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The Best Animation Studios in the World Outside of Disney & Pixar

From today’s computer-animated films to the hand-drawn classics, there’s no denying the storytelling power of animation. For nearly a century, this art has given us captivating stories taking place in vibrant, memorable worlds. But like any entertainment medium, it can take a passionate and talented team to charm us time and time again.

We all know how good both Disney and Pixar are, together raking in hundreds of awards in the last decade alone. Here we’ll be focusing on the many other animation studios inspiring viewers across the globe with their work. The animation industry wouldn’t be the same without them:

Studio Ghibli
Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke

This Japanese studio has been cementing itself as a prolific producer of anime films for some time now. Co-founded and led by legendary director Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli has won hearts of all ages by using powerful storytelling combined with gorgeous, often jaw-dropping animation. Some of the most visually stunning worlds and characters ever to grace the big screen have come from this Tokyo team.

Spirited Away, perhaps their most successful film to date, earned several awards across the globe, including the coveted Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature Film in 2002.

DreamWorks Animation
Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, How to Train Your Dragon

Despite being around less than three decades, DreamWorks already boasts a number of franchises recognized all over the world. What else would you expect from an animation studio founded by none other than iconic filmmaker Steven Spielberg and producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, chairman of Disney during the company’s groundbreaking Renaissance era.

Responsible for many high grossing animated films, this is one studio that won’t be going away anytime soon.

Kung Fu Panda Dreamworks

Nickelodeon Animation Studios
SpongeBob SquarePants, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Doug, Hey Arnold!

Starting out as a humble little animation studio in California, Nickelodeon Animation Studios wasted no time in creating highly recognizable shows for viewers of all ages. From Doug and Rocko’s Modern Life, to Rugrats and Invader Zim, Nickelodeon has proven their ability to craft attention-grabbing worlds brought to life by memorable, often-silly characters.

Of course, no series has been able to match the wittiness and popularity of a certain yellow-shaped figure. SpongeBob Squarepants alone has earned Nickelodeon dozens of awards, global recognition, and a cool $13 billion in merchandising revenue.

Toei Animation
Dragon Ball Z, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Sailor Moon, One Piece, Saint Seiya

It’s pretty much impossible to have grown up in the 80s and 90s without being influenced by one of Toei’s incredible cartoons. This Japanese animation studio is actually older than most people think, having been founded back in 1948. Since then it’s crafted well over 100 animated series for viewers in Japan and the rest of the world. Today, Toei uses its talented artists to help create everything from full CGI films to video games.

Dragon Ball Z, their most successful franchise, has made the biggest pop culture impact, enough that Goku himself appeared in Macy’s 2018 Thanksgiving Day parade.

Toei Sailor Moon

Warner Bros. Animation
The Iron Giant, The Lego Movie, Batman: The Animated Series, Looney Tunes

With a history as far back as the early 1930s, Warner Bros. has one of the strongest legacies when it comes to animation. The studio saw great success with Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Looney Tunes, and for the last few decades they’ve been providing countless hit shows for some of the most watched children’s programming blocks, including acclaimed Fox Kids and Kids’ WB, with shows like Batman: The Animated Series, Animaniacs, and Freakazoid!

Warner Bros. Animation has also gained attention for feature-length films like The Lego Movie films and The Iron Giant, as well a slew of slightly more mature films from the DC comic book universe.

Cartoon Network Studios
Adventure Time, Regular Show, The Powerpuff Girls, Ben 10

The Burbank-based studio began pumping out hit shows at the turn of the millenium, winning kids over with hit shows like Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack, and The Powerpuff Girls. Their second decade brought them even more success as series like Regular Show and Ben 10 became some of the most popular cartoons on television.

Adventure Time, which just ended its eight year run in 2018, won a slew of awards for the studio, including eight Primetime Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, and three Annie Awards.

