Salutations! This going to be a fun blog. Today, I'm going to talk a bit about my experience using Toonboom Harmony Premium. To those who don't know, Toonboom Harmony is the industry standard traditigital animation program. I'll be going over my experiences learning the program, my feelings of the program and some feature requests. So buckle up for some KNOWLEDGE.
Trial and error
So I heard about Toonboom in college, my second year I believe. My primary instructor told the class if we wanted a better animation program than flash, Toonboom was the light. Now, I hate flash (animate cc just became tolerable with their 2018 version) so learning there was a better program out there that was capturing the industry was something I wanted to hear.
I began learning Toonboom around 2013 or 2014. I finally got my hands on this dream program everyone was talking about and it was... confusing. Now I'm not technologically illeterate- I've learned plenty of programs in my day, but at the time Toonboom was a mess. I spent a few days trying to learn it and got so overwhelmed that I just dropped it. I tried their own reference materials, YouTube and everything but it was like no one knew how to use the program.
I kept trying to learn the program in doses over the next few years with the same results. A lot of frustration. What made it worse was that I had easily learned tvpaint in like a week or so. Overtime, my curiosity for the program allowed me to flirt with the tools but it never went anywhere. Fast forward to 2017, and I have a well paying job and a vision for my artwork. This was going to be it. I was intent on learning the program, I mean at this point 3 years have passed. I needed to learn Toonboom so I could produce content quickly and not lose my professional look.
I dedicated about a whole month to learning Toonboom. Going as far as to make my own checklist of things to learn and in what order I should learn it. After much struggling over years, it finally clicked for me. I had to voraciously consume information from multiple sources but the cogs started turning. It was a magical moment because for the first time I had within my grasp the ability to make something exactly how I wanted to make it while also being able to balance my personal life with my work life and art. It was at this moment that I was truly sold on the program. Up until that point I was going off other people's words, and while I saw good results from them, I couldn't conceptualize how something would be able to help me so much without having first hand experience with it.
For many years I've been honing and tweaking my production skills. For reference it took me about 3 months to make my first film out of college, "Quiet". At that time I was working full-time hours for a third of the production. I used tvpaint to make that film and I loved making it, but while doing so I was discouraged at the length of time it took me to make about 3 minutes of hand drawn animation (without color too!). I thought to myself that's as quickly as I'll ever make a film and it felt like the lessons I learned in producing content would forever be hamstrung by the technology. For example, motion graphics projects tend to have a very quick turn-over rate while hand drawn animation is considerably more taxing. It felt like the companies that were making animated software were content just to get people to animate digitally, instead of having the drive to increase productivity exponentially (adobe's animate/flash is the biggest offender here). Even though animation is laborious, and it will always have that element to it, it doesn't mean that there's no other way to increase efficiency in productivity. I really love animating, but if it meant I had a minimum of 3 months to put out a few minutes of film, I probably would have stopped trying to tell my own stories a long time ago, but thanks to the power of Toonboom and its ability to speed up production considerably, I've been given a better chance to express myself.
This is not to say the program is perfect, because it's far and away from that; however, if you are the type to want to tell your own stories in animation, I can't think of another program that would be better suited to do so. Toonboom may have a steep learning curve but I am 100% sure I would not have gotten as far in another program (I've tried). With all that said, there are some suggestions I have for future updates.
Now that you know my relationship with Toonboom, I thought it'd be cool to put out some feature requests. You never know who could be reading your blogs, so if I'm lucky, someone from Toonboom could! Failing that, maybe if I get enough animators to read this, we can get loud enough to have our voices heard. Anyway, these requests come after spending at least a year with using Toonboom as my main creative program. It could be possible that there are already better ways of doing some of these things, or that these ideas are already programmed but under a menu I haven't seen. Nevertheless, let's get into it.
- Export selected frames
A simple, but effective update would be to have an export selected frames option in the export menu. Toonboom already comes with "in and out" markers, so giving them this extra bit of functionality could help productivity. I could be wrong and this functionality is already built in, but Toonboom has like a dozen or so ways of exporting images and I've yet to find it.
