11 Best Animation Software in 2021 (Free & Paid)

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Last Updated on February 20, 2021

The animation is a method of using successive drawings models to create a sequential illusion of movement. The history of modern animation can be dated back to 1833 when stroboscopic principles were introduced.

Although, animation stayed as a hand-drawn art through the 20th century where the artist produced the motion by putting together thousands of still images, the art which is known by the name of traditional animation today. But with an upsurge in technological and cinematographic creations since the 1990s the animation has been transferred purely to computers and screens.

Today there are uncountable different ways of creating an animation effect with hundreds of software programs. There are various types of animations being practiced nowadays, such as 2D animation, 3D animation, motion graphics, stop motion animation, and also traditional animation. A beginner would get confused about what to choose. Here we will have an in-depth look into some of the best animation software available in the industry.

Maya

Maya which was initially released and developed by Alias Systems Corporation in 1998, is now owned and produced by Autodesk. The software runs on Windows, macOS, and Linux, and can be used for almost any 3D purposes. Offers a comprehensive creative feature set that can do everything literally from 3D computer rendering, simulation, modeling, animation, to compositing on an extensive production platform.

But, it’s a costly and paid software most extensively used by large studio productions. It has been the industry standard for 3D animation and modeling for years and was used in every “Best Visual Effects Academy Award” film since the year 1998. It is a complete program by itself and is well known in the movie and game industry.

Key Features

  • It has a python application program interface which is simple yet enough.
  • It’s easy to create plugins and scripts, with a lot of free or paid plugins on the internet to speed up 3d work.
  • It has an excellent node-based workflow for procedural creation.
  • Maya has one of the best animation programs in the 3D industry.
  • Maya makes creating and editing complex animation simple with the help of features like Time Editor, Graph Editor, etc.
  • The program is a complete product for 3D modelling, animation, shading and rendering static 3D images and animation.

Pros

  • Maya offers a complete package for all 3D tasks.
  • It has a direct and easy to understand user-interface with side notes for every function.
  • This is effortless to find answers online if the user runs into any kind of problem or difficulty.

Cons

  • Maya does not have a proper viewport when compared to other 3D animation software.
  • Modelling section, especially retopology, lacks some helpful tools
  • Maya is a costly software.

Adobe Animate

Adobe Animate is a 2D vector animation program which was earlier famous by the name of Adobe Flash. Animate is one of the most popular and reliable 2D animator software in the industry. Animators can use it to design interactive animations for games, web and TV Shows.

With Animate, you can quickly export and publish to multiple platforms in just about any format and reach viewers on any screen. Animate is used widely for online animations because it is interactive, easy to use, and creates small-sized files. Adobe Animate has also been used to make TV cartoons, and it is a perfect software for a beginner.

Key Features

  • Onion skin – Allows users to view and edit multiple frames at a time.
  • Adobe Animate comes with basic tutorials in the software which gives an intro about the software.
  • Animate gives the option to arrange the toolbars and workspaces according to the wish of the user.
  • Symbols property allows the user to save created elements, which can be used again in a different animation.
  • Animate offers numerous ways to export your animation in various formats so that it can be used in different applications
  • Allows to sync Audio directly with the animation
  • Adobe Animate Camera enables the users to add camera effects ( like pan, zoom, or rotate) to the animations.

Pros

  • The users can easily find thousands of tutorials online, which can help them learn faster.
  • Animations exported are highly compatible with other software of Adobe.
  • Highly flexible and simplistic user-interface.

Cons

  • The software is not compatible with Linux and works best only in windows.
  • The brush does not have many options for the frame to frame animators.

Renderforest

Renderforest is an online program that allows users to create animations, videos, websites, and logos. It provides the best branding tools for making intro videos for Youtube, promo videos, slideshows, explainer animations, etc. within a few minutes. It offers different subscriptions for different needs of the users.

Renderforest allows users to choose from dozens of categories of templates, upload videos and images, and edit online. The users can create logo Animations, White Board Videos, Slide Shows, Explainer Videos and Promotional Videos, quickly, easily, and affordably with this software.

It also provides a free version. However, the software is not animation specific and does not allow for incorporating characters and animating them. The subscriptions start from $ 9.99 one-time payment per user.

Key Features

  • Video Making
  • Presentation
  • Video Management
  • Video Editing
  • Animation Support

Pros

  • User-friendly and straightforward tool. The user can create a simple right quality product in a few minutes
  • You can upload your images.
  • Once in the editor, you choose a template, add the pictures you want, and the software does the rest of the work.
  • It’s easy to come up with new logo designs and videos.
  • No design or technical skills required.

Cons

  • It is not an animation specific software.
  • Renderforest requires an internet connection during use.

Cinema 4D

Cinema 4D is a 3D modeling, animation, and rendering software developed by the German company Maxon. It gives a flexible and intuitive interface, which makes it easy to use. Cinema 4D is used in movies like Chronicles of Narnia, Beowulf, Monster House, Spiderman 3, and Polar Express.

Cinema 4D comes with an intuitive interface that makes it easy to use and a sound workflow that lets the imagination and creativity of an artist flow freely. Moreover, it also provides support documentation that is integrated into the interface.

Key Features

  • There is only one version of Cinema 4D.
  • Provides all 3D functions from modeling characters to creating animated videos.
  • Volume modeling, fields, and node-based material creation
  • Mograph and clone
  • Cine ware feature allows smooth integration of Cinema 4D with After effects

Pros

  • This is user-friendly, and you’ll find plenty of tutorials out there to help you adjust to the workflow.
  • Mograph and clone features are amazing
  • Good work environment.
  • High integration with the Adobe Creative Suite.

Cons

  • Some difficult effects and animations take some time to learn.
  • It comes at a hefty price
  • The program consumes a lot of RAM and space

Blender

Blender is a free and open-source 3D animation software. However, after the introduction of the latest Grease Pencil in the 2.8 version, it can also create 2D objects and animation. It supports the entire 3D Pipeline, modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing and motion tracking, video editing, and game creation.

It allows the user to create 2D animations in a 3D model with the help of Grease Pencil. This software provides everything one can expect from animation software and all of that for free. The software is always improving with new updates, and beginners can find hundreds of tutorials on Youtube to learn about anything.

Blender accepts a variety of graphic formats which makes it all the more loving. To make the workflow easier, it provides keyboard shortcuts for almost everything.

Key Features

  • Grease Pencil for integrating 2D into 3D animation
  • Incorporates texture painting, sculpting, and post-processing rendering
  • Allows video editing
  • Can be used for modelling, sculpting, retopology, animation, rigs, shape keys, UV, simulations, cloth, VFX, compositing, video editing, rendering, shading.
  • Blender accepts graphic formats such as TGA, JPG, Iris, SGI or TIFF
  • Compatible with Linux, Windows, Mac OS X, Solaris, IRIX and FreeBSD

Pros

  • It is a complete software, and that too completely free.
  • Blender allows you to do traditional 2D hand-drawn animation or storyboards over 3D environments.
  • Users can find a wide variety of content online, including tutorials and documents, which suit the needs of beginners as well as experts.

Cons

  • Modelling is a bit counter-intuitive.
  • Not used in the professional industry, so the animators looking for a career in professional studios have to change the software in later stages.

Autodesk motion builder

MotionBuilder is a 3D character animation software produced by Autodesk for virtual production that helps users to manipulate and process data with higher reliability efficiently. Users can capture, edit, and playback complex character animation in a highly responsive and interactive environment.

The display of motion builder is optimized for both animators and directors. It is most commonly used for virtual cinematography, motion capture, and traditional keyframe animation. It was initially named Filmbox when Canadian company Kaydara first created it, later acquired by Alias and renamed MotionBuilder.

Key Features

  • Produces quality 3D character animation with a pre-built move
  • Real-time 3D engines create a realistic movement for the characters with one of the industry’s fastest animation tools
  • Motion capture editing to fine-tune the movements of characters with production-proven tools to manipulate motion capture data.
  • Smooth interoperability – Software comes with included software development kit and FBX data exchange, which enables easy interoperability with other 3D applications.

