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Smart Tools of the Animation Trade

There's been a few staple animation packages I've used over the years, some have come and gone and others have stuck around. Everyone has their own preference, but below are my goto tools when creating any animation.

Image of computer and audio mixing desk


I've put this first as it's usually the first thing I reach for with a new client. It's basically a paid Ipad app that I use for sketching out ideas. It's a relatively recent addition to my tool set (3 years or so) and it replaces piles of sketchbooks. Its possible to create great storyboards and hooks up to the Apple pencil (and the 53 pencil before that). Think Photoshop for mobile, layers, brushes, image import and so on.

Take a look for yourself at

Pure ref

Another recent addition, basically a mood board or reference image curator. Save the piles of images with your project files and they're there to open when you need them. I do a lot of work on products and when modelling I open up Pure ref on a spare monitor and drag in multiple shots of the products. Great for checking lighting, shapes and tone of your models and renders. Think of it as a replacement for a folder called "reference" and image preview.

Take a look for yