It’s 2013. Do you know where my Free vector animation software is?

In 2008 I vowed that the only animation software I’d switch to, once I had to give up Macromedia Flash 8, would be Free software. Why? Because Adobe bought Flash and ruined it. Among their other unforgivable crimes was crippling Quicktime video output. Old Macromedia Flash could export to any video codec Quicktime supported, including the luscious and useful “Animation” codec. Adobe removed high quality output options to force users to process .swf files through After Effects. I could have lived with the insult and expense of being forced to buy After Effects, but not of having my workload and production time increased just so Adobe could try to squeeze more money out of its customers.

Now it’s 2013 and I’m still using the same copy of Macromedia Flash 8 from 2005, on an old Mac that supports OS 10.5, because old Flash doesn’t work on newer computers or newer operating systems. I’m frozen in time, and it’s starting to hurt.

5 years have passed and there’s no viable Free vector animation software for me to switch to. Synfig supposedly can do all sorts of wonderful things, but it’s simply not useable by anyone not actually developing the software. I devoted quite a bit of time and effort trying to switch, even getting a devoted Linux box for it; it didn’t suck from lack of effort on my part. That said, I do trust that the problem is with the user interface, not the back end; existing Synfig could conceivably serve as a starting point for making some really good software I could actually use.

Whether it’s a massive Synfig UI overhaul, or something new built from scratch, I need a good, Free vector animation program to switch to. I’m talking Free as in Freedom. It’s not the price of the software that puts me off.  I’d pay to switch to ToonBoom, for example, if I thought it would be reliable. But no proprietary software is reliable. At any time its “owners” can cripple it and otherwise screw over their customers, in pursuit of whatever misguided business model they fancy at the time. It’s not the loss of my good money I can’t tolerate, it’s the loss of ALL MY WORK. Meanwhile the world moves on, new file formats and codecs are developed, and whether my work is compatible with progress remains at the mercy of my software’s corporate overlords. Even now I can’t export my Flash illustrations as .svg files; SVG wasn’t in demand when Macromedia released Flash 8, and because Flash is proprietary no one can add an SVG export feature to it now.

I need vector animation software I can use in the years and decades to come, that can grow with the times, and allow the future access to the work I do today.

What else do I need? Things like Flash 8*:

Mac compatible (I’m a pragmatist, not a purist)

Timeline similar to Flash 8

Visible audio waveform in timeline

“Symbol” grammar, where symbols can be animated and nested

good vector drawing tools

expansive video export options

resolution independent

and things Flash 8 doesn’t have, but should:

parent-child registration points

“bones” (maybe – aww, who cares)

custom vector strokes (beyond just dotted and dashed lines)

SVG export

fewer bugs 😉

Time alone has not made this elusive software come into being. Could money? How much would I have to raise to commission an excellent programmer or two to give me what I want? Should I try a Kickstarter? A project like this should have a million dollars; I would aim for one tenth of that. Would even $100,000 be possible?

The result would be excellent Free vector animation software for everyone in the world.

If that doesn’t work I’m going to have to switch to some other proprietary software for the near future. That would be very disappointing. But I can’t stay in 2005 forever.

*What I don’t need is anything related to .swf files or the Flash Player or ActionScript. Almost all of Flash’s development since Flash 5 has been around “interactivity” and “web delivery”- things professional animators don’t use. If only we could separate the animation production part of Flash, from the “web player” part! The former has been almost perfect from the beginning, the latter has become a bloated monster that needs to die.

72 comments to It’s 2013. Do you know where my Free vector animation software is?

  • Maybe you could Kickstart some extra support for Synfig, it’s usable for some things but not well suited for character animation. You might also look at kickstarting Krita, it has some next to unusable animation stuff, and some vector support… maybe the two could somehow be integrated.

    Anime Studio Pro is another option, but not free, alas. Both Toon Boom and Anime Studio run quite well under Wine on Linux, BTW.

    The only other option you may have is using Blender — it’s a 3D CGI animation app, but you might be able to use it for 2D animation the way Maya is used to create South Park “cut out” animation. And it’s 100% free.

  • This is something that’s been annoying me, too, for quite a while. I bounced from Flash to ToonBoom to After Effects over the years, and none of them have really worked on the level that I wanted. I tried something called Moho, which is now called Anime Studio, and it had some promise but was a bit lacking in features: http://anime.smithmicro.com/index.html
    Of course, that was something like five years ago, so a lot may have changed in the meantime.

    Lately I’ve been doing animations for video games, and a few promising tools have sprung out of that scene. They don’t export to video at the moment, but I wonder if some enterprising developer could make that happen. There’s one called Spriter, which just added bones/IK (although performance at the moment is really choppy): http://www.brashmonkey.com/spriter.htm

    And one plugin for Unity called Smooth Moves, which I really like:
    http://forum.unity3d.com/threads/124211-Smooth-Moves-2D-Skeletal-Animation

    Surely there’s a demand here, especially with the new influx of retina displays making vector art more valuable than ever?

  • I know my pledge wouldn’t help much, but I’d kill for a good free 2D animation software. It doesn’t even have to be vector, I just need the comfort and stability of Flash. I still find it incredible that we have so many free (even open source) and very useable software for vector design, photo editing and 3D animation while 2D animation suffers with semi-stable projects :(

  • Hi, Nina
    Have you tried Anime Studio? I know it’s not opensource, but it’s a really powerful software which many people underestimate.
    It can be a good substitute meanwhile you are waiting.

    If you have any doubt, please don’t hesitate in asking me, I would be very happy to help.
    Here is my youtube channel:
    http://www.youtube.com/tazatriste

    Best regards.

  • I can feel your pain :)

    However, money doesn’t buy you good software (closed nor open)… success depends on bringing together both stakeholders (users like you) and the makers.

    I would start this discussion with the teams of Synfig, Inkscape, or this project: http://www.pencil-animation.org/

    Check if your ideas about usability & features match theirs, and if they can provide the human resources for managing and developing it – with funding. Then go public! :)

  • Unfortunately, there probably isn’t just one single Free Software animation application that can do everything you want. You might want to take a look at the list on this page:

    http://www.linuxlinks.com/Software/Graphics/Animation/

    Most of what’s there will NOT be anything like what you need, but you may come across a hidden gem.

  • Would you consider posting a screencast of one of your character animations from start to finish?

    It would be fun to have a time lapse, and the raw feed with minimal tool descriptions in voice over would be useful for open web toolmakers.

  • Yeh.. I know what you mean. File interchangeability between tools are just a must! It is so annoying when one company own a whole pipeline of applications and they dont let you export/import to another pipeline at all…

    I use inkscape the most, waiting for the full cairo switch and new ui migration, but then again I dont use the animation timeline and in comparison to flash I see you need that. Synfig may be your best bet and they have upped the developments of late, but you are rigth in your thoughts on the UI. Its just not workable for me and its such a pity because the programs has lots of potentials. Its a huge job though but on their ToDo list.

    A more creative thought would be to develop a better 2D integration with a program like Blender which has an excellent developer community and some of the features you need already (closed 2D curves, timeline, bonesupport, drivers, svg import). It needs some way to style the curves like stroke and fill etc and some export options. It is just impossible to get vectors out of it… It would give you 3D compositing for free though.
    Check out some of the 2D animations made with it already…

    Anyways, its nice to know someone else have a common cause. Roger over.

  • The Adobe-Macromedia merger killed a lot great software. I was a great fan of Freehand, but I had to switch to Illustrator eventually due to the software not being developed anymore.

    There are a lot of open source projects and frameworks available to get you started. openFrameworks (http://www.openframeworks.cc/) for instance has a great timeline addon that does just the thing you need (https://github.com/Flightphase/ofxTimeline). openFrameworks also uses the Cairo 2D vector graphics library so you can export to SVG.

    Best of all: it can be used to create applications for Windows, Mac and Linux.

  • I still think Synfig is probably the best place to start for what you need, based on the work I’ve seen done with it. I tagged a couple of developers in my G+ post.

    On a commercial/commission basis, I would be more than happy to contribute by testing the development versions, documenting, and writing a tutorial book on the subject. Or just by editing — I know that some of the best developers on Synfig are not native English speakers, so there might be some need for copy editing and revision.

    I would certainly find it an interesting project, but I would be starting from scratch on the software itself. I’ve tinkered with it a little, but never gotten anything really useful out of it as yet.

    The kind of animation that you have done in Flash (which seems to be mostly rigid shape animation) should be quite simple in Synfig, and it may enable some additional things you haven’t tried (it seems to be particularly good at tweening, since that was where the project started).

    I know there has been some work with doing 2D skeletal animation in Synfig (I’ve seen some demos from development-branch work).

    I’ve also heard some comments from within the Synfig developers group regarding doing a UI overhaul for the program, not unlike what was done with Blender 2.5. Having a budget might make a big difference in that.

    Anyway, I’ll ask some contacts about it.

  • joker

    If You want to stay forever in 2005 go for it !
    You don’t want to invest time to learn another software like blender or anime studio, if it’s just 2d vector, you can do it, the learning curve will be a little annoying but You have to f**k this f***ing flash think, it’s just not possible anymore to use this crap !

  • Herb

    Have you tried asking Questions at the Synfig forum.The forum is friendly and helpful.Here is a post called Ball joint style construction.Please give Synfig another look.
    http://www.synfig.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=852

  • […] the past few years with her near single-handedly produced feature film, Sita Sings the Blues. In a blog post today, she laments the various restrictions of Adobe Flash and the lack of any truly viable […]

  • Stephen

    Thanks for the post Nina. Love your work.

  • We should ask adobe how much they want to release the source code of flash 8 under a free license. And then gather the money :)

  • I know you’ve tried and discarded Synfig but it does have everything you look for besides being a bit slow and clunky to animate in. Things are looking brighter in that regard though. Synfig is now migrating to using cairo which will speed up render and work times, we have an UI overhaul in the works and we recently got interest from animation studios also looking for a flash replacement. They too want workflow improvements so in a while we’ll probably have a plan to make Synfig faster and easier to work in.
    So right now Synfig might now be your cup of tea but soon(ish) it will be a much more streamlined tool for you.

  • Being a pessimist, I think $100k might be too steep. However given that Terry Hancock got $19k for the Lib-ray kickstarter, an already existing and proven production-capable 2D animation studio might just have a shot.

    Perhaps combining PR efforts with the Morevna project (http://morevnaproject.org/) to further propel the perceived possibilities of donating might help.

    Personally I usually donate $25 for the free culture projects I find interesting and exciting. Perhaps though, one can see more value in donating to unique (Free) software. I think a crowdfunding campaign is worth a shot, no doubt!

    It might also be an idea to choose a proper crowdfunding platform too. Is Kickstarter really suitable for animation related projects? Is Indiegogo an alternative? Should you perhaps do the funding by setting up an ambitious goal but still allowing for a smaller result to still benefit Synfig?

  • i’m more on making vectorial animation frame-by-frame using Inkscape and OpenShot (and previously than using OpenShot i used Imagemagick for converting the svg sequence into jpg or png, like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8N8pqzyFVO0 ) – you know, if we can use CinePaint for frame-by-frame animations as raster, why not Inkscape for vectorial frame-by-frame? and on Inkscape, as frame-by-frame, you can have a level of control and accuracy you can’t on Macromedia’s Flash, and if we want vectorial results (like .flv or any other), we may use tools or converters based on SWFTools, i think? (this one i done with SWFTools: http://nitrofurano.altervista.org/portfolio/213e.htm , an animation created by a simple script, which could be a converter instead )

  • Ars

    Maybe Vectorian Giotto would be a good choice? At least it’s free.

  • She makes some great points. It’s very frustrating to me to run my legal copy of toonboom studio with wine.

    The open source alternatives are either unusable (synfig), glitchy (pencil,ktoon) or sued by adobe (f4l discontinued).

    A simple pencil test app like http://plasticanimationpaper.dk/
    Still has way more features, its more stable and is better designed than Pencil.

    It used to support linux up until the developers made it free and available only for windows. Now only does it not support linux but also the old versions almost dont work on linux at all :(
    It’s taking the piss. If you are gonna make this software free, at least release the source code, so others can fix and use it.

  • Carita Forsgren

    Ohhh yes, we’ve got the same problems here in Finland, too!
    In two weeks, we start with the animation course for our first-year media students, and we are at a loss as to which program to teach. Flash has been the traditional program in past years, but it’s just not very good anymore.
    I’ve suggested that we change into ToonBoom, but the head lecturer of the course wants to have something less expensive, preferrably open source. But we haven’t found any. We were just having a conversation about this before Christmas.
    BTW Nina, I’ve also got a tradition of showing clips of Sita Sings the Blues at the beginning of the animation course… It’s so awesome!

  • Tonttu

    There is a topic about this blog post in the Synfig forums (Synfig News subforum). I sent my reply there, because it got eaten up by the blog commenting system.

  • […] Igual sus obras, entre las que destaca un largometraje animado de 2008: Sita Sings The Blues. En esta nota se queja de la carencia de un software libre para la edición y creación de animaciones […]

  • jogai

    Here is talk about a good codec: http://www.cs.bath.ac.uk/vsv/

  • […] Acompanhe e participe (se possível!) desta discussão interessantíssima que está acontecendo no G+ com a famosíssima cartunista, animadora e ativista da cultura livre, Nina Paley (sim, ela mesma!), que esta perguntando pra comunidade se vale a pena ela iniciar no kickstarter um fundraising para desenvolver um software livre, tipo flash, que ela sente tanta falta para fazer seus desenhos animados. […]

  • msx

    Hello Nina,
    while I truly understands your frustration and ranting you know how the FLOSS works, right?
    Most of the software developed by the FSF fans (I’m myself one of them) follows a personal need, not just a random or fit-a-niche directive.
    OTOH most of the software developed under other licenses than GPL are meant for, at determined time, market it as commercial. Usually this is why you will find most industrial-grade opensource software is developed.
    There’re exceptions for both cases, of course, but it seems to me that you’ll have to wait until someone steps in and decides to initiate a new Free Software project for vector editing because they have a need for it OR someone steps in and decides to develop such software looking to profit from it in a near future, using the classic commerical scheme of the Free/Trial/Community alternative and the full-featured and well maintained PRO version.

  • […] Nina Paley a de plus en plus envie de se passer de Flash, et envisage d’utiliser un logiciel libre pour réaliser ses créations, pourvu qu’on […]

  • Nina,

    Blender is the best libre tool I have yet used for creating 2d animation.

    I know it is *normally* for 3d, but take a peek at these 2d character videos created by David Rodriguez:
    http://www.blendswap.com/blends/characters/mao-tse-atun-another-ugly-2d-character/
    http://www.blendswap.com/blends/characters/pablo/

    Plus Vamsi Krishna Veligatla made a short test animation of your own Rama:
    http://gizmothunder.blogspot.com/2011/08/blender-rig-for-2d-animation.html

    FYI my personal learning curve with Blender was:
    Stage 1. What’s with this quirky UI? I want to kill it.
    Stage 2. Watch recent explosion of YouTube Blender tutorials.
    Stage 3. Breakthough! Addiction!
    Stage 4. Did some 2d animation with simple colored shapes. Easy!

    Free in-person instruction is available too:
    http://www.meetup.com/Blender/

    I am not sure if all of your feature requirements are met, but there is a Mac version. Blender also displays audio waveforms, is resolution independent, and imports SVG.

    Incidentally I too tried Synfig and found it wanting. Kudos to its creators, but it just isn’t ready for the common user yet.

    Anyway if you have the time tell us what you think,
    John

  • A little late – don’t really know anything about this, but thought I’d throw it in – Giotto:

    http://vectorian.com/giotto/

  • Adele

    Perhaps looking at how http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/novacut/novacut-pro-video-editor has been going could be helpful as a reference?

  • Nina, I feeling with you. I have the same feelings as I am more restrictive in using non-free software, I searched for a long time. Synfig well I can use it but its to complicated for me until I would reach the level I have with vector graphics on Inkscape there would come the heaven down.
    But there is hope, there was once a thing called KToon that project is dead now, but there is a fork of it called Tupi which is alive and makes a lot of progress.

    http://www.maefloresta.com/portal/

    in opposite to Synfig its easy to handle, I think you will like it. Gustav the main developer tries also to go to LGM so you can meet him, and he is pretty cooperative for what we need and implements it.

  • […] know Nina Paley and/or her famous “Sita Sings The Blues“, four days ago she wrote a blogpost willing to migrate to an open source tool in the feature, if there would be one. As you can see in […]

  • Max Prodanov

    I’m also a Flash animator and I feel the same way. Between Giotto, Inkscape and Blender:
    – Giotto: (+) looks remarkably similar to Flash, the timeline and symbol behavior are the same; (+) the team obviously wants to clone the behavior of Flash, so they’re moving in the right direction (-) It’s “free” and not “open source. Maybe the money could be used to make it open-source and develop functionality further, especially drawing and exporting capabilities.

    – Inkscape: (+) Open source, Cross-platform, excellent drawing and export tools. (-) They’re only planning to implement animation and they may not be willing to copy Flash.

    – Blender: (+) An amazing OpenGL UI that makes it cross-platform and fully customizable. (-) It’s not 2d software and has no 2d vector capabilities. (+) It is the most successful open-source software with the most serious team. They also have their own budget. (-) I don’t know if they’d be willing to make a “2d offshoot”, but money could be a factor. Since South Park is done in Maya, maybe they could be persuaded to work on 2d sprite animation capabilities.

  • Tim

    +1 for “But no proprietary software is reliable”. Ain’t that the truth.

  • safsafdasdasfsd

    I like your idea. Today there are no usable in production opensource alternatives to Flash.

    I see a couple of problems on your way. Animation software is very complicated and even if you are going to use Synfig as the backend, you still will need way more than two programmers to write the cross-platform frontend (user interface, it is like 60~70% of the whole project). And it will also take a year or two to finish the whole thing, so you will need to gather a lot of money. Another problem is the speed of Synfig’s renderer. It is so f**king slow. On my 10 year old computer, Flash works quite fast, while Synfig works inadequately slow. I consider the best solution will be is to rewrite the backend too = not use Synfig at all. I guess, it will take another two years of work to build the backend, but you will get much better results. So, I guess, you will need to gather maybe a couple of millions of dollars to make it. Also, I am not sure that your project fits the Kickstarter’s requirements.

    Anyway, if you will make it, I will be so happy! Good luck!

  • safsafdasdasfsd

    Max Prodanov, Giotto has a nice goal of copying Flash. However, it is still a proprietary product with closed-specs file format. The same thing as with Flash will happen – you will be forced to either work with their software or loose all your content. Inkscape and Blender have other primary goals, so I would not expect any Flash-like animation tool from them.

    víctor, the situation with AnimeStudio is exactly the same as with Flash and Giotto. Same vendor lock-in.

    joker, U MAD?

    Tim, you are 100% right. I’m glad that the people are not stupid and understand what is going on.

  • […] NP: Eu estarei na 2013 Libre Graphics Meeting em Madri para discutir a construção de uma boa ferramenta de animação vetorial livre. Mais informações neste artigo: It’s 2013. Do You Know Where My Free Vector Animation Software Is? […]

  • […] NP: Estaré en la 2013 Libre Graphics Meeting en Madrid para discutir la construcción de una buena herramienta de animación vectorial libre. Más información en este artículo: It’s 2013. Do You Know Where My Free Vector Animation Software Is? […]

  • Nina, I’ve just finish a short movie using Blender and Gimp. In the open source/ free wolrd we really need a good vector animation software with good drawing tools. I’ve tested all of them and haven’t found your complete list in none of them. I found this guy who is made one new software and I’m trying to contact him: http://www.chalanam.net/ still don’t know if is usable…

    Thanks for you post!

  • BOA

    I think Accelerated-IO.com has an online app that can convert raster to SVG then animates it. The app can also edit existing animation. Check http://www.pac-n-zoom.com/.

  • safsafdasdasfsd

    BOA, sorry, but this is a low-quality proprietary software, which cannot be used for production animation.

    I’m surprised that the people try to advertise closed-source software in _this_ post.

  • BOA

    safsafdasdasfsd, they are not advertising, I’m not associated with the company(Accelerated I/O, Inc.). I have been looking for vector animation software and I came a cross their vector animation app, and I was able to create some professional SVG animations for free, I thought it can be of benefit to someone and that’s why I posted it. Actually, at the moment, their app can create any animation that can be created by GIF. Their chat personnel told me that they are adding some features which will be ready in one or two months time.

  • Stefan

    Hi Nina
    i love what your’re doing and – coincidentally – i’m a programmer. i’m from germany and i started programming as a kid in the early ’80 just for fun. And i can’t help – but this project sounds like a lot of fun to me :-) I have a nice full-time “day job” as a senior developer, so i (and a friend of mine) would have to code this “at night”. So while this may require some patience, it is not proven, that it cannot be done this way!

    Please feel free to contact me, if this sounds crazy enough for you.

    Yours sincerely,
    Stefan

  • safsafdasdasfsd

    Stefan, it would be nice, if you started your own opensource Flash-like tool, but, unfortunately, I do not think, that this will work. One or two (even experienced) programmers is simply not enough to make the software of this scale. You will probably need five times more programmers to recreate an animation part of Flash.

    BTW, in what programming language are you planning to write it in?

  • safsafdasdasfsd

    BOA, the people usually do not advertise software even if it is useful. And they never, ever, ever do that if it is not closely related to the subject of the post. In this post we are talking about the software for real (television and movies) animation. And the only thing your software can do is the low-quality vectorization of the raster picture and some primitive SVG animation. It is also strange that you took some time to find an online chat on “their” website to talk to “them”.

    Please do not think that I’m a newbie in all this. I know these tricks because I did the same thing to advertise my own webservice.

  • Hi Nina, I saw & enjoyed your presentation on free vectro based software today at MediaLab Prado. I saw a talk this evening called “EYE-NIMATION:INTERFACING OF ANIMATION SOFTWARE FOR DIDACTIC PURPOSES” The speaker did mention some software called “Pencil” its an open source 2D animation software that can work with both vector and bitmap information. Available for MAC, Windows & Linux I though you might want to check it out here: http://www.pencil-animation.org/

    Kind Regards,
    Phil.

  • […] NP: Eu estarei na 2013 Libre Graphics Meeting em Madri para discutir a construção de uma boa ferramenta de animação vetorial livre. Mais informações neste artigo: It’s 2013. Do You Know Where My Free Vector Animation Software Is? […]

  • […] NP: Eu estarei na 2013 Libre Graphics Meeting em Madri para discutir a construção de uma boa ferramenta de animação vetorial livre. Mais informações neste artigo: It’s 2013. Do You Know Where My Free Vector Animation Software Is? […]

  • […] I’m attending the 2013 Libre Graphics Meeting in Madrid this year, to discuss building a good Free vector animation tool I can actually use. More in this article, It’s 2013. Do You Know Where My Free Vector Animation Software Is? […]

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