The process of animation is responsible for so many of your favorite shows and movies. When you first hear of “animation”, you might be thinking of cartoons, but that’s not all there is to it. The truth is that most of the blockbusters we know and love heavily benefit from 3D modeling and animation.
Whether you’re an amateur trying to learn or a professional, you must know that animating anything requires the best software for animation. Learning animation is not easy, but the right kind of software makes it completely possible even for absolute beginners. The good thing is, once you learn how to do it right, you’ve got yourself a very handy skill or even perhaps a career!
What is the best software for animation? We know all about it. In this guide, we will answer all your questions and show you which software to use depending on your skill level & purpose.
What is the best software for animation as a beginner?
When you first try out animation, the whole activity might seem overwhelming. It’s true that all animation software has a bit of a learning curve, but if you’re patient, you’ll be a pro one day! Using beginner-friendly software is crucial when you’re a new animator.
Below, we will list the best software for animation for beginners.
Adobe Character Animator
This software adds a very interesting twist to the process of animation. This technology alone makes it the easiest to use of all the other options. Of course, there are limitations, but it’s a good place to start. What makes Adobe Character Animator (ACA) stand out?
In most animation software, the entire animating is done by you, by hand. In Adobe animations, you animate cartoon characters in real-time without much work. The first thing you do is create your cartoon character (sometimes referred to as “puppet”) in ACA, import it into the animation interface, and get to work.
To use this software, you will need a microphone and a webcam. The program then detects your movements, facial expressions, and voice, and animates the character accordingly. This is done through a technology similar to motion capture.
Adobe Character Animator really cuts down on all the work of an animator. Through the automatic lipsyncing and full animation of the face, you will start animation making without any problems.
One fun part of this program is that it can also be used for real-time animation and live-streaming. This is why it’s often used by YouTubers or Twitch streamers just to add a bit of fun to their videos.
The downside is that you can only animate cartoon characters, and this type of animation has its limits. However, there is no easier way to jump right into the world of the best software for animation than this macOS and Windows-compatible tool.
Stop Motion Studio
This is a frame animation program that will help you turn your creations into full-length 4K stop-motion videos. It comes with a wide array of features that you’re sure to appreciate as a beginner in the world of 2D animation.
One of the main perks of Stop Motion Studio is the multi-platform accessibility. It will run not just on Windows and macOS, both of which are often used by animators. You can even use it on an iPhone, iPad, and Android. You probably know that the best computer for animation costs a whole lot, so this is a good start that will work even on your smartphone.
Most of all, this program is simply fun to use. You will learn animating while having a blast and creating beautiful videos. This software supports most digital cameras and allows you to take full control of things such as ISO, color balance, focus, and exposure. This means you can make your animations look exactly how you want them to.
There’s also an option to use a green screen for your backgrounds. You can then use one of the pre-made backdrops from the Stop Motion Studio library or draw one yourself. You’re also able to import images, video files, and audio.
The whole editing and animating process is remarkably simple and can be done by absolute beginners. We recommend it as a more advanced start into the world of frame animation.
If you’re into 2D animation and don’t need to get into 3D just yet, you might find this program more than adequate for your needs. It will help you create traditional animation in frame-by-frame technology. Use your own talents to make amazing images come to life!
The biggest benefit of this best animation software is that it’s very easy to understand. You can use it to draw directly in the software, which can be done with the use of your computer mouse or with a drawing tablet. Alternatively, you can scan your previous drawings into the software and animate them.
You can create fluid animations, but also stop-motion animation which works well with 2D drawings. The learning curve is really low here, so low that you will probably complete your first animation in mere minutes. Sure, your first try may be basic, but it will work!
Most animators will also love the lipsync support found here, which will save you the trouble of animating speech by hand. You’ll also like the fact that you can pan, zoom, blur, dissolve, or rotate your video as you see fit.
DigiCel FlipBook works on both Windows and macOS, so you can get started right away no matter your computer.
What software do professional animators use?
So you’re a professional animator looking to step up your game? Or perhaps you’re looking to buy software that will take you from a beginner to a pro? Either way, you’ve come to the right place. The best software for animation is advanced and can tackle pretty much any task you throw at it. Check out our favorites below.
If you ask any animator about the software that they use, we can bet that they will at least mention Autodesk Maya. It’s often called the best software for animation. At the very least, it’s probably the best software for animation if you’re into 3D, modeling, rendering, and simulation.
This is a powerful piece of the best animation software that covers just about everything an animator needs. Therefore, it is used by some of the top feature film animation studios for tasks such as virtual reality, character motion, and rendering, but also rigging and 3D modeling.
