Animation studios and many independent animators have struggled to keep 2D animation alive in the competitive digital world, but unfortunately 2D animation has not had the software variability that 3D animation has enjoyed. Digital 2D animators have been largely limited to the vector-look produced by applications such as Flash and Toon Boom Studio, or had to work in time-consuming hybrid environments where the pipeline starts with traditional drawings and ends with digital painting and compositing-that is, until now.
Embracing the adage “If you build it, they will come,” San Antonio, Texas-based Bauhaus Software has filled the digital 2D animation void with its flagship product Mirage, a painting, animation, effects, and composting suite. Combining many of the tools needed for 2D animation into one application, Mirage provides users with traditional 2D animation tools in a digital format, along with a familiar environment in which to create 2D animation without the need for paper, cels, ink, or paint.
While the Mirage interface probably won’t win any awards for usability, if you are experienced in other 2D programs such as Flash, Photoshop, or Final Cut Pro, you will be able to comprehend the interface. Mirage suffers from a common problem found in many animation applications-numerous windows and palettes that beg for a two-display setup. During testing, I found the software to be somewhat quirky. For example, each time the application opened, it asked for document specs (I discovered at least one document must be open at all times to prevent this from happening). However, the Mirage interface and work flow is straightforward and customizable.
|Mirage’s set of special effects and filters can be applied to a single frame or an entire video.
Mirage’s set of natural-media and animated brushes for special effects, and tools for creating custom brushes are the best features of the software. Mirage’s brush tools are, in many ways, very similar to the brush features in Photoshop and Painter, with comparable blending modes, effects, and brush controls. But, unlike the brushes in Painter or Photoshop, Mirage’s brushes can be fully animated to produce interesting effects. When coupled with a Wacom Intuos or Graphire drawing tablet, Mirage’s brushes can digitally produce the hand-drawn look of traditional 2D animation, providing the user with a near-endless assortment of brush styles.
In traditional 2D animation, animators work at a specialized light table to sketch, draw and register the frames of an animation or paint the final artwork. Mirage’s animation work space is analogous in that the animator works at a virtual light table to sketch, draw, and paint, and keep everything registered with tools such as, digital onionskinning. Mirage has frame-based, keyframed, and spline-based path animation, which is choreographed in a no-frills timeline that supports multiple layers.
Barring a modest learning curve, Mirage’s animation tools are readily accessible to anyone. If you are a traditional 2D animator moving to digital animation, the transition should be relatively painless. If you are a 3D artist or animator wanting to dabble in 2D animation you can transfer your 3D animation experience and begin animating in Mirage with ease (which is the case of this reviewer). And if you are new to animation altogether with a bit of patience and effort, you will be animating with Mirage in no time.
Though not included with Mirage, the Animator’s Toolbar is a must-have add-on that further facilitates animation work by providing tools to clean up sketches, manage animation, and create special effects.
It is also possible to composite live video footage and/or 3D animation footage with 2D animation and special effects. So if you ever thought about creating your own version of Dick Van Dyke dancing with CG penguins, then Mirage is the way to go. Mirage can import just about all standard video formats, and features a modest set of video tools.
Mirage ships with an extensive array of special-effects filters which can be applied to a single frame or across an entire animated sequence. Most notable to this reviewer is Mirage’s particle system, which comes with the program (usually particles are add-ons). With Mirage’s particle system, it’s a snap to create convincing effects such as fire, sparks, water, and smoke. Mirage’s particle system also allows the use of custom sprites, providing a way to create swarms or crowds. Another favorite is the volumetric light effect, which makes it possible to create mood or animate different types of backlighting, light cones, light burst, and more.
Though not so much a special-effects program as it is a very useful utility for LightWave 3D users, Mirage can paint and map textures for 3D models in real time with the UV texture viewer. It would be nice if this were possible with every 3D application, not just LightWave 3D.
So, you may still be wondering what software category Mirage fits into. It is a paint program with animation and compositing tools, and it is an animation program with killer paint tools. However, Mirage’s main impact may be in jump-starting digital 2D animation. 2D animators now have a powerful, professional-level tool that they can call their own, and they can begin to take back some of the ground lost to the now-ubiquitous 3D animation.
Mike de la Flor
is a medical illustrator, CG instructor, and author of The Carrara 5 Pro Handbook published by Charles River Media.
Minimum System Requirements:
Windows XP or 2000, Intel P3 or higher processor, 256mb
Apple OS X 10.3 or higher, G4 processor, 256mb