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Some graphics programs get even more complex as new versions come out, until all the new features become overwhelming. Smith Micro has taken the opposite tack with Anime Studio Debut 7 ($50, 30-day free trial with some feature limitations). It includes a Beginner Mode that offers pop-up tool help, built in tutorial videos, and a stripped-down interface. Even a complete animation newbie will have no trouble getting up and running, manipulating free (and public domain) characters, and animating them around the screen. Of course, the traditional mode is still available for power users and those carrying over their knowledge and skills from previous versions of Anime Studio.
Anime Studio Debut animates characters by their bone structure, making it simple to move a character, then advance frames, and so on. There's support for multiple layers, and there are presets for all the existing characters. These presets include mouth movements, hand positions (such as a fist) and so on.
If you'd rather not use Anime Studio Debut's preset characters, you can import layered Photoshop files, or even import photos and add animation to them. Giving a photo animated crazy eyes only takes a couple of steps, and is quite amusing.
The resulting movie can be exported to a QuickTime file, an AVI file, or the far more useful SWF Flash file. You can upload the latter to YouTube yourself, or instead take advantage of Anime Studio's one-click upload to either YouTube or Facebook.
Anime Studio Debut also includes support for an MP3 soundtrack, though it has no built-in encoder; Smith Micro asks you to mix your MP3 into a single audio channel elsewhere before using it in Anime Studio Debut. However, Anime Studio Debut now allows you to record audio directly into .wav format, if you wish.
The higher-end Anime Studio Pro offers support for importing/exporting/creating 3D objects, importing files from Smith Micro's Poser, and includes animation physics, among other differences. If you don't need that stuff, then Debut will more than fit the bill.
Note: The Anime Studio Debut demo is functional for 30 days. Certain specific features are disabled during the trial period: Importing any external file formats including images and movies, and exporting animations to other formats (QuickTime, AVI, Flash, etc.). The registered version of Anime Studio Debut is $49.99. Upgrading from Debut to Pro is $129.99 and Pro by itself is $199.99. It makes sense to go the Debut route regardless, and upgrade if you need to do so.