Do you remember Avengers? What about Star Wars? That’s right, both of those franchises have used Maya for their animation needs.
Using Maya, you can create your characters from scratch and then take them through the entire process right there in the same software. You’ll see real-time changes in movement and scenes, including shadows, lighting, and textures.
Other than bringing your characters to life, Maya takes it one step further and allows you to shape all sorts of 3D objects. Backgrounds? Yes, of course! But there’s more to it, too. The smallest details such as breathing, realistic movements of hair, cloth, and eyes, can all look beautiful with Maya. The sky is the limit — you can even create all kinds of explosions that will look just like the real thing.
Maya is available for macOS, Linux, and Windows.
While a lot of the best software for animation is quite pricey, Blender stands out from the rest like a shining beacon of hope. This is a free animation software! Despite being open-source, this 3D animation software is used by many professional animators who often prefer it over other, paid options.
Blender has countless uses that contribute to it being such a staple in a 3D animator arsenal. You can use it for modeling, rigging, sculpting, simulation, motion tracking, video editing, compositing, and more. It’s also often used in video game creation.
Blender, like Maya, will take you from the process of character (or object, or scenery) creation all the way to its completion. It’s great at modeling, but it’s the animation process that it truly excels at.
You’ll be able to synchronize sound and voice to match the animation, make use of industry-standard libraries such as MantaFlow, and more. Blender also automates many repetitive tasks for you, such as the walking cycle of a character. It’s a surprisingly extensive tool you can try for free right now on Windows, Linux, and macOS.
If you want something very advanced and you don’t need something super-easy, Autodesk has something just for you. Autodesk is the company behind Maya and they once again prove themselves irreplaceable with the creation of MotionBuilder, the best animation software, and rendering software, out there.
Autodesk MotionBuilder is ideal for 3D character animation. It works in real-time to deliver the most realistic, lifelike movements, expressions, and more. This tool makes use of motion capture, which means that it’s used by many leading film studios for their motion graphics needs.
The working environment in MotionBuilder is highly responsive and reactive. It has a learning curve as most animation software does, but once you master it, you can get outstanding results. You will start by capturing your 3D model. Next, the tool allows you to edit it to your heart’s content. Lastly, you will design character animations, some of which will be insanely complex.
Animators that work with video game or movie studios appreciate that you can animate pretty much anything in this tool. From complex fight scenes to a simple walk in the park, Autodesk will do the job reliably on both Windows and macOS.
What animation software do YouTubers use?
These days, YouTube is as much a hobby as it is a career. Whether you’re looking to do it for fun or you want to become a professional YouTuber, you will need the right software. Here are some programs that YouTubers often use.
Adobe After Effects
This is probably the best software for animation that YouTubers and Twitch streamers love. This is because Adobe After Effects provides many tools that help you make videos and live streams.
After Effects takes you from character creation to editing your whole videos. This means that you may not even need any extra tools and can probably manage your entire videos in just one program. This software is available for both Mac and Windows and can be used online as well as offline.
Being an Adobe product, After Effects comes with many pre-made presets and it speeds up the animation process. It also helps you create, composite, and even stylize 2D and 3D footage. You can, additionally, use it for rendering or creating 2D cartoon characters.
Another great use of this software is what you can do with your videos. Adobe provides a large library of visual effects that can be applied directly to the videos or animations in order to truly make them shine. This program is a must-have for any budding YouTuber.
Cinema 4D is a 3D modeling and 3D animation software that is often used by YouTubers. Some channels follow an animated formula in addition to video footage. If yours is just like that, you’ll need software like Cinema 4D to make your drawings come to life.
This software was first launched in 1990 and it has accompanied many animators in their daily work. It functions on Microsoft Windows, macOS, and Linux. Cinema 4D has been used in the creation of some top-notch blockbuster movies and video games, such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or Inception.
Cinema4D offers advanced rendering, including support for shadows, lighting, and even sky simulation. It also helps you simulate your character and their movement in a realistic way, taking into account the difference between soft and rigid body dynamics.
You can use it for many other things, such as the creation and animation of hair, explosions, cloth, air, and minuscule facial expressions. It’s a very precise piece of software that YouTubers use for small tasks as well as complex animation.
iClone 7 is a professional real-time rendering and 3D animation software. It’s, arguably, the fastest and best software for animation in the YouTube industry. Available for Microsoft Windows, it has many tools in its digital arsenal that you can take advantage of in your work.
If your YouTube channel calls for advanced animations, this is it. You can use iClone for creating your very own characters in 2D or 3D. Next, you can take advantage of iClone 7’s full range of features that will make that character come alive.
