MotionArtist Easily Turns Art Into Animation

Smith Micro touts MotionArtist (free beta) as the answer for graphic novel and comic creators who want to create motion/interactive comics without coding. You upload your artwork from any of a number of common file types and export the animation in video formats that play well in HTML and YouTube. The latter is a boon for creators uploading motion comics on their own sites without the use of Flash or After Effects.

Smith Micro MotionArtist
Imported PSD files in MotionArtist maintain their individual layers, order, and labels, as in this art by Karen Luk.
Importing original comic pages into MotionArtist from Adobe Photoshop was simple. PSD files come in layers, each with its own original layer name in the scene or flattened as a composite. Each layer is loaded in the time line with a default 30 frames per second. Vendor Smith Micro states that MotionArtist will also accept the following formats: AI (Adobe Illustrator), JPEG, PNG, and raw TIFF. Animators will recognize the timeline and some animation tools in the toolbar, but there are no drawing tools like those in Flash and Anime Studio. The emphasis is on rendering existing pages for video playback.

When MotionArtist opens up, the comic artist sees the familiar industry-standard 11-bv-17-inch artboard and a single panel with camera view attached. MotionArtist has two modes, Presentation and Advanced. Basic understanding of animation timing is useful but not required, given the default settings in Presentation mode. MotionArtist users will switch back and forth between the modes to refine camera movement and panel-to-panel focus. Having little animation experience, I found it tricky to align my own camera and panel paths properly for rendering. It's faster to import a PSD file, let Presentation mode create a camera path between the panels, and then edit it. The caveat is where the camera path starts and ends. In a few of my imported files with layers, the camera render would start on the last speech bubble. Adjustments in the time line and paths fixed this.

MotionArtist includes a cool 3D parallax effect where layers in panel hover over the background as the camera moves around. You can resize layers within an imported file, which is handy for sound and environment effects. Speech bubbles, panels, and other text effects created in MotionArtist are vector graphics. These features lend themselves to fun animated effects like transparency, shaky camera movement, and rotation on the comic page. Exporting the finalized comic scene is a snap. From the File menu, select the Export Comic option and MotionArtist will render in the video format desired (either AVI or Quicktime). The Export HTML5 choice creates the HTML page all set to upload and share online.

If comic creators can put in time to get familiar with the animation controls, MotionArtist is the right tool to produce interactive comics. MotionArtist does well with a simple UI, Presentation mode and popular export file formats. Non-comic creators, like photographers, can use MotionArtist to generate interactive slideshows of their work. Whether it's creating a motion comic, an online teaser for an upcoming graphic novel or slideshow, MotionArtist allows creators to captivate readers and viewers with an engaging presentation.

Note: The Download button takes you to the vendor's site, where you can download the latest version of the software. The software will remain in free open beta until January 13, 2013. It will become a paid product in February 2013. The vendor promises a free copy to any beta tester who gives feedback resulting in improvements to the program.

--Karen Luk

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