Computer Animation/Getting Started

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Introduction[edit]

Making animation on a computer can be relatively cheap, horrendously expensive, or anywhere in between. Your requirements will depend on what exactly you want to do (more on the different types of animation in chapter 4), but it's safe to say most hobbyists can get involved with minimal outlay.

Hardware[edit]

Most of the equipment here you will already have, or can pick up cheaply. Unless you plan to make broadcast quality animation, don't worry about going for the cheaper models as the differences at the lower end of the market are negligible.

A PC

For any sort of graphics work, the faster your PC's processor the better. Also, the more memory it has in terms of RAM and hard-drive space the better. Any computer bought within the last year or two should be able to handle the majority of animation tasks comfortably however.

If you have money to burn, you might want to consider increasing the RAM in your PC to its maximum amount as this will greatly enhance your user experience when working with large files. Another upgrade which is always worthwhile if you do a lot of graphics work is a bigger hard-drive as the files you generate build up quickly.

For certain types of animation such as machinima or 3d, you may want to consider upgrading your graphics card to the best you can afford. For most animation purposes, any relatively modern graphics card will do, there is no need to go for the staggeringly expensive model on the bleeding edge.

A Digital Camera

An absolute essential. Probably the easiest way to get a source image to modify without having to worry about copyright implications.

A digital camera, as opposed to a film or video camera, uses an electronic sensor to transform images (or video) into electronic data. Modern digital cameras are typically multifunctional and the same device can take photographs, video, and/or sound.

In 2005, digital cameras are starting to push traditional film cameras out of many markets. Shrinking device sizes have recently allowed miniaturized digital cameras to be included in multifunctional devices, such as cell phones and PDAs. There is no particular need to go for the most expensive model, but it does not hurt to get the best resolution you can afford.


A Scanner

Not essential, unless you have a lot of images on paper you would like to work with on your PC. A scanner is a device which reads in an image and converts it to electronic data, and in appearance it is usually a flat panel similar to the top of a photocopier.

Those who prefer to sketch with pen and paper can find that a scanner is a useful addition to their workstation, enabling them to transfer their doodles and rough sketches to the PC for processing. Only those who need to scan intricately detailed or overlarge pieces of work should consider buying an expensive model.

A Graphics Tablet

A graphics tablet (or digitizing tablet) is a computer peripheral device that allows for a relatively simple method of inputting hand-drawn graphics or art into a computer in real time. They typically consist of a large flat surface for drawing on, and an attached "stylus" for drawing on the surface, originally as a part of the electronics, but later simply to provide an accurate but smooth "point".

Graphics tablets sometimes take a little bit of getting used to, but the fact that they are usually more sensitive and intuitive than a mouse means most serious electronic artists swear by them. Although these can be picked up pretty cheaply, it is best only using the budget models to try out tablets for the first time, and to quickly upgrade if you plan to be using one often.

Sound Hardware

Most animations require some sort of soundtrack, and you may need to create some of the sounds yourself. Sounds are input and output from a sound card or sound chip (which may be part of your PC's motherboard, or a separate card), and it is likely that the sound card which came with your computer will be suitable for your purposes.

The sound card will have an input for a microphone, a line-in, and a joypad or MIDI keyboard. A microphone is a handy thing to have for recording sound effects and voice tracks, but the budget models should be sufficient for this. The line in socket is used to record audio from an external device such as an ipod or cassette deck and requires a cable with a headphone jack at either end to use.

A MIDI keyboard can be useful if you are at-all musical and capable of creating your own music tracks. These are basically mini piano-style keyboards that interface with your PC and use the PC's software to generate sound, which is then output through the PC's speakers.

Software[edit]

This list is in no way intended to be exhaustive, and splits the required software into a few broad categories of which a few representative examples are given. Where possible, any free or Open Source Software(OSS) available is highlighted.

Image Manipulation Software

This is what you use to transform the images you work with, moulding them to fit the requirements of your animation, and modifying them to create the key elements. Any decent application will allow you to play with the size, colouring, and content of your images. It will allow you to splice them together into montages, to split them into their component parts, and much, much more. Whichever piece of software you use, taking the time to learn how to use it well will pay dividends in terms of the time it takes you to make an animation, and the animation's quality when it's done.

The market leader and industry standard is Adobe Photoshop, which can be an expensive purchase for a beginner. There are cheaper alternatives such as Paint Shop Pro available, and a reduced price version of Photoshop (with consequently reduced functionality) called Photoshop Elements is also on the market.

The leading OSS for image manipulation is The GIMP, an excellent and powerful alternative to commercial equivalents. The only problem with the GIMP is its non-standard interface which may prove daunting to beginners.

Animation Software

The leading software in 2D computer animation is Adobe Flash. This is program is commonly used to create animations for the Internet in SWF format, also known as "flash cartoons" or "flashtoons." It also has its own built-in programming language called Actionscript that can be applied to its animations.

3D Animation

For those looking to start in CG animation, the leading opensource alternative is Blender, frequently updated, and has an excellent user base to help newbies and pros alike. No program can be more highly recommended than Blender 3d. There are many Wikibooks on Blender.

There are many types of 3D animation software available. Some, like Maya, 3D Studio Max, and Cinema4D, are available from various sources for a commercial-size price. Maya, for example, can cost thousands for the higher-end versions - but it may be worth the money, as many professional CG companies use it.

Sound and Music Software