OpenToonz- providing high-quality animation, with a free must-have tool

    One of the things most digital animators need for them to begin the process is good software. Whether you’re doing traditional frame by frame or digital puppetry, but for most budding animators spending a large sum of money on software licenses can seem a bit daunting. Fortunately, with the miracle of open-sourcing, we need not worry about breaking the bank for quality. In this article, I will be giving a full overview of the software OpenToonz.

On their official website

Back in March of 2016, it was announced that Dwango would be releasing the source code of Toonz, a 2d animation software developed for traditional hand-drawn animation. Toonz received most of its recognition and advertising from being used by Studio Ghibli for most of their films. The source code would be released to Git-hub under a BSD license, along with an open-source version of the Toonz software. I will of course be providing links for those who wish to experiment with any of the programs I’ll be discussing.

The Interface

The Interface of OpenToonz, as need for every software

When you first start OpenToonz the first thing that will take your notice is the layout. I won’t lie, it’s not the most intuitive design out there, especially compared to other big names. Its robust appearance is enough to strike fear into the hearts of all beginners within eyes view and is just as questionable if you’re coming from other applications.

One of the things you might notice is the timeline is arranged vertically, and that’s because OpenToonz uses an X sheet which is used in traditional animation to give instructions to a camera operator on how the animation is to be shot for all you youngins. The X-sheet works the same as the timeline except it follows a downward path as opposed to the left to the right orientation we’re all used to. This positioning could be a little trippy for those coming from other software like ToonBoom Harmony. Fortunately, in later versions contributing developers added the ability to set it to whatever alignment you prefer, in addition to creating a room tab specifically for working in the timeline.

On the topic of rooms, in OT you have these tabs at the top right that are used to direct you to different workspace areas of OpenToonz, these are called rooms. Each default room is created to serve a specific purpose related to a process in digital animation, with specific tabs and windows arranged in a certain manner that benefits UI needs for the task it’s named for. OpenToonz comes preloaded with nine rooms including Basics, Cleanup, Drawing, Timeline, Animation, Palette, Xsheet, Browser, Farm; Originally it included six Cleanup, PitEdit, InknPaint, Xsheets, Batches, Browser.

OT allows users to set up rooms with their own window placements and tabs

You can also create your own rooms if none of those aesthetically please you by right-clicking one of the tabs and selecting “New Room”. A problem I have with creating rooms, is you are unable to place windows into each other in a similar fashion to most art-software such as MediBang or Clip Studio Paint, the reason for this is because some windows come preloaded with their own tabs, such as the palette window being used for color, texture, vector presets, raster presets, and settings for your brush tool.


Scene from Spirited away showcasing the power of the Toonz engine

OpenToonz comes decked with a lot of features that gave it the potential to rival other big names such as Toonboom and Flash. It’s no secret that this software has some big names attached to it, dating all the way back to the ’90s when it received it’s first notable break in Amblimation’s “Balto” where it was credited for providing graphical improvements to the film’s production, under the name Creative Toonz. Most people know Toonz for being used by Studio Ghibli.

Ghibli would team up with SoftImage, who originally created Toonz, in order to build a version that could combine hand-drawn animation with digitally painted animation seamlessly this version would be known as “Toonz Harlequin”. Over the years it would continue to find it’s way in many productions, some you may know of include Futurama, Steven Universe, and SpongeBob SquarePants; and Ghibli of course used it for Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponya to name a few. It was a high-profile tool and, needed High-profile applications

Studio Ghibli is known for doing most of their work hand-drawn and so they needed to be able to translate their work into digital space, in order for the animators to clean and color their cels. In Ot you can scan hand-drawn cels into the software through an extension program known as GTS.

OT also boasts a great set of brushes for both vector and Bitmap. The default version of OpenToonz has over 200 brush presets to choose from such as acrylic, water-brush, oil, OT is capable of compensating for every style and its needs. You also have 3 different layer types raster, toonz raster, and vector for drawing.

All the different tool options for each level type

In the tool options bar for raster, you are given a few different choices for how you can edit your brush tool. Size Min/Max allows you to set the minimum/maximum size of your brush for pressure sensitivity, with the min being the size of your brush pushing down lightly, and max is the size of your pen pushed down to it’s hardest. Hardness adjusts the softness and sharpness of your brush with 0 being the softest, with its edges all blurry and 100 being the sharpest. Opacity min/max allows you to adjust the opacity for pressure sensitivity, especially useful if you think your lighter strokes are too transparent and hard to see.

all these preferences can be saved as a preset by clicking the plus key on the far right of the tool options bar. In Toonz raster the opacity slider is replaced with the smoothness option this tool is used for decreasing the jaggedness of the strokes and providing smooth clean linework. Vector is the same as Toonz Raster except this time the hardness has been replaced, as anti-aliasing has been enabled, what replaces it is the accuracy slider what this does is it tells the brush tool how accurate to make the stroke and what to substitute it’s usually best to keep it set low or somewhere in the middle as to limit the number of control points. There are a ton of features for the brush tool I could discuss in another post but for now, I’m going to move on to something else.

OpenToonz is a complete toolset for animating frame by frame with configurable onion skins and a motion tweening tool for the automatic creation of in-between frames by using motion paths, but it also has a few nifty options for puppet animation. Through the skeleton, tool users are able to create bones for their characters and set up a rig similar to rigging in Blender but for 2d instead of 3d, The Skeleton tool also supports inverse Kinematics and mesh deformation using the plastic tool. you can also move points of your rig using the hook tool.

Another good feature of OT is the FX panel. Most movies In today’s world use visual effects. Using the fx editor you can add lighting, blurs, warping, masks, and simple particles to your animation. Whether you’re trying to convey a character’s psychology through lighting, or add to the intensity of the scene through camera movement, or maybe create visually impressive fire effects with particles; the sky is the limits with FX.

One thing I’ll add before moving on to the next topic is I find it strange how layers work. in OT they are referred to as levels and how they work is they’re their own separate file so if you want to delete a layer you have to go into the projects folder and delete it manually.

Documentation & Community

As far as documentation goes there wasn’t really much to go off of when the source code was released to the public. The thing with most open-source programs is that the original developers aren’t required to do anything for the program once it’s already up, that responsibility lies in the community. OT has a very steep learning curve, this would be very problematic for a software that was released without proper documentation from the original developers. Fortunately, over the years more and more people began to talk about and helped the community by providing video tutorials, writing blogs & articles, and providing support and troubleshooting for people with errors. The community would also continue to work on new features and bugfixes.

Download page for OpenToonz Morevna edition.

The most popular of these instances was when The Morevna Project released its own fork of OpenToonz called “OpenToonz Morevna edition”; this version would add a bunch of cool new features that would make its way into later versions of OT. Some of these additions included An assistant tool for setting up a perspective grid for assisting in creating 3d backgrounds, integration with the MyPaint Brush Engine, the addition of the horizontal timeline in later versions of OpenToonz. Morevna also created Linux support for the OpenToonz application.

As I am writing this more is being added into OpenToonz, most of the issues I’ve touched on are being improved according to input from some of the developers; with one creating his own fork of OT to provide a more intuitive and simple UI with it being easier to use for beginners in order to level out the learning curve that is associated with OpenToonz. I cannot recommend this anymore than I already have, If you’re looking to become an animator and need a powerful tool I suggest giving OpenToonz a chance.

And of course the links to everything I mentioned


Source code:

Morevna Edition:

Tahoma Edition:

(some additional plugins for sticking around)

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opentoonz is love