The 8 Best Animation Apps
Technology has made so many things easier and more accessible, and animation is one of them.
Gone are the days when you needed a powerhouse of a computer, very expensive software, and a lot of advanced training to achieve good results. Now you can create high quality and professional animations in much less time and with far fewer resources, and if you’re a skilled animator the latest apps can unleash even more of your creativity.
This explosion of technology comes with its own challenges.
There are more animation apps than ever on the market, all with their own unique approaches and benefits. Some are more geared towards ease of use and helping new animators to produce results in intuitive ways, others are more high-end and aimed at experts who really want something that is specialized and the best-in-class for a particular field. Working out what the ideal app for your needs is can be difficult.
Animation apps also differ hugely based on what type of animation they are for. An app that is used to produce stop motion animation is very different from an app that is used to create motion graphics, and an app for 2D animation won’t necessarily be the same as an app for 3D animation.
In order to help you figure out what the right app for you is, we’ve put together a list of the top apps in each animation category and gave you a rundown of what is good and bad about each of them.
The Best 2D Animation Apps
Simple, but Effective: Pencil2D
If you’re looking for a simple animation app that can help you to create traditional animations in a quick and effective way, then Pencil2D is a great option.
The app works with both raster and vector workflows, and it’s very easy and quick to switch between them during the animation process.
The minimalist and simple interface is very straightforward, so much so that it’s even suitable for kids who might want to try their hand at creating cartoons and other animations. It also gives you the option to customize the toolbar to make it fit with your own method of working.
In terms of features and animation tools, the app is far from bloated, but it does include a layers panel for bitmap, vector, sound and camera layers; it has a timeline and keyframes so you can add, duplicate and remove frames as needed; and it has pixel tracking, movie import and sound scrubber.
As the focus of Pencil2D is on 2D hand-drawn animations, we recommend that you use it in conjunction with a graphics tablet and a stylus. Doing this will make your animations come to life much faster and it’ll be easier to make your ideas a reality. The downside of the app is that it doesn’t have any really advanced functionality, so for anything beyond basic animations, it’s not that suitable. If you are interested in character creation or something complex then you may need to look elsewhere.
The app is open-source and has a group of dedicated contributors who make continuous improvements and create updates with additional features. There is also a dedicated Pencil2D community that you can turn to online if you need help and tips to get the most from the software.
- Open-source and free to use
- Limited functionality
The Beginner’s Best Friend: Adobe Animate CC
This vector-based 2D animation app is one of the most popular in the world, which is to be expected when you consider it has been around in one shape or form for almost a quarter of a century.
Adobe Animate is a versatile app that boasts plenty of features, yet it’s still fairly intuitive and easy to use. If you’re just getting started in animation or graphic design, this app is a great jumping off point. You can get a feel for its capabilities very quickly and get to work creating animations and vector graphics for whatever you want – whether that’s an animated loading screen for a website, an animated advert, an infographic, or whatever else tickles your fancy.
You can create interactive vector graphics for your purposes, like animating 2D characters and avatars, and the vector brushes have many settings to play with, like size, smoothness, velocity and pressure. Adobe Animate also takes care of the tweening process (filling in the space between keyframes) automatically and provides support for raster graphics, lets you synchronize audio with your animations, plus has other technical features like onion skinning and overlay.
There are a number of export options on offer include popular formats like HTML5 Canvas, Flash/Adobe AIR, WebGL, and SVG and you can export easily for use in mobile, TV or desktop formats.
If you’re a professional animator with a lot of experience, Adobe Animate might not be able to meet all of your needs and make the most of your skills, but if you’re a budding YouTuber, game designer, or graphic designer that wants to add animation into your mix, then it’s a good choice.
- Simple interface makes it a great choice for beginners
- Comes with 100GB of cloud storage
- Not ideal for advanced animators or complex projects
- Expensive subscription model
Pricing: 30-day free trial, then $20.99 per month
The Best Stop Motion Apps
The Multi-Device Marvel: Stop Motion Studio
The self-explanatorily named Stop Motion Studio is one of the most popular stop motion apps out there, and it’s not just down to the fact it has a super obvious name.
This app makes creating your own stop motion animations a breeze with a host of nifty features. You get full camera control, both automatically and manually, plus the ability to adjust camera settings like exposure, white balance, shutter speed, ISO and focus.
For the animation creation Stop Motion Studio uses a storyboard interface. It shows all of the frame animation in sequence and has modes like grid, overlay and frame-in-frame. The app offers standard video editing functions such as cut, delete, copy and post, along with the ability to add filters and different foregrounds and backgrounds.
A fan favorite feature of this app is the retroscoping effect. This inventive little tool allows you to import your own video clips, which you can then draw over and add your own animation styles and twists.
Stop Motion Studio works on Mac, Windows, iOS and Android, so no matter whether your device is a smartphone, desktop, tablet or laptop, you’ll be able to use the app. Also, if you are using different devices, the app has advanced sync functionality, meaning that you can sync projects across all your devices and switch between them,
As with all stop motion work, one big consideration you need to make is what type of camera you will be using. If you want to produce very high quality work, you’ll need to invest in a professional camera, but you can also just use your phone camera if you are starting out or you don’t need the highest quality.
- The sync function for multiple devices
- Prone to occasional crashes
Pricing: iOS and Android: $4.99, Mac and Windows: $9.99, free version available
For the Professionals: Dragonframe
If you’re looking for the most professional and high-end stop motion animation app you can get your hands on, then look no further than Dragonframe.
