Anime Studio is a good bargain. It gives wannabe animators $50 software that would’ve cost thousands of dollars in the ’90s. But, in the year 2012, other software has made leaps and bounds concerning their interfaces. This project still feels slow. When the project lead mentioned the small development team, I couldn’t believe a handful of people created such an awesome-looking software package. But, after testing it, I believe it. They could benefit from a larger team. When I put my computer to sleep with the Anime Studio Debut program still running, then brought it out of sleep mode, Anime Studio Debut crashed. This happened three times. While the more time I spent with it, the easier it became, I’d also like to see an improvement in the training materials. Including a quick 5-10 minutes startup video would’ve been great, rather than linking to one. Additionally, a shorter mini 10-20 page guide in addition to the 155-page guide would’ve helped anxious users get started sooner. They used to include training videos in their download, but I don’t think including one easy how-to video would break the bank.