Blender 2.73: Houston, 2D animation apps have a problem

Blender 2.73: Houston, 2D animation apps have a problem

The new version of Blender is likely to shake up the production of 2D animation for the free software crowd.

Arguably, the most prominent update is a bunch of new features in Grease Pencil which used to be getting barely any updates since its inception around 2008.

Editable, animated strokes? Reading pressure level from your stylus to adjust strokes' width? Configurable fills? Configurable onion skin? Volumetric strokes? It's all in the package. Here's an excellent production video from Michael Shablin:

How much is it going to affect people who currently use Synfig? Probably a lot.

It's true that the feature set currently covers the needs of people who just want to do storyboarding and animatics. But hey, did you watch the video above?

While Grease Pencil doesn't (yet?) have advanced brushes engine or e.g. MyPaint brush system support (unlike Synfig), you just got basic yet usable 2D drawing inside 3D software that already does both animation and compositing. 2015 is going to be interesting for Synfig and Tupi. Also, Joshua Leung recently posted his roadmap for Grease Pencil, do check it out: it's full of awesome.

Another handy new feature is SVG exporter for the Freestyle rendering engine, written by Folkert de Vries, Cambell Burton and, naturally, Tamito Kajiyama. Whether you want one SVG per frame or an animated SVG, it's all there, with support for basic features such as base colors, transparency, stroke width, stroke caps, and dashes.

An absolutely amazing little new feature is the video backdrop in VSE. If you don't absolutely need a video monitor all the time, check the Use Backdrop option and replace the preview with something more useful like Dope Sheet or Graph Editor. Or both.

Video backdrop in Blender 2.73 video sequence editor

The 3D view finally got world render in the background. Just set the world up, go to Display section, and check the World Background option.

World Background in Blender 2.73 new full screen mode

The screenshot above also illustrates yet another new feature: updated fullscreen mode that only shows the viewport, without any sidebars. Use Alt+F10 to activate it. By the way, if it doesn't work, it's likely that your window manager overrides this, which is the case with at least GNOME's Mutter (you can magic it away in GNOME's settings)

Last but not least, the Knife tool got a few handy improvements such as selecting and highlighting edges that you cut, which gives you a better idea about what's going to happen after you confirm the cut.

Edges selection when cutting with Knife in Blender 2.73

For the complete list of changes see the Blender 2.73 release notes. The new version is available for downloading already.

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  1. Nice article! Grease pencil actually *does* detect and use the pressure from a tablet to modify stroke width. It also records the stroke speed as an animation curve, which has some wild, perhaps not quite explored, animation potential.
    I’m a fan of the 2D animation FLOSS packages, but I’m so damn *comfortable* in Blender that this is all great news for me.

  2. Alexandre Prokoudine 09 January 2015 at 3:35 pm

    Interesting. I did check before posting, and pressure sensitivity didn’t affect stroke width (didn’t look at animation curves). I think I’ll need more time with this. Thanks, Bassam!

  3. Alexandre Prokoudine 09 January 2015 at 4:00 pm

    @Bassam, yup, spent more time with this and now I see it. Text adjusted. Thanks again!

  4. Hi Alexandre: great, to explain a bit about the curves:
    In the toolbar there is a ‘convert’ operator/button, that will transform your greasepencil strokes into a path/bezier curve. This curve will have keyframes on evaluation time that matches the speed which you drew the stroke.
    Possible uses:
    1- use as a path for an object animation
    2- copy and past the curve (and scale) into the start or end Bevel Factor, to show the curve growing / drawing at the same speed you drew it. Nice for simulating handwriting- or if you do one of those ‘whiteboard’ animations, but in Blender.

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