If you’re considering video to enhance your ecommerce site, think about making a cartoon. In addition to the novelty factor, animation has several advantages over live video. You won’t need a physical set, a camera, or a crew. And there are a wide variety of free or inexpensive animation programs that allow novice users to create animated content in a short timeframe.
As an example, here is an episode of the animated web series SpaceHospital that I recently launched with my partner. The episode was produced over two days. No money was spent on production, allowing us to focus any resources on our marketing efforts.
Here is a list of tools for creating animated videos. There are downloadable software programs and online applications, 2D programs with automated templates, 3D modeling environments, and sophisticated rendering platforms.
Anime Studio. Anime Studio is an inexpensive system to simplify animation and avoid frame-by-frame work. Auto trace your own artwork and then animate it. Import recorded audio and automatically lip-sync to characters. Work with vector based art, in 2D or 3D space. Price: Debut is $49.99; Pro is $199.99.
DigiCel FlipBook. DigiCel FlipBook lets you draw right on the computer with your mouse or tablet. Or shoot your rough drawings under a camera for speed and then scan your cleaned-up drawings for quality. Use storyboards to edit and time your story. FlipBook also provides tools to help you paint your drawings quickly and easily without having to learn or go through a lot of difficult steps. You can add pans, zooms, rotation, blurs and dissolves and then export movies that you can play on a television or post on the Internet. Price: Lite version is $78; Studio is $298.
CreaToon. CreaToon allows you to do cut-out-shape animation without having to set every single frame. Just set certain keyframes and the computer will do the in-betweens. Thanks to the real-time preview and the keyframe editor, you can easily fine-tune your animation until you are satisfied with the result. Price: Free.
Toon Boom Studio. Toon Boom Studio is a simple-to-use animation software for producing online content. Create animation with a variety of drawing tools. Import and animate media elements — such as digital pictures — and capture live images. Connect a character to simple-to-use bone animation tools. Price: $249; Animate Pro is $899.
FotoMorph. FotoMorph is a simple program for creating animation that morphs one photo into another. The program is limited. This is a helpful tool if you want to morph images. It’s easy to use. Price: Free.
Pencil. Pencil is an animation/drawing program that lets you create traditional hand-drawn animation using both bitmap and vector graphics. Pencil is intended to be a simple program enabling anyone to make 2D animation. Pencil is free and open source. Price: Free.
GoAnimate. GoAnimate is an online application to make animated videos, quickly and easily, without having to draw. Create your own cast of characters. Choose from more than 50 template characters, 150 poses, 20 backgrounds, 20 music tracks, and 200 props. Use the template voices, or record your own. Price: Business plans start at $25/month.
Wideo. Wideo is a free online platform for creating animated videos. Use it to promote products or to explain concepts. Choose a template you like, insert objects from its library or your computer, animate them and share your video. Wideo is new; enter your email for beta access. Price: Free.
Synfig. Synfig Studio is a free and open-source 2D animation software for creating film-quality animation using vector and bitmap artwork. Use vector-based elements and animation-keyframes to produce smooth high-quality 2D animation, without working frame-by-frame. Price: Free.
Blender. Blender is a free open source 3D content creation suite. The platform provides a wide toolset from modeling to sequence editing, allowing the creation of complex animations. While this platform is beyond the needs of product sites, the 3D component can be used to design sets for 2D animation. Price: Free.
TVPaint Animation. TVPaint Animation is a paperless drawing and animation tool, able to imitate traditional techniques such as pen brush, watercolor, pencil, felt-tip and airbrush, and animate them over frames. Create an animated movie from start to finish, including storyboarding and all the steps (rough, cleanup, keyframes and in-betweening) through to final compositing. Price: $638.80.
Anim8or. Anim8or is a 3D computer animation program that is designed to allow straightforward creation of animations. This is a good introductory program to 3D animating. Once you have created a model or scene, you can render high quality .jpg and .bmp images and .avi movies and save them to disk for later use. Price: Free.
Xtranormal. Xtranormal is an online application to make 3D animated videos. Choose from 500 high-quality actors and 200 beautiful sets. Insert up to 12 actors per scene. Direct your actors to walk, sit, or choose from more than 80 gestures. Customize with your own branding. Enter text to speech in over 20 languages., then watch actors lip sync automatically. Move camera through 3D environment. Price: Professional plan is $50/month.
Muvizu. Muvizu is 3D animation software. Make 3D animated movies in hours, not months. The full version of Muvizu includes 15 characters, dozens of special effects, hundreds of objects and thousands of animations. Build and light your sets, and direct customized characters. Publish to YouTube, social networking sites, your site, or anywhere. See Muvizu site for terms of Muvizu Commercial Use License Agreement.
Art of Illusion. Art of Illusion is a free, open source 3D modeling and rendering software studio. Many of its capabilities rival those found in commercial programs. Features include subdivision surface based modeling tools, skeleton based animation, and a graphical language for designing procedural textures and materials. Price: Free.
Adobe After Effects. After Effects is a digital motion graphics and compositing software. While it is mainly for visual effects compositing in post-production filmmaking, it can also be used to animate media in 2D and 3D space. If you are interested in developing a content series, After Effects can be a great platform to import 3D backgrounds and then animate in 2D. Price: Buy for $999; subscribe for as low as $19.99/month.
Adobe Flash. Flash is an authoring environment for creating animation and multimedia content. It offers several ways to include animation in your projects. Create motion “tweens.” Create frame-by-frame animation using onionskin tools. Customize and duplicate animations easily using Motion Editor. Primarily, Flash is more of an interactivity tool than a cartoon animator. Price: Buy for $699; subscribe for as low as $19.99/month.
Sweet Home 3D. Sweet Home 3D is a free interior design application to plan interior space and arrange furniture. It is free for commercial use. If you are planning on producing an animated series, Sweet Home 3D can provide you with a 3D set and furniture, as well as the freedom of a 3D environment to determine your shots. Then export these set images as backgrounds into a 2D animator program for characters and action. Price: Free.
SketchUp. SketchUp is a general 3D modeling software program, used in a variety of fields such as architecture and game design. The program features ease-of-use and 3D Warehouse, a collection of 3D models of buildings, bridges, cars, spaceships, futons, dinosaurs and everything else in the universe. SketchUp can be a good tool to build 3D sets for use as backdrops in animation programs. Price: Standard program is free; Professional version is $495.
LightWave. LightWave is a powerful 3D program for modeling, animating and rendering. LightWave has been a staple of film and television visual effects for over 20 years. It provides powerful animation and rigging tools, effect systems, render engine, and much more. Although this is probably much more than you need, if you develop a passion for producing 3D content, look into LightWave. Price: $1,495.