Adventure Time Cartoon Network

5 Animated Short Films That Pull At Our Heartstring

Sometimes all you need is a few minutes to tell a heartfelt story that leaves an impact lasting much longer than the film itself. Here are just five of the countless touching animated short films out there you can seek out and enjoy:

Feast
Directed by Patrick Osborne
Length: 6 minutes

Few animals on our planet offer the same companionship and loyalty as a dog eager to see you return home, share a meal, and follow you wherever you go. Feast touches on this age-old relationship by telling a story revolving man’s best friend.

In Feast, a single man named James adopts a stray Boston Terrier puppy and names him Winston. Along with kibble, Winston also gets to enjoy portions of James’s meals, including the junk food James especially loves. James eventually embraces a healthier lifestyle to impress his waitress girlfriend, which doesn’t please Winston, who’s now slipped vegetables. When James and the waitress break up, Winston realizes his owner’s sadness and finds a way to reunite the couple.

Dear Basketball
Directed by Glen Keane
Length: 5 minutes

It’s in our nature to admire the people who inspire us. From comic book heroes and musicians to filmmakers and our own parents, most of us go through life receiving motivation from those we look up to. Whether you grew up watching Kobe Bryant dominate the NBA, or recall when your favorite athlete played their final game, Dear Basketball is a moving hand-drawn animated film that hits close to home.

With Dear Basketball, co-creator Kobe Bryant chose animation to express the myriad swell of emotions felt on the eve of his retirement from the NBA. Bryant goes on to describe the dreams, challenges, and glory that basketball gave him across a career spanning two decades. The short film resonated enough with sports fans that in 2018 it made Kobe Bryant the first NBA player to win an Academy Award.

Bao
Directed by Domee Shi
Length: 8 minutes

Who knew that a sentient steamed bun could be used represent a bittersweet moment in a parent’s life? Winner of the latest Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, Bao tells the emotional story of an older woman feeling so lonely that she somehow brings a traditional Chinese treat to life. The woman raises the steamed bun, pampering and coddling it throughout its life, only to become devastated when it grows up and prepares to leave the house.

In the end (spoilers), it’s all an allegorical dream. The steamed bun simply represents her actual human son planning to leave with his fiance. A touching story of a woman suffering from empty-nest syndrome, Bao offers a special glimpse at what most mothers and fathers go through when the children they raised for years are ready to set off on their own.

Bear Story
Directed by Gabriel Osorio Vargas
Length: 11 minutes

This film tells the story of an elderly bear and his mechanical diorama featuring a bear similar to himself. The bear takes his diorama down to a street corner and rings a bell, hoping that someone will pay a coin to look into the peephole of his contraption. When a young bear does, he gets to watch the story of a mechanical bear taken from his wife and child by militant figures. Captured, he’s forced to perform in a circus for years before making a great escape and reuniting with his family.

At the end, the bear with the diorama takes out a photo of his family, implying that he too once had a family that he’s currently separated from. Serving as the first Chilean film to win an Academy Award, Bear Story is inspired by the director’s grandfather, who was imprisoned during the 1973 Chilean coup d’état and then exiled for the rest of the dictatorship.

Peter & the Wolf
Directed by Suzie Templeton
Length: 33 minutes

A multinational production, this film was a collaboration between talent from the UK, Poland, Norway, Switzerland, and Mexico. Their efforts paid off as Peter & the Wolf went on to earn plenty of praise and awards, including the Academy Award in 2008 for Best Animated Short Film. Along with its stirring story, this short film is also memorable for its unique puppet animation style.

Peter & the Wolf tells the tale of a young boy named Peter living with his abusive grandfather. Forbidden to enter the forest surrounding their cottage, Peter nonetheless does so to play with his only friends, a runner duck and a hooded crow that can’t fly. When a wolf appears and eats the crow, Peter’s furious grandpa shows up just in time to help catch the wolf and take it into town. When the caged wolf gets taunted and abused by the same bullies who chastise Peter, the boy shows compassion for the wolf by setting it free.

