Develop asks why this new update is such a big deal for artists and just what new features it houses

Key Release: 2D animation tool Harmony 12

Though it’s a tool used in TV shows like The Simpsons and in The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water, 2D animation tool Harmony may not yet be widely known in the games industry. That could all be about to change with the twelfth edition.

The tool enables artists to sketch a character, then create a rig and animate it, and lastly export it into a game engine.

“A lot of times people will sketch inside Harmony as a first stage and then go over that sketch with vector tools to refine the shape of the character, or the prop that they’re creating for their game,” Toon Boom director of marketing Bob Bennett tells Develop. “And one of the nice things about the drawing suite inside of Harmony is that it provides both vector and bitmap drawing tools.

“Once you’ve created your character, the next step is to essentially break it down into its constituent parts, or what a lot of people call sprites, and organise the drawing into layers.

“And at this point you’re ready to rig. Harmony has a set of bones not unlike what you’d see inside 3ds Max or perhaps Maya.

Uniting games developers

Once the animation process is complete, character set-ups, sprite sheets and XML files can be exported to the game engine. To this end, Toon Boom has just released a Unity plug-in onto the Asset Store. Artists can also access a new Previewer in Unity before all the assets are exported.

New subscription tiers for the tool have also been made available, and developers can download the tool from the Toon Boom website for the first time.

Three packages are available to purchase: Harmony Essentials ($375), Advanced ($975) and Premium ($1,975). Monthly desktop subscriptions for Mac and PC users are also available, starting at $23 per month and going up to $109 per month for the full suite.

The different tiers, subscription packages and Unity plug-in signal the firm’s big move into games development.

“For years gaming has always been a market for us,” says Bennett. “But this connection to Unity is the biggest public thing we’ve done. It in effect represents a major move by us into the gaming market.”

As well as core changes to the business model and the release of a Unity plug-in, a series of updates have also been made to the tool suite itself. Fresh additions include new surface volume and lighting features for 2D objects, bitmap brush improvements, a simpler set of bone deformers and support for open platform tools such as OpenFX plug-ins and Collada and Alembic 3D files.

Out of the shadows

One big new feature introduced in Harmony 12 is light shading. Bennett says it’s akin to rendering in the 3D world.

“Normally, in order to get the darker highlights on the back of a character, we would have to manually draw that or we’d have to create a little object that has a slightly darker colour that we marry to the back of the character’s leg, and as we frame it, introduce this little dark tone. So it’s like a cheat,” he explains.

“In this case, we would put a light source in the middle of the drawing, and the highlights, both the light ones and the dark ones, have been automatically computed by Harmony. So basically it creates a normal map and the light sources can be coloured, they can be moving. It’s not a full 3D renderer, but it could save people a tremendous amount of time.”

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