Pros

  • Perfect for 3D character designers
  • It streamlines the process of animating game characters through a combination of the real-time architecture, animation layers and multimedia non-linear editing functionality.
  • One of its kind, which is made specifically for character creation and movement.
  • Smooth interoperability with other 3D applications

Cons

  • Expensive
  • The interface is a bit poor, snapping and changing the layout is limited

Pencil2D

Pencil2D is an open-source, cross-platform 2D animation software that runs on Windows, macOS, Linux & FreeBSD and uses the Qt framework. It is a light-weight and easy to use software which enables users to make cartoons using traditional techniques, managing bitmap and vector drawing.

The user can smoothly switch between vector and raster workflows, and sketch, ink & paint on the go. It is entirely free to use. Pencil 2D comes with the techniques of flipping & rolling that allow animators to preview their animation work quickly. Flipping is used mostly in-between processes with three drawings, and the Rolling technique is used to check a particular part of the action of the animation.

Key Features

  • Minimal Design
  • Entirely Open source and free to use
  • Export your animation to mp4, animated gif or .avi format.
  • Available in over 15 languages
  • Flipping / Rolling – For inbetweening and checking specific parts of the action in the animation
  • Cross-platform and runs on Windows, macOS, Linux & FreeBSD.
  • Seamless switch between raster and vector workflows

Pros

  • Gives users the flexibility to create and draw what they want.
  • Completely open source and free to use
  • Light-weight and easy to use

Cons

  • Sometimes it is difficult to achieve organic colour blending for users.
  • It is very limited in what it can do, and it cannot be used for 3D graphics.

Synfig

Synfig Studio is also a free and open-source 2D vector graphics and timeline-based computer animation program. It was created by Robert Quattlebaum and later on additional contributions were made by Adrian Bentley. Synfig Studio is a “twinless” animation system which is designed to speed up the animation process with the help of sprites and digital tweening rather than adding to the illustration workload.

This software is ideal for a small animation team or a solo artist. Synfig provides 50+ layers to create artwork and animation of any complexity, and the user can choose from various layer types, such as geometric, transformations, gradients, filters, distortions, fractals, and others. It is entirely free to use.

Key Features

  • Allows to transform any vector shape into another and gives you powerful tools for full control on your vector artwork.
  • A full-featured bone system which helps to control the vector artwork and create cutout animation using bitmap images. Additional Skeleton Distortions layer can be used to apply complex deformations to bitmap artwork.
  • Parameters of various layers can be linked directly or through mathematical expressions, which allows the users to create dynamic structures like advanced character puppets.
  • Plugin capabilities for software that would enhance your animation like the plugin for speech which allows automatic lip-sync animation

Pros

  • The interface of Synfig is simple and easy to navigate.
  • It is highly affordable with essential features of 2D animation.
  • Automatic lip-sync and other plugin features.

Cons

  • Users would not find many sources online to help them with learning and resolving issues.
  • Does not provide many Features

PowToon

Powtoon is a British company that provides cloud-based animation software to create animated explainer videos and animated presentations. The name “Powtoon” came from the blending of “PowerPoint” and the word “Cartoon”. No matter what the task at hand is, you can create visual communications with Powtoon and amplify your results. It enables users to tell compelling stories through hundreds of templates, video backgrounds, animated characters, soundtracks, and more.

Powtoon is an excellent video creation application that equips anyone to create engaging and professional-looking videos and presentations in minutes. This is used by more than 20 million people, including most of the Fortune 500 companies, to attract their audience, add life to their internal communications, boost sales, and promote their services.

Key Features

  • Easy creation of free (or paid) studio-quality HD lives and animated videos within minutes.
  • Powtoon offers a massive library of scenes, characters, props, professionally-designed templates, millions of videos, soundtracks, text, and more to choose from
  • The users can upload and use their media, images, videos, GIFs, and voiceovers.
  • Integrations include Twitter, Wistia, YouTube, Facebook, Facebook Ads Manager, Hubspot, and more!

Pros

  • It is simple and interactive, with all functions for motion graphics to be used as a presentation.
  • No design skills or technical skills required.
  • Creates the content in no time

Cons

  • Browsers lag while working on big projects, and it also crashes from time to time.
  • Not compatible with creating non-professional animation.

