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25 Great Tools for Artists & Animators #BrownBag25

We're continuing on with our #BrownBag25 picks this month, and we thought we'd take a look at some of the tools our creatives use in their day to day that they couldn't do without.

We did a call out to our crew and compiled a selection of some of their great suggestions!

Take a scroll through and be sure to add your own favourites in the comments below:

1. The almighty pencil

At heart, I am a die-hard pencil person! There is just something to be said for the pure simplicity and versatility of the pencil. No upgrades, no apps… just that pure, simple sensation of graphite on paper.

While Wacom and other tablets have come on in leaps and bounds they still have a way to go in comparison. To be able to scribble merrily away, rub out and draw over - the messier the better - to be able to go to your Art Director and get them to sketch over your work, to add to or take away, while having that great sense of energy and passion conveyed just by adding pressure or varying your line.

To be in a production meeting and to be able to quickly sketch out a concept and get instant feedback and input from the rest of the team.

For any animator, you first need to be able to draw… If you can't draw with a pencil, you’re not going to be able to draw with a computer.

And there is nothing like chewing on a pencil to relieve stress and get your creativity flowing (though my dentist disagrees)! 

- 2D Designer Derek Horan

PITT Pencils, they have a great range of light to dark strokes and it doesn't smudge as much as a dark pencil.  I'll change up what I'm using depending on what I am drawing. I've also got a Brush Pen that's fun to use.  For sketching on the go I use a water brush, travel paints (homemade or bought), and a sketchbook that's easy to carry.

- Storyboard Revisionist, Samantha Braithewaite

2. Maya

Great as it's so customisable. It's like the biggest box of Lego imaginable that you can get under the hood with and use as you wish. There's plenty of free tools out there you can plug into it such as the Studio Library and the Advanced Tween Machine which are great for animation.

- CG Supervisor Richard Merrigan

3. Toon Boom Harmony

A program that's actually made for animating not website banners.  There is so much you can do with it and with a small learning curve it becomes very user-friendly.

- Storyboard Revisionist, Samantha Braithewaite

I use this at work mostly for basic compositing.  It has all the basic tools available like blurs, glows, shadows, ripple effects etc built into its node library.

Plus since all characters and arts have PEG's with movement, scale, rotation info in them, it makes it easier to track the comp on top of it.

- Compositor, Ayan Sengupta

4. Toon Boom Storyboard Pro

It is perfect for working on storyboards in animatic form and seeing all the shots on a timeline. It really helps as a revisionist for hookups.

- Storyboard Revisionist Olly Blake

It's the industry standard for storyboarding in Television.  Very user-friendly for people who have animated in Toon Boom Harmony.

- Storyboard Revisionist, Samantha Braithewaite

5. Adobe Photoshop

It has so many brushes and can be customized to my liking.

- Storyboard Revisionist Olly Blake

6. Animbot (Maya Plug-in by Alan Camilo)

This tool is so complete, we can create “in between” poses (works like Tween Machine), we can track the arc of animation, snap keys, mirror, copy value, and many more. It really helps the animators to work because it all comes in one tool.

- Lead Animator Maylee Hartanto

It's the next generation of aTools, which nearly every animator has used. It's an essential tool and a huge time saver.

- Senior Previz/Layout Artist Omid Nejadnik

7. bhGhost

Absolutely essential ghosting tool, especially for walk cycles when animating. I've yet to come across a better method of ghosting between frames!

- Animation Director Mark Rusk

This tool helps to create a 3D outline of a geometry, that can help animators see what the previous and next poses are in every view. Can be quite heavy though depending on the geometry and polygon count.

- Lead Animator Maylee Hartanto

8. Adobe After Effects

For 2D I love the freedom and ease of use of After Effects, especially for motion graphics and it also has some amazing animation plugins such as RubberHose and Duik.

- CG Supervisor Richard Merrigan

It enables me to animate graphics I make into motion graphics. Being able to animate non-character based animations is really fun. Plus the possibility of cool 2.5D which is quicker than moving to a 3D program.

- Compositor, Ayan Sengupta

9. Cinema 4D

C4D has some great features and is very user-friendly and easy to learn. X-Particles is an amazing particle system plugin for dynamics, fluids and motion graphics. Greyscalegorilla offer some great plugins for C4D.

- CG Supervisor Richard Merrigan

10. PureRef

Really useful tool. Allows you to easily collage your reference imagery for a project, and zoom and pan around like you're Tom Cruise in Minority Report.

