If cave paintings are anything to go by, stick figures could be what man first learned to draw. They are so simple, we barely pay attention to them, and we move on to make our figures more fleshed out.
But the best thing about stick figures is that they are straight and simple. Even the most artistically inept guy could draw one. Well, a lot of people do draw stick figures.
From toilet door signs to Flash games, from cartoon strips to movie posters, stick figures are there where nothing else quite fits in. There’s no doubt that stick figures are universal symbols. You just have to do a search on YouTube to see how virally popular they are.
If it’s so simple then how do we make a few stick figure animations for ourselves? We can use it in a PowerPoint presentation, use it for education, or just do it for animated fun. We start out with an idea. Then we look at the free software available that can help us give it life.
Let’s take a look at three free stick figure animation programs that can help us draw a story in straight lines.
Pivot Stickfigure Animator is the oft-quoted stick figure animation software when it comes to freewares. The Windows freeware is used to make animated stick figures which can be saved in the GIF format. Stick figure animations can be used in webpages or converted to videos.
The interface is very simple. It opens with a default stick-man figure. You can create one from scratch using the Stick Figure Builder. Stick figures are easily created by adding line segments for the body parts and a circle for the head. Line and circles can be toggled.
Using the handles, the segments can be moved to the positions desired. In the Stick Figure Builder, you can change the thickness and length of the segments. Color and scale are the other things which can be changed with just a click. You can add up to 256 stick figures in each frame.
As in all animation tools, the job is to create Frames where each frame differs from the previous in a way that resembles movement. Pivot supports onion skinning, so drawing the next frame on the basis of the previous one is easier.
You can modify each Pivot Animator frame in any way you want, by changing the stick-man, adding color, or changing the size. Backgrounds can be inserted into the frames but each frame cannot have its individual background.
Hit the Play button and set the speed to see how the animation turned out.
Stykz is very similar to Pivot Stickfigure Animator apart from a few differences. The interface is as simple but the stick-men can be drawn in place as Stykz has done away with a separate editor and everything is done on the stage.
Stykz and Pivot are nearly kissing cousins. You can import Pivot files into Stykz. Stykz gives more export options (GIF, PNG, transparent PNG, MOV) than Pivot. The one thing it lacks is the feature to add a graphic background.
Stykz lacks a help file but it has a pretty vibrant forum.
TISFAT (This Is Stick Figure Animation Theatre) a free stick figure animation tool that you don’t need to install. It comes with a slew of tools, a timeline, and more options that make creating stick figure animations a more controlled process than the previous two freewares. For instance, the finished stick figure animations can be saved as GIF, BMP, Flash, and AVI movie files.
TISFAT (ver. 0.67) is a 1.2MB download and it runs on Windows and Linux or MacOS via WINE.
The interface may look more complicated at first glance, but it is usable by someone who does not have any animation experience. The software comes with a detailed help file. It also has a community of users.
TISFAT introduces a few enrichments which the previous two freewares did not have.
Timeline is the stage which holds every component you create and moves it through time to create the animation effect.
Layers are very much like transparent plastic sheets which can hold one object at a time. Layers can be manipulated to hide, reveal, or change the order in which objects are arranged.
Keyframes and Framesets are what the object is at one point of time in the animation. Framesets are a collection of keyframes.
It is the combination of layers, keyframes, and framesets on the timeline that creates the animation.
TISFAT’s tools can be used to create shapes, readymade stick figures, or curved lines to give more definition to the animation.
Added features onion skinning which helps you to see a faint ghost image of the previous frame so you can position the artwork for the next frame make it all the more easier. TISFAT also supports backgrounds and sound support is expected in the next version.
The three stick figure animation programs featured here are great for going through the basics of animation. Pivot and Stykz are dead simple, while TISFAT is a bit more feature laden.
Stick figures are great for quick animations. They can be learnt by kids, by teachers who have no previous experience in animation. Put in some more patience and you can make your stick figures dance to your tune.
Would you say it’s a great way to kickstart your animation career?
Image: Beat Machine
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