What does it take to be the best animation app? In today’s app-saturated world, the answer might be don’t be a typical animation app. Think different. A few weeks ago, everyone on the SketchBook team woke up to the news that Apple — the king of thinking different — had chosen SketchBook Motion as the iPad App of the Year. Of course, we were thrilled, not just because this meant our app was a huge success but because that kind of accolade means SketchBook Motion will reach new audiences who might never have thought about adding animation to their art.
When we released SketchBook Motion a few months ago, we knew that some of our users would scratch their heads and say, “What’s this all about?” Motion is an unusual animation app in that it isn’t aimed at the crowd of 2D or 3D animators who have grown accustomed to complex, feature-heavy, frame-based apps to create long-form animation. Instead, Autodesk built an app for animating something SketchBook users create every day — static drawings. Motion helps you add movement and texture and create completely unique drawings that can thrive in today’s social media landscape that is riddled with animated GIFs, looping video, and time-lapse photography. Just as Twitter and Vine (R.I.P.) took 140-character and six-second restrictions as jumping off points for stimulating creativity, so too does SketchBook Motion put the onus on the user. You have access to simple but powerful tools, but you need to put some creative thought into how to add these emotive details to your art.
How Motion Came to Be
We worked closely with the Autodesk Research team who had been banging around with an idea for a new kind of animated drawing tool for awhile. Autodesk Research is working on complex design and computational problems through scientific research and innovation. Some in the group might solve problems for advanced design, prototyping, and simulation tools. Others might work on improving how individual hairs render across many apps or improve fluid effects in a video game so that oceans render more accurately. They do the kind of work that improves both apps and processes used by apps. This kind of continuous research improvement has culminated in an amazing run for Autodesk: Maya has been used on every film nominated for a visual effects Oscar since 1997 (not just winners; everyone who is nominated).
The user interface group in Autodesk Research believes in dynamic drawings as a powerful medium for art, design, and communication. To this end, they wanted to make animation as easy and fluid as sketching. As Senior Research Scientist Rubaiat Habib says, “In our first prototype, we wanted to bring life into drawings with ambient, timeless, kinetic textures. The key design idea was to leverage users’ intuitive sense of time and space for creating animation without timeline and keyframing.” They prototyped a proof of concept Java app and submitted a research paper to ACM CHI 2014 Conference, the premier conference in Human Computer Interaction. It promptly won three awards. This reception encouraged the team to make this technology accessible to a broader audience and engage with other teams within Autodesk. “We are looking at animation with a different lens,” says Habib. “By making it fluid and accessible, we are trying to make animation a powerful tool for thinking, design, and rapid communication.” As they developed the app and its interface more, they showed it to more and more people. “We realized that, beyond artists, a wide range of people, including educators, designers, engineers, and even kids, were very excited about the potential applications of this technology in their day to day activities.”
As a beta app it was dubbed “Draco,” and it took off with game designers, architects, educators, and even children — a very broad spectrum of users. As an iPad app, it uses touch interface options and sliders to control the rate and intensity of the movement being added to the drawing. This is the kind of thing everyone has become used to with iPads but hadn’t really been applied to digital art in this way before. You can record and control motion both at global and granular scales, which makes it a very expressive tool to create a wide range of intricate effects. The pick by Apple for iPad App of the Year after its full release as SketchBook Motion was a happy surprise for the Autodesk Research team. “If you look at the app store, there are a lot of drawing tools and animation tools, but Motion is something new,” says Habib. “It’s not an animation tool per se because it doesn’t have any timeline, but it really shows the power of this new medium.”
Upcoming Research Projects
The Autodesk Research team seems to be onto something with Motion, and they’re working on prototypes and concepts that go even further down this road. They’ve developed a research prototype, Kitty, which adds behaviors and interactivity into drawings that responds to input from users to create a game-like experience. Another research prototype, Motion Amplifiers, aims to enhance the capabilities of Motion by exposing the principles of animation like squash, stretch, anticipation, slow in/out, etc. Habib believes that dynamic drawings will become a powerful and widespread medium in the near future.
Try SketchBook Motion Yourself
Want to give this app a try? It’s free for all SketchBook Pro users, and you can download a copy from the Apple App Store. Try your hand at adding movement to your still drawings, and please share what you make with us so we can find and feature your work. Use the hashtag #sketchbookmotion on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc. — we’re always on the lookout for new art made with Motion.