- Bulk rename frames (or better way to rename frames)
Ok, this one is a pretty big oversight from Toonboom I think. In a medium where the average number of things you're working with could be in the double or triple digits, being able to rename images in bulk could be a big boost of productivity. I've found the only ways to rename files in Harmony is through the xsheet view (blegh) or right clicking the frame and renaming. Both are weak options. What's even more perplexing is that with Harmony 15, there's a new drawing substitution view (drawing substitutions are how you swap out drawings in the program), but you can't rename frames in it! It's pretty silly. I think having some kind of system to categorize, rename and reorder frames could be exceptionally helpful
- Streamlined interface
The biggest complaint I hear about Toonboom from beginners (and the same I had) is that the program is *very* complicated. The current interface is better than what it was before, but not by much. I'm not sure what the solution here would be (perhaps consolidating some things, or reprogramming legacy tools), but I think simplifying the interface should probably be a priority for the team. It would make the program beginner friendly and allow pros to get to the tools easier. There's just a lot of information coming at you all at once when you open the program and it can be a bit daunting.
- More reliable way to merge shapes (similar to the way illustrator works)
Here's a fun one. One of the things Adobe does well is fitting illustrator with really powerful vector tools (why these today aren't in animate is anyone's guess). I'd like toonboom to adopt some of these tools. One of my favorite tools in illustrator is the merge object tool. For example, you select a square and a circle and merge them into one shape. You can kind of do this in toonboom between two layers and the patch node, but I want a shape combiner tool that can be used on a single drawing layer. I use a lot of shapes in my art and being able to merge them at once instead of overlapping and cutting or switching to a line or stroke tool would be helpful.
- More powerful shape tools (round edges, better snapping)
Building off of the idea of more powerful shaping tools that are in illustrator, I would like to be able to easily round off corners of a shape. There are so many instances where that would have beneficial. Most of the puppets I create use rounded edges, and I've built a ton of objects with them (they're more aesthetically pleasing than sharp points to me). I would also like better snapping features. I don't really understand how Toonboom snaps objects together as they're never snapping in relation to center points. It always seems like when I snap an object to something it's always on a corner or off-center.
- A way to swap out assets in the node view without plugging nodes manually.
Toonboom kind of has a feature like this but it only works for when there's only one connection. Essentially you hold the alt key and drag a node into a link and the node connects automatically. This idea I have will work similarly to after effects' alt swap feature, where you highlight an asset in the project window you want to swap out in a composition. You drag the asset from the project window into the comp while holding alt and the asset swaps out. It's a very nifty feature that would be helpful in toonboom, especially if you have assets that are linked to a dozen other layers.
- Reliable deletion of palettes (deleated palettes still not being deleted from disk)
This one is self explanatory. When I delete a palette (yes I delete it off the disk), the program still references it. How do I know? By naming it the exact same thing I did before. I think this is a small bug but it'd be helpful to iron it out because it always helps when a program is supposed to do the things it says it's going to do.
- Customize node links
I was very happy with the new organizational node view features implemented in Harmony 15. To build off of that, I think it would be cool to be able to customize the links between nodes. I don't think this needs to be super crazy, but maybe being able to change the color of the links or link style (dotted line, dashed line, etc.) could be helpful.
- Fix IK (nailing sometimes still causes the assets to adjust when using IK)
This is one of the more frustrating things for me with Toonboom. When you use a whole body IK chain, and nail the feet to the "ground" there is a chance the I'm won't work right. Specifically if you make the character bend, the feet will dip and move around ever so slightly. I think the problem gets excarcebated when you have other transform nodes in your chain (yes I made sure to remove the bones in these extra bills if they appear). The IK system in toonboom is really versatile, so I'd like to see some of these glitches ironed out if possible.
- Curve deformer IK
My last request is something I feel would really elevate the program. Toonboom's curve deformers are great. 10/10. That said, animating a walking character using deformers for their legs or arms could be easier. Constraint nodes help, but having a tool that could automate the calculations of the curve (or it's points) would be preferable. It'll give animators the ability to spend less time on figuring out solutions to curve deformers walks and more time in actually animating them. To be honest, this is one of those ideas that are pretty obvious (there's a plug-in for after effects that kind of does this already called rubber hose), so I wouldn't be surprised if the Toonboom team were already developing it, but wasn't ready for 15. That said, if it's not being developed yet, it should totally be fast tracked!
I know this posting is a little longer than most of my posts, but I really do like Toonboom. It makes animating a more pleasurable experience for me and it allows me to get so much more done with less. As I've said before, the program is far from perfect, but it really feels like the developers are doing their best to make an animation program that speeds up the process and for that I am very grateful. I am very curious about what feature will be released in upcoming versions and I'll keep an eye out for them in the future and talk about them when appropriate. With all of that said, and until that time comes, this is Kyle, signing off.