The Top 3 Free 2D Animation Software Tools in 2018

Certain styles of 3D animation have been around long enough that younger generations of animators and animation fans may not remember a time where they weren’t prevalent. But whether it’s a creative indie game, popular television show, or brief video clip just to bring laughs on social media, artists are still finding creative ways of using the gorgeous, emotion-filled style of 2D animation.

The price tag on some great pieces of software, however, can be daunting. The good news is there are plenty of great tools out there that don’t require a dime to use. If this sounds like what you’re after, look no further than our list of the top free 2D animation software tools in 2018.

Synfig Studio

If there’s one open source 2D animation software you’ll find on most other lists, it’s this one. Synfig Studio is one of the best for being easy to pick up while also allowing experienced animators to create high quality animations. It offers several layers of content, has an intuitive interface divided into four different windows, and is compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux. A notable feature is sound support that lets you sync sounds, music, and narration to your videos.

An interesting thing about Synfig Studio is that its developers offer two different versions. The Stable Version is just that — a simple, highly tested set of features you can rely on for your project. The other version, called Development Version, let’s you check out some experimental features that might not still be polished, yet allow you to do some neat things with your animations.

Main Features:

  • Vector Tweening: transform any vector shape into another
  • 50+ layers & several layer types to choose from
  • Full-featured bone system for cut-out animations and vector artwork
  • Advanced controls for experienced animators
  • Cross-platform: Windows, OS X, and Linux

synfig animation software

Pencil2D Animation

This free 2D animation software is recommended for beginners looking to get a better feel for animation and how it works. Pencil2D boasts a simple, clutter-free interface that makes it easy to create basic graphics and drawings as well as complete animations. This program is compatible with three major operating systems (Windows, OS X, and Linux) and lets you use both vector and bitmap graphics.

The ability to quickly switch between vector and raster workflows means nothing can slow you down whether you’re using ink, paint, or sketching. And if you’re ever stumped or want to learn more about certain features, you can either check out valuable docs or ask the community forum or social media pages.

Main Features:

  • Simple, easy-to-use interface design
  • Can switch between vector and raster workflows
  • Active community sites to get help and ask questions
  • Cross-platform: Windows, OS X, and Linux

Opentoonz

Opentoonz is the free alternative to Toonz, an advanced 2D animation software used by some of the top film and game creators in their industries. How can you not get excited at the thought of using the same tools as the likes of legendary Japanese animators Studio Ghibli or the creators Futurama and SpongeBob SquarePants? Although you won’t get all the features of Toonz Premium, the free Opentoonz version still provides an impressive number of features and tools.

With the help of a plug-in effect SDK, users can seamlessly swap picture styles and also apply powerful effects such as Affected Incident Light and Wavy Distortion. The inclusion of Studio Gibhli’s GTS scanning tools provides four types of scanning: colored, black/white, and with or without binarization. Opentoonz is also frequently improved based on the opinions of production professionals, which helps make it an amazing tool for 2D animation pros and newcomers alike.

Main Features:

  • Users can modify source code
  • Frequent updates and improvements
  • Used by top animators in the business
  • A host of features and helpful manuals

opentoonz animation software

Conclusion

Don’t let money be the reason why your exciting ideas will never leave your mind or sketchbook. No matter where you are in terms of experience, the top free 2D animation software tools listed above can inspire you to finally turn your visions into visuals, ones you can be proud of and that others can enjoy.

Interested in researching other free 2D animation software tools? Here’s some Honorable Mentions:

Tupi

  • PowToon
  • Animation Paper
  • Anime Studio

Animated Series to Watch for Inspiration

Visual effects and 3D animation have really grown over the last few decades with the help of improved tools for animations. If you are interested in learning the theory of animation and visual effects, and getting the professional skills you’ll need, the New York Film Academy’s 3D & Visual Effects School is for you.

The professors of NYFA’s Animation School are working animators and visual effects artists who have designed a hands-on curriculum for students to help prepare them for a competitive industry. Our students use programs such as Maya, ZBrush, Mudbox, Motion Builder, and Nuke.  