Since its release in 2008, Dragonframe has gone on to become the animation software of choice for the biggest names in the business. Legendary studio Aardman Animations uses Dragonframe, as does Laika, Nexus Studios and countless others. It has been used for everything from commercials to music videos to full-length feature films.
At its core, Dragonframe is frame-grabbing software, but it goes way beyond that. It uses the live view of a digital camera to provide the animator with a range of powerful tools and acts as the central hub where high-resolution frames are captured and organized. Dragonframe has advanced functions such as step-to-live, onionskinning, auto-toggling, and more.
If you’re just starting out and experimenting with stop motion animation, this app probably isn’t for you as the functionality will almost certainly exceed your needs and just getting to grips with it will take a lot of learning. On the other hand, if you want to take your stop-motion to the highest level then Dragonframe is an excellent choice.
- The most professional stop-motion app out there
- Only suitable for advanced animators
Pricing: $295 ($195 for students)
The Best 3D Animation Apps
An Open-Source Wonder: Blender
When it comes to 3D animation, design, modeling, and video editing, Blender is hard to beat.
It’s a free, open-source program that has been around for more than 20 years, and in that time it has continually developed to the point where it boasts an impressive list of features and functions.
Using its high-end path tracer engine, you can create ultra-realistic 3D characters and models. Blender has powerful rendering, modeling and sculpting tools and an animation toolset that features a character animation pose editor, sound synchronization, forward/inverse kinematics and more. You can also use Blender for adding visual special effects and vignettes and for color grading, and take advantage of its motion tracking, compositing and tracking capabilities. Blender also has an integrated 3D game engine, if video games are something you want to work on.
To get the most out of Blender you’ll need a fairly powerful computer as it is very resource heavy, and it’s not the easiest piece of software to use. If you’re more of a beginner, you’ll have to make your way up a steep learning curve in order to get to grips with it, but the rewards will be a range of powerful animation tools right at your finger tips. The good news is that there is a very supportive and active Blender community that you can call on, and there are a lot of great tutorials that you’re able to learn from.
- Packed with advanced features
- Free to use
- Steep learning curve
The Industry Standard: Autodesk Maya
If you’d like a recommendation for this piece of software, then just look towards Disney.
Autodesk Maya is the chosen program of the company, and so it is no wonder that it’s considered the industry standard.
The level of professionalism that you can achieve with this powerful animation app comes with a fairly hefty price tag, but for that you get a complete 3D production package that can be used for 3D modeling, 3D rendering and 3D animation. Autodesk Maya also boasts a powerful physics engine and it has a node-based workflow and can be well integrated with other software. Another plus point of Autodesk Maya is that it can be customized with the use of plugins and scripts to make it more user-friendly and to add different features, so if there is another 3D animation tool you'd like to use, it can be incorporated into the app in this way.
If you want to create incredibly detailed and professional animations and high-quality videos, this is the app for you, but be aware that it’s a very high-level and complex piece of software and you should only be thinking about this if you have a lot of animation knowledge and experience already.
- Complete professional 3D production package
- High price point
Pricing: $215 per month
The Best Motion Animation Apps
The User-Friendly Online App: Animaker
Animaker is a piece of online animation software that runs in a web browser rather than on a desktop, smartphone or tablet.
The accessibility provided by just needing a browser is matched by the accessibility and ease of use of the app. Even if you’re an absolute beginner with very limited animation knowledge, you’ll be able to sit down to this app and start creating animations and infographic videos straight away.
The software comes equipped with an extensive library of animation templates and pre-animated assets. There is an array of existing illustrations, gestures and characters to work with, as well as a host of sound effects and music you can use.
Animaker is super useful if you want to do something simple like spice up a presentation with a cool animation or make an infographic pop, yet you can also take it to a more professional level with animations features like Curve, Camera In and Out. The software is available as a free version which places a watermark over your animations, so if you want to create anything to export and use, it’s best to sign up for one of their plans.
- Super user-friendly interface and perfect for beginners
- Needs an internet connection to run
Pricing: Limited version available for free, plans starting at $10 per month
The Animated Video Hero: Powtoon
Powtoon is another online animation tool that can be used to create swish animated videos and interactive animations.
If you’re looking to create video presentations or YouTube style animated explainer videos, Powtoon is an excellent option. It’s very user friendly and comes with a lot of pre-made graphic assets like animated characters, backgrounds, props and more.
The built-in assets make it easy for beginners and novices to get started, but there is also enough advanced functionality to make it a useful app for more experienced users and there are a lot of advanced animation controls and options for animated character customization.
You can use the existing audio the app has, or you can also record or upload your own audio, making adding voice overs and sound effects for your work a breeze. You can also import your own Adobe Photoshop and Powerpoint files to use.
There is a free version of the app available, but anything you export in this mode will have a watermark, so as with Animaker, you’ll need to get yourself a monthly plan if you want to export and use your work properly.
- Has a good range of basic features, even on the free plan
- The library of templates on the free option is limited
Pricing: Limited version available for free, plans starting at $17 per month
No matter what kind of animation you are looking to tackle, there are multiple app options out there.
Whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced user, it’s good to know that there is software tailored to your needs. Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive and there are many more animation apps on market, but in our opinion these are the ones that are leading the pack.
Before you begin animating in one of these apps, it's important to brush up on your digital drawing skills.
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