It comes with a huge library of assets that you can then use royalty-free — a rarity amongst such programs.
iClone 7 excels at animating human and animal forms. It’s very precise and allows for accurate reproduction of facial expressions, small movements, and large motions. It also lets you easily keep track of the editing timeline and the multiple layers you’re working with.
If a challenge is not an issue, check out iCloud 7 for your YouTube channel.
What is the best cartoon animation software?
Creating cartoon animation and anime is much different from working with 3D animation. Even 3D cartoons tend to require a different approach than lifelike animation does. This is why animators who work on cartoons and anime tend to use other kinds of software. Below, you’ll find the best software for animation of cartoons and anime.
Moho is, undoubtedly, the best software for animation if you are working with cartoons. This is a complete tool that takes you from creating your characters to animating them, even including complex dynamics.
You can use this animation software on Microsoft Windows and Mac (desktop or laptop) for things such as shaping, bending, animating, rendering, and twisting characters and objects. Most of all, you can use it to design your characters.
Moho is used by traditional cartoon artists and anime artists because of the wide arsenal of helpful tools. It comes with a library of pre-set vectors and images and it is compatible with Smart Bones. You maintain full control over the designing process, and Moho is known for delivering very clean lines that translate to an easy animation process.
This animation software is rather user-friendly and will let you animate your first characters very early on. It’s also good with more advanced technologies, such as its realistic motion blur feature that helps you manage the number of frames.
This is a multi-platform (Windows, Linus, OSX) program that’s beginner-friendly but also utilized by professionals. Some people call it the best software for animation of cartoons.
One major upside of this program is that it’s completely open-source & free to use. Because of that, it’s a great place to start your journey with animating cartoons. This software works for relatively simple 2D animations, so we don’t recommend it for 3D work.
You can use up to 50 layers in Synfig, each one taking your animation one step further. It can be something as simple as a wink or as complex as a full scene — 50 layers will suffice. You can create your own character or upload a ready-to-use image to animate and create videos of.
Synfig has a bone system that lets you make even simple cartoons look realistic in their dynamics. It also supports sound, so you can sync the audio to your character’s movements without any issue.
For an open-source program, Synfig offers many features and will cover most 2D animations.
Toon Boom Harmony
If you’re a professional, you may want to use something more advanced than Synfig. Many cartoons and anime artists use Toon Boom Harmony. This program works on Windows, Linux, and macOS. It’s free to try out, but after 21 days, you will have to pay a monthly subscription.
While most people use it for 2D animation, you can make 3D animations in this software as well. It provides you with several presets, vectors, and bitmap tools that let you create fun characters from scratch. You can import 3D models and work on them to animate them, too. This makes it a good choice for hybrid animators that work with both types of art.
Artists love this program because of its extensive drawing support. It has advanced drawing tools, such as color palettes and brushes. The brush engine used in Toon Boom Harmony is very advanced and precise, allowing for clean, delicate lines.
You can also use Toon Boom for things such as special effects, depth realism, shadows, and other actions that make your drawings look lifelike. You’ll also love the texture deformation.
Toon Boom Harmony is not cheap, but you can try it out for free — you may be surprised by how much you’ll probably love it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Having seen our list, you’re probably all set and ready to go. However, if you have any lingering questions, we’re here to answer them below.
Is it hard to learn animation?
Animation is easy to start and learn the basics of, but very hard to master. The level of 3D animation you see in blockbusters such as Marvel films does not come easily. It takes years and years of work to get to that level of animation.
However, once you develop your animation techniques, you will obtain a very desirable skill set. Other than a hobby, animation can easily become a well-paid job.
Do you need a good computer for animation?
That depends on the type of animation you’re looking to do. 3D animation is notorious for requiring some of the best computers on the market. You will need a super-strong processor, graphics card, and lots of RAM to become a 3D animator. You will also need the right operating system. Most programs run on Windows and Mac.
2D animation or stop motion animation is not quite as demanding and can even be done on a smartphone.
Is 3D animation software expensive?
The best software for animation can be rather expensive. You often have to pay a monthly subscription to keep using it. However, in return, you get the best tools and full customer support. Many professionals only use paid tools simply because of their extended library of video effects and tools.
Luckily, there are some free tools out there, such as the open-source program Blender, that can compete with paid programs.
Animation, be it 2D or 3D, can be extremely rewarding. If you’ve got even a bit of an artistic knack, you will love creating your own character and then making it move without having to draw it all by yourself. It’s a lot of fun and without it, some of our favorite movies would look so much worse.
Whether you’re just getting into animation or you’re already a veteran, make sure to use the best software for animation that you can get your hands on. You will be surprised at the difference it makes when you are fully equipped with the best of the best!