Review: MotionArtist lets artists become animators without learning code

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At a Glance
  • Smith Micro Software MotionArtist 1.0

MotionArtist 1.0 generates interactive HTML 5 video presentation of comics and more.  This full release offers more customization of animation files, tighter recording controls, and better asset editing compared to the July 2012 beta. MotionArtist ($60, buy-only) makes animating images and text relatively easy for comic artists and web designers with imported files. Unlike with Flash, you can't draw in the program and then animate their creations. The focus is on animating existing image files from other sources.

Artwork by Karen Luk
The blue line with dots represents an animation path. Under Project Settings, MotionArtist offers common video dimension sizes.

MotionArtist opens to a default project designed by Smith Micro, showcasing various animation techniques. However, comic artists unfamiliar with using an animation program or film terms might find all the controls tricky to animate their comic pages. Imported PSD files maintain their layers for animation or the user can composite the layers into a single layer. JPG, PNG and MotionArtist vendor Smith Micro's Anime Studio are other supported file types.

MotionArtist has three different views: Director, Camera and Panel. Animators will recognize the toolbar and scene list, and the timeline setup with its default of 30 frames per second. Thanks to GPU acceleration, users can play working files back in real time, which assists in editing the video. In addition to using your own video, you can animate panels, text and speech balloons with various effects in MotionArtist.

Comic artists can use difference scenes to cut between comic panels or pages. For example in film, opening credits can be the first scene, followed by the next one of the characters walking into camera view. In comics, it can be moving from one panel to the next or page to page. MotionArtist is set up for multiple scenes, so comic artists can animate individual pages or panels and then cut them together for a single presentation.

Artwork by Karen Luk
After exporting the HTML 5 video to its own index page, web designers can modify the CSS or JavaScript.

The rub is getting familiar with MotionArtist to maximize the effects of a motion comic. A comic artist may have many layers of their comic art and have to merge them into different layers for animation output. Separate layers for each character, sound effects, backgrounds and so on in order to animate them individually. For more painterly comic pages, MotionArtist offers camera tilt, zoom and a parallax effect to create interest in moving from panel to panel.

Typical film scene transitions like Fade to Black and Iris Wipes are listed in the scene list tool bar. Artists can make buttons to either “turn the page” or use the animation scene transitions to continue the story. You can add sound to any to scene, too. MotionArtist has pre-loaded background templates for the exported video. Once the animation is exported as HTML 5 file, web designers can view source code in their browser to edit the CSS or JavaScript. Users can also upload an AVI file directly to YouTube and Facebook. MotionArtist allows the comic artist to control the motion comic’s presentation, right down to the second and specify the size of the presentation for HDTV 1080p or an iPad.

MotionArtist 1.0 offers more animation control and options than its beta release. Web designers can use the program to generate quick loading, interactive graphics without Flash and ready to go for HTML 5. Comic artists willing to learn basic animation techniques and spend some time using MotionArtist will be rewarded with creating their own motion comics without learning lots of code.

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At a Glance
  • Motion Artist has the animation tools to create interactive comics and basic text and image presentations for HTML 5 video output.


    • Animated and interactive presentation of images
    • Export of embeddable HTML 5 video


    • Limited import of vectors, no Illustrator files
    • Basic timing of animation knowledge is useful
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