Moho

Moho offers an affordable tool to create animation from start to end with a powerful 2D rigging system mixed with traditional animation tools. It was formerly known by the name Anime Studio, Moho®. This has been used in the films The Breadwinner and Song of the Sea, both of which were nominated for Oscar Best Animated Feature Film.

The software provides support to create traditional animations directly by combining Image-Based Frame-by-Frame Layers with the new Bitmap Tools. Moho also includes powerful Timeline Features, like Bezier interpolation, mute channels, motion graph, separate axis, etc. Also, it allows users to create custom bitmap brushes and also import or export them across devices.

Offers a 30-day free trial where users can take their time to test the application. It’s one of the cheapest 2D vector animation software available, which provides all the features for 2D animations.

Key Features

  • A powerful 2D rigging system of the market
  • ‘Smart Bones’ which give total control over your rigs
  • Vector drawing tools are enhanced with Bezier handles optimized for animation
  • ‘Smart Warp’ allows to animate and manipulate images with complete control
  • Moho includes powerful Timeline Features, like Bezier interpolation, mute channels, motion graph, separate axis, etc.
  • 3D Object Light Manipulation and material properties Support
  • Bitmap freehand Brush Tool and drawing tools
  • Custom Bitmap Brush Creation

Pros

  • It is Cheaper than other paid 2D animation software.
  • Best software on the market for vector-based animations

Cons

  • Not enough support for game engines

Animaker

Animaker is a 2D video Animation software that requires no professional expertise in Animation creation. It is a cloud-based software that was launched in 2014. Allows users to create complex animations with the help of pre-built characters and templates. Animaker became the first program to launch an animated vertical video creator in the year 2017.

You can make animations just with a few clicks of buttons using Smart Move and save a lot of time which animators usually spend in making the objects move from one place to another. It is a platform in which you can create scenes, add characters and objects, and animate them according to your needs. The creation process can be made easier and faster with the help of tutorials offered by Animaker. Animaker will also allow you to upload your images and mark the keyframes in the timeline for each object

Key Features

  • Runs on a powerful HTML5 engine and provides seamless performance on optimized browsers
  • Character Builder with over 15 customizable facial features and over ten accessory slots
  • Provides 20 facial expressions to bring the characters and videos to life
  • Auto Lip-Sync of the characters to the added voiceovers
  • The user can make long videos, short videos and gifs with tons of professional templates.
  • It also provides live video editing.

Pros

  • Animaker is simple and easy to use tool which can help anyone make the right quality product within a few minutes.
  • It offers a great diversity of characters, backgrounds and templates.
  • It allows more than one person to work on a project at the same time.
  • Even the people with no experience in animation making can use this software to build their videos.

Cons

  • The interface of Animaker is not very intuitive, and it lags a lot of times because it is a web-based service.
  • The options provided for the timeline are minimal.

What is Animation Software?

Animation software is a program which helps the users or producers to create different types of computer animations. There are various forms of animation which require different sets of skills and software requirements. These requirements and features distinguish animation software programs.

For instance, there are many software programs to create 2D vector animation, 2D Organic animation, 3D animation, etc. and some of the software programs integrate more than one type of animation to make the animation more appealing.

Animation programs have given variety and beauty to the art of animation, which started with traditional ways. Now an animator has to choose from various distinguished skills in animation ranging from character designing and scene-setting to modeling, which serve as dimensions to select from the many different animation software. No two animation programs in the industry are the same.

Conclusion

The way to choose software is to look for the features it provides according to your creative requirements. A program that is best for one animator might be entirely useless for another. Secondly, the thing to look for is the price. A lot of good animation programs are available for free and come with many features from the paid plans. For beginners, it is best to learn from programs like Blender which are free to use and are complete in themselves.

Moreover, if you lack design and technical skills and still want to use animations, then you can use online tools such as Renderforest, Animaker, and Powtoon. Pencil 2D is good for the frame to frame 2D animators and Synfig for vector animators, while Adobe Animate and Moho are a mixture of both with added features. So, before buying/ using a software list down your requirements and it never hurts to use the trial periods.

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