Speaking of animation and visual effects, there is something about animated series that brings the kid out in all of us. If you’re feeling nostalgic or need some inspiration for your own animated series, take to Netflix, Hulu or just resort to some Saturday morning cartoons. We’ve rounded up some great animated series to watch for inspiration:

“Rugrats”

In the early years, “Rugrats” used cel animation and the show’s animators drew everything by hand. But by the time “Rugrats in Paris” movie hit theaters, the team used a combination of 2D and 3D animation. The animators created more than 300,000 drawings by hand and then scanned the drawings into Toon Boom Technologies US Animation software. For the 3D animation, the team used Maya. Once all the images were created, they used Animo Inkworks renderer to seamlessly combine everything.

“The Wild Thornberrys”

Nickelodeon’s “The Wild Thornberrys” was about 12-year-old Eliza and her family, who travel the world to record a nature documentary. It was full of travel and excitement for the family, and Eliza even had a secret power – she could communicate with animals. For a children’s animated series, there are a few notable entertainers who voiced characters. Lacey Chabert, who played Gretchen Weiner in “Mean Girls,” voiced Eliza. None other than Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers voiced Donnie, the jungle wild child. Tim Curry voiced Eliza’s beloved yet quirky dad, Nigel. The all-star cast is just another reason why we love “The Wild Thornberrys.”

Here are some other great child-friendly animated series to watch for inspiration:

  • “Looney Toons”
  • “Tom and Jerry”
  • “Scooby Doo”
  • “The Flinstones”
  • “Spongebob Squarepants”
  • “Pinky and the Brain”
  • “The Bugs Bunny Show”
  • “Dexter’s Laboratory”
  • “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”
  • “The Jetsons”
  • “The Powerpuff Girls”
  • “Pokemon”
  • “Hey Arnold”
  • “Doug”
  • “The Fairly Odd Parents”

The list of animated series goes on and on. If you’re into animated series featuring mature content — which you can find on channels like Adult Swim — that’s cool too. There’s nothing like staying up late to get some good chuckles. Many of the animated series for older audiences rely on bawdy humor, adult topics, and mature language — a recipe that many animation fans appreciate as they cross the threshold from childhood to adulthood.

“Family Guy”

“Family Guy” follows the dysfunctional Griffin family and the animated series is now in its 15th season. Creator Seth MacFarlane attended the Rhode Island School of Design and, two weeks before graduating, received a surprise job offer from animation studio Hanna-Barbera. He moved out to Los Angeles and joined Hanna-Barbera’s team as a writer. Before “Family Guy,” he worked on other shows like “Johnny Bravo,” “Dexter’s Laboratory,” and “Cow and Chicken.”

If that isn’t enough reason to love McFarlane’s “Family Guy,” actress Mila Kunis voices the outcast daughter Meg, and Carrie Fisher voiced Peter Griffin’s boss, Angela.   

“South Park”

Southpark_wikilogo

This year marks the 20th anniversary for Comedy Central’s “South Park.” The show focuses on the lives of four elementary students, Kenny, Kyle, Cartman and Stan, in the quiet town of South Park in Colorado. When the show first aired in 1997, creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker used photos and cardboard cutouts for the show. Then they started scanning the cutouts into computers, where they imported the images into PowerAnimator and linked to a 54-processor that could render 10 to 15 shots an hour. Now, Stone and Parker use a 120-process render that produces 30 shots or more an hour. Watching how “South Park” has evolved with new technology and software is truly impressive.

On a side note, Stone and Parker helped co-write the book, music and lyrics for the hit Broadway show, “The Book of Mormon.”

Here are some other great animated series with mature content to watch for inspiration:

  • “King of the Hill”
  • “American Dad!”
  • “Bob’s Burgers”
  • “The Simpsons”
  • “Futurama”

What are some of your favorite animated series? Let us know in the comments below! And check out NYFA’s animation programs to learn more about animation.