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Toon Boom Studio FAQ Pages -Basics

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Understanding the Toon Boom Metaphor

Let’s begin with some basic concepts that are part of the Toon Boom Studio (TBS) metaphor and try to put them in context with Flash terminology as well as traditional 2D animation terminology. In many respects TBS has been closely patterned to follow methods and practices developed in classical photographic animation. So a background in photographic animation (classical) techniques is really beneficial.

TBS has timelines and exposure sheets. Flash has time lines. Traditional 2D animation uses exposure sheets. The time lines and exposure sheets in TBS are fully integrated and work together. A TBS exposure sheet, like a traditional one, has rows and columns. The rows are representational of frames also referred to as exposures. (This is traditional terminology relating to a frame of film which is also a photographic exposure.) The columns are representational of elements which are the TBS equivalent of layers in Flash.

The TBS time line has rows and columns. The rows are representational of elements (layers) and the columns are representational of frames (exposures). The rows of the time line as often referred to as tracks.

Time line layering in TBS as in Flash is from the top down. So elements (layers) at the top of the timeline are closer to the viewer and elements at the bottom of the timeline are farther away from the viewer. Layering in the exposure sheet is from left to right. (This is a change from earlier versions of TBS which were from right to left). One interesting difference in TBS is that you can designate a type for an element that will establish it as a foreground or background element or just a normal element. Foreground elements are automatically put in the foreground and background elements are automatically put in the background although there can still be hierarchical layering in the foreground group of elements and in the background group of elements.

Flash has some terminology which can be confusing. TBS tries to be more precise in maintaining a somewhat closer to traditional 2D animation terminology. TBS uses the term “cell” for what Flash calls a key-frame, a blank key-frame, or a frame. The term Cell being closely related to the traditional name for artwork elements created on transparent acetate sheets. So in TBS a drawing is referred to as a cell. So a cell is like a key-frame in Flash. A blank cell is like a blank key-frame in Flash, and an exposure is like a “hold” or “repeat” frame in Flash. 

 A frame in TBS is actually just that, it is the equivalent of a frame of film which is a composite of all the elements composed for that single picture. So to add frames to a timeline you extend the number of exposures that make up the timeline. As you place an element on to the timeline you adjust the length of that element’s exposures relative to its position on the over all time line. You can slide it around to control its starting frame and you can stretch it or shrink it to adjust the number of exposed frames it needs. For those familiar with the timelines of most non-linear editing systems or compositing systems this is a similar metaphor.

Key-frames in TBS are used just like key-frames in a non-linear editor or a compositing application. They are set on dynamic elements to control their actions. (More on that in a minute)

In Flash there are different types of layers: (normal, guide, mask) in TBS there are different types of elements: (drawings which are vector art symbols, images which are bitmapped graphics, sound, media which are multimedia files like SWFs, camera, pegs, color transform effects, and clipping effects). Pegs, color transform effects and clipping effects are dynamic elements that are used to control other elements over time. Pegs control changes in position, size, and angle over time. Color transform effects control changes in color and opacity over time. And clipping effects are used to control masking over time. (More details on each of these later), but essentially you can attach elements to dynamic elements and control them across time using key-framed parameters and editable function curves for each time variable parameter. They are basically for “tweening” with lots of control. In case the term tweening is not familiar to you, that is just having the render engine interpolate (mathematically calculate) incremental changes between frames across a sequence of frames between two defined keyframes. These interpolation calculations are controlled by the applied function curve for that keyed value for that sequence of frames.

Perhaps one of the hardest adjustments for someone moving from Flash to TBS comes in really understanding the separation of elements and keyframes. In Flash elements and keyframes are merged on the same layer and are so closely linked that most people learn to think in terms of keyframes and lose sight of the elements themselves. In TBS keyframing is separated from composition elements and is thought of as operations or instructions for how to manage the composition elements.

TBS allows for user defined color codes for each element type which facilitates easy recognition of the type of element with which you are working both in the timelines and in the exposure sheets. There are also identifying icons next to the element name as identification of the element type. You can attach notes to elements and you can attach notes to cells. You can show or hide elements not only in preview but also in rendering.

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