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Aspiring Animators: Create Your First Animation in Harmony Essentials

Tags: Animation Harmony How To

You have an idea, and you just want to start creating. With certain media, this is simple. If you'd like to immortalize your cat in a painting, it's pretty easy to run to the art supply store and grab the necessary materials.

If your idea is more animated, the road ahead can be somewhat daunting. Toon Boom Harmony is an amazing tool for bringing art to life, but, as is often the case, doing so is easier said than done. While I've drawn my whole life, I didn't study animation. The first time I opened the free trial of Harmony Essentials, I thought maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew. I knew the software could do some amazing things, but wasn't certain where to start.

Fortunately, Toon Boom provides plenty of great learning resources, and in the end, I only needed a few key lessons to get going. So if like me, you wanna be able to jump in and get creative as quickly as possible, here's a breakdown of what you need to know.

1 - The Interface

It's easy to get overwhelmed by buttons. Take a second, breath it in. Look around, take your time. Really, there are just a few interface elements you need to know about to get going. After that, it's just different options within those elements. Harmony workspaces are fully customizable, so once you get a little more comfortable, you can start making it your own.

So where do I learn about the interface? Right here.

2 - The Drawing Tools

The fun part comes quicker than you would expect. In my opinion, the sooner you can start drawing, the happier you'll be. So create your characters, draw your backgrounds, and generally have some fun. Take your time and explore the pencil and brush tools. Use different colors, try some brush textures, and just draw. You may have noticed that Harmony has layers, but don't worry about them too much at first, you'll learn to use them in due time.

So where do I learn about the drawing tools? Right here.

3 - Keyframe & the Timeline

Once you've got one drawing done, do another one. On a different frame. Think back to flipbook style animation you did in school. This is frame-by-frame animation, or as the industry calls it, "Traditional Paperless". In other words, you are doing traditional type, frame by frame animation, without using paper.

After you've got a couple of these done, you can use the playback options, the loop option, and other Timeline buttons to fiddle with your animation.

Then take it a step further, using 'keyframing'. This one was easier for me the first time around, because I had already done work like this in video editing software. The concept is simple enough - take an object (say, a sun), copy that object across a few frames, move it on the last frame, and let Harmony do the work to move that sun from point A to point B on the timeline. It's alright if this one takes you longer to get. Once you master keyframing, you'll be feeling really great about what you can do with Harmony.

So where do I learn about animating? Right here.

4 - Combine it all

Honestly? You're pretty much done. You've got the basics to bring drawings to life. With just the combination of drawings tools, frame-by-frame animation, and some keyframed elements, you can make pretty much anything that comes to mind.

If you want to go further, here is much more to learn. This includes camera movement, effects, deformers, eases, and a host of other things. But really, all of those are just there to make the job easier, and avoid hand-drawing every frame. Animation studios will avoid this by using a single character 'puppet', which they animate using the aforementioned tools. If you check out more of the lessons available on the Toon Boom portal, which you are now familiar with, you'll learn to animate puppets as well!

Hey, what if I want to learn about some principles of animation before I get going? That's a great idea! We've also got some great lessons on those right here.