- Junior Modeller Michael Fitzgibbon

11. Greenshot 

Very efficient for taking screen grabs!

- Storyboard Revisionist Olly Blake

12. FBX

Part of Autodesks 3D software, I find it great for working with 3D backgrounds. It helps me view the sets and manoeuvre the camera to frame a shot.

- Storyboard Revisionist Olly Blake

13. Epic Pen (Screen Marker)

A handy software for desktop to draw on top of our screens. RV provides a tool to draw on top of the video, but it's only viewable when using RV. When we switch back to Maya, the drawings are gone. But with this tool, our drawings won't go anywhere, no matter what program we open them in.

- Lead Animator Maylee Hartanto

14. ChoasGroup PDplayer

This is an image/sequence/video viewer which enables artists to view limitless images, sequences in realtime, compare them, add notes on them and also it's a pre-comp tool, mostly used to check render layers.

- Senior Previz/Layout Artist Omid Nejadnik

15. DDo

This is a texture software, which enables artists to use a library, make their own textures and render results very fast.

- Senior Previz/Layout Artist Omid Nejadnik

16. Marmoset Viewer

This is an asset viewer, mostly used for game asset review. Artists can see mesh/texture/shader and rendered version of their assets.

- Senior Previz/Layout Artist Omid Nejadnik

17. Autodesk Sketchbook

This is my new daily sketchbook for cafe drawing or transit doodles on my phone. I have a note 9 with an inbuilt stylus.

I don't need to carry an extra sketchbook anymore. All handy in the one device and the software is completely free. Pretty much Photoshop on the phone.

- Compositor, Ayan Sengupta

18. Adobe Illustrator

Helps me create vector graphic art like logos and banners which don't break when I bring them into After Effects.

- Compositor, Ayan Sengupta

19. Adobe Animate CC

I use this mostly to do larger vector drawings, for instance, animations and backgrounds. Specifically, if I bring them into After Effects they don't break if I have a camera move zooming in. 

- Compositor, Ayan Sengupta

20. Etchrlab Carry Range

I have the satchel and field case and they changed my life! Plein air art is now possible for me.

- Location Designer, Sean Wickett

21. Wacom Cintiq

It's allowed me to bridge the hand-drawn aspects of traditional animation with the digital interface. It's essential in helping us produce the best animations possible.

- Stunt Animator, Michael To

22. Clip Studio Paint

It's a cheaper alternative to Adobe software and has a pencil tool similar to Sketchbook Pro.  I do like the Oil Paint brush for a different feel than the Photoshop Brush. More greasy.

- Storyboard Revisionist, Samantha Braithewaite

23. Scott Robertson's How To Draw

A priceless gift that absolutely catapulted my art overnight.

After just showing some very basic, very clever approaches to perspective and object construction, it immediately improved my output on the very next drawing I made after reading through a lesson.

His lessons are concise and contain actual theory and understanding for use of these principles, so you actually take away tangible information that is translatable for any situation. Every other drawing book that I've used just gives you steps with little to no theory because “that's the way it is” and I frankly have no clue what I'm doing, and it ultimately wastes my time because I could never effectively apply any teachings anywhere else.

This is the only drawing book that I have ever truly taken something away from and I recommend it at any chance I can, he seriously deserves the credit for getting me out of a rut I was stuck in for years.

- VFX Artist, Ashley Stroiazzo

*Be sure to check out more books recommended by our Brown Bagger's HERE!

24. Carapace

It's a perspective grid drawing tool called 'carapace'. I believe it was created by Warren Marshall from Epic Games years ago and released for free. Really intuitive grid creator that allows you to drop down multiple points. The 'trace lines' tool is really handy for helping you figure out a pre-existing perspective on an image. 

I usually use this when environment painting. Sometimes I build a 3D base model and will use carapace to build a perspective grid based on it. Will then save out the grid and import it into photoshop, so everything I paint over the base model is in the right perspective.

Here's some tutorials that show you how it works:

- Background Artist, Fraeya Pinto

25. Krita

The UI needs some refinement but the drawing tools are great. It has an indepth brush engine for very diverse brushes. Plus it's free.

- Location Designer, Sean Wickett

So there you have it - got your own favourite tool? Pop it in the comments below!


Anahita Tabarsi

Anahita is Brown Bag Films' Marketing Director, Digital & Social and drinks more than five coffees a day...

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