Overview of 2D animation programs

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Simply Moving

With the right tool and a bit of artistic talent, you can create two-dimensional cartoons, even without Flash. In this article, we present four animation programs and look at how well they perform in practice.

Despite blockbusters such as Toy Story and Shrek , conventional cartoons still have countless fans, with growing audiences for budding cartoonists and animation hobbyists. In the analog age, the artist had to take up a pencil and draw an entire picture over and over for succeeding frames.

Flip books functioned according to the same scheme: One second of story required 30 hand-drawn images. Even if the protagonist only moved a hand, the cartoonist had to conjure up the image on paper a number of times to achieve smooth animation. In the digital age, it's a lot easier to accomplish.


In 2002, two Colombians decided to facilitate their daily work as animators with the help of open source software, and KTooN was born. Sponsored by public institutions, development continued until 2006.

In 2009, with no new donors in sight, the initiators put the project on ice, then redesigned the software for a new stable release that appeared in 2010. Since then, however, the project again seems to have fallen into a deep slumber: During the past three years, the makers have neither published new code nor updated the project homepage  [1].

KTooN is often not included in the official package repositories of new versions of various distributions; however, a guide  [2] on the project homepage can help you compile the source code. When you finally start the program, you will notice two bugs: The Tip of the day first displayed on startup remains blank (Figure  1), as do the Tooltips .

Figure 1: In place of a daily tip, KTooN displays a blank window.

On their homepage, the developers provide a quick reference guide, as well as a mini-tutorial, both of which, however, are obviously not up to date. Only fragments of the quick reference guide are in English; the essential part that describes the structure and the components of the program was never translated from the original Spanish.

Fortunately, the basics of the software are easy to discover with a little bit of experimentation on your own, although an intuitive and time-saving introduction would be more user friendly. In general, you should regularly save your project because the software often closes without warning.

An animation in KTooN is created in several small steps. A simple project might consist of a path drawn by the user, along which an object will later move. After the path is defined, an object is drawn anew for each frame to illustrate how it changes along the course of the path.

This hard work cannot be avoided because the program is not capable of tweening (see the "Tweening" box). Finally, the completed animation is saved in various video formats.


Tweening, short for "inbetweening," saves the effort of having to create each frame by hand. Tweening requires only a start and end point and the number of frames needed to effect the transition. In the process, the object can change its position, opacity, or rotational aspect. Tweening then automatically calculates all the necessary intermediate images.

KTooN includes illustration and animation modules. In the illustration module, you can draw individual frames as in any other vector graphics program; the illustration module starts the rendering process for the previously drafted film. Objects that you want to use again later are saved in a separate "Objects Library." A further module imports photos and helps generate simple stop-motion movies.

Although KTooN was developed by experts in the field, it is not convincing, starting with the fragmentary documentation, which is either not translated or no longer applicable, and continuing with the hardly helpful help system, which proves to be just as flawed as other parts of the program.


A former co-developer of KTooN started a fork of the project in 2010, which continues to be developed independently under the name Tupi  [3]. Because of dissatisfaction with the obviously stalled KTooN project, the new development went down a whole new path, meaning that even if KTooN should be revived, the Tupi developers intend to stick to their own roadmap and goals.

For Ubuntu users, unofficial installation packages are available on Launchpad.net  [4]. Alternatively, you can compile the source code itself; it is no coincidence that the instructions  [5] are similar to those of the original project. Even though the programmers intend to go an independent direction with their software development, Tupi cannot deny its ancestral KTooN lineage.

Whether considering the structure of the homepage, the operation of the program, or the content of the manual, everything about Tupi seems familiar. Fortunately, it is also obvious that two years of additional development have been invested in the project. Apart from rare program crashes, the typical KTooN errors did not occur in the Tupi test (Figure  2).

Figure 2: Tupi does not suffer from many of the bugs in KTooN, as this functional Tip of the day reveals.

The developer's official Tupi tutorial channel on YouTube  [6] offers many videos in English, the online manual has been translated completely into English, and most of the program is in English. One important innovation compared with KTooN is the tweening function (Figure  3), although the selection of tweening methods is still limited. The program also supports the cutout animation technique, wherein selected parts of a graphic, such as individual parts of the body of an animated figure, are moved or rotated.

Figure 3: Tupi offers various tweening methods; however, its portfolio is far from complete.

Altogether, Tupi currently seems less like a fork and more like a newer version of KTooN: Bugs have been fixed, and a few features have been added, but the software is still somewhat lacking in functionality. However, if the existing options meet your needs, you will be able to create attractive animated films with Tupi.

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