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I am specifically interested in software that can be used to combine existing sets of images (frames in the animation) into an animation. Having the ability to add transitions/effects between the frames would be a plus. The output format should be something suitable for the web, e.g. GIF, Flash.

Please comment on ease-of-use, number of features, personal user experience, cost of software (free/paid) and which OS it runs on when you mention the programs.

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It sounds like you're asking two questions. You should probably make what animation formats are suitable for the web a separate question. –  Computerish Jan 5 '11 at 1:50
    
Mentioning the platform you are using would be of help –  Duopixel Jan 5 '11 at 1:54
    
I'm not sure if that type of question is appropriate for this forum. I guess I'll ask it anyway, and if its not appropriate people can down vote it :) –  Alinium Jan 5 '11 at 1:55
    
I'm platform agnostic. Just want to know what software graphic designers are using. Whether it be on Windows, Mac or Linux. –  Alinium Jan 5 '11 at 2:01
    
That's true actually, what kinds of animation formats should go elsewhere. –  Computerish Jan 5 '11 at 2:12
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9 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I'm surprised nobody's mentioned pencil.

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Thanks! Pencil used to have issues with Wacom tablets in Windows. You reminded me of it, and checked it's solved now, at least in Windows 7. :) –  S.gfx Jan 6 '11 at 8:55
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A cheaper alternative to Adobe Flash is Swish Max. It's pretty easy and simple to use, works on Windows only. You can download its 15-day trial and try it out.

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I used Xara Extreme on Windows XP to create some simple GIF animations quite a few years ago. It was simple and easy to use, not a free software though.

Xara Extreme has been replaced by other Xara Products. You may try them out and have a look.

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You can try Google Docs to create animation like this Epic Animation video.

  • Ease-of-use: Probably very low.
  • Number of features: Limited, but one good thing is it has real-time collaboration :)
  • Cost: Free
  • Which OS: It's in the cloud.
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From experience I've used Flash and Fireworks for this.

In Flash you can select the first frame of a properly named image sequence(e.g. frame001.jpg) and it detect that it's a sequence and ask you if you want to import the images as animation. All you need to do is publish and you have SWF. Flash also exports animated GIF, but there no options for this format and the result is always dithered which sucks.

In Fireworks you can use File > Open and select a set of images named in sequence and tick the "Open as animation" checkbox in the Open dialog. For animated GIFs would recommend Fireworks as it gives you a few nice options:

  1. You can change the delay between frames individually or for all frames(some frames can have a larger delay than others, etc.)
  2. You can have 'master' frames where background elements for example will be present in the rest of the frames, without having to copy/paste content in all the other frames.
  3. Fireworks has Symbols, similar to Flash, meaning you can reuse elements and interpolate/animate they're properties.

This would run on Windows/OSX. For Linux, older versions of the software could run under Whine

On the opposite pole I can think of whipping out a basic ImageMagick call that will convert a bunch of images into a GIF. e.g. place images in a folder, write a txt file, then use send it to ImageMagick.

for OSX,Linux:

cd folder_with_image_sequence
ls >> images.txt
convert @images.txt animation.gif

for Windows:

cd folder_with_image_sequence
dir >> images.txt
convert @images.txt animation.gif

HTH

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Animation Shop 3. Its advantage was the ability to work on your Photoshop layers as frames and just save the psd, as Animation Shop would allow to load it and make a frame of each automatically. That together with a great onion skin setting (ability to preview previous and/or next frames in transparency, to do a good animation) made it cool for sprites animation. These days though, Gimp can open a psd with not many layer effects on it (many softwares have problems with that, as it's native Photoshop stuff) . Animation Shop would also allow some filters and transitions, you had a nice collection there. It had decent tools for optimizing the gif (pallete optimization and a large etc) you would output (these days, if I am forced to add an animated gif, I try to make it not bigger than 200ks). For games, one could export rgb frames, and even create "tubes", sort of filmstrips with all frames together in a row, in a single graphic.

Probably is still recommended for people not liking much Gimp (I like Gimp) , or Photoshop Animation Window and tools (and/or Image Ready for that matter). Despite says in their site it wont work on Vista, I tested that at least 3.05 from Softpedia worked perfectly in Windows 7. So, don't blame me if it does not work after purchasing.(a last resource is registering the Softpedia eval version, maybe.) You can get it at Corel for 19 bucks.

Personally, these days as I work more on design than game art, I rather prefer Gimp (ie, using Gimp blend feature, etc) or Photoshop (it has built in a tween ability that allow fades, etc, though is tricky), due to their editing capabilities.

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Adobe After Effects is a pretty good one. It might take some time to learn, but it's really powerful. It's not free of course-it carries the Adobe name :)

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For quick and dirty work on Linux, there's WhirlGif to make animated GIFs suitable to throw into an intranet web page for internal review. Animated GIFs arent' the best choice for general public use, but in a pinch can be used.

I'm not sure what is the official web page for whirlgif, but you can find many placed to download it through any web search engine.

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I can think of a few:

feel free to append to this list

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Care to comment more? I've tried using GIMP for animation but found it very user un-friendly. Also if I'm not mistaken, Adobe Flash encompasses a wide range of products. Which one specifically are you referring to? –  Alinium Jan 5 '11 at 2:05
    
I meant the program "Adobe Flash Professional". It's how you create compiled flash programs. –  zzzzBov Jan 5 '11 at 2:09
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@Alinium No, GIMP is absolutely not the best tool for animations. However, when you get the hang of it, it is quite simple: (1) Create each frame as a layer, (2) make sure that each layer's name end with ` (?ms)` where ? is the number of milliseconds to show that particular frame. Also, there is GAP. –  jensgram Jan 5 '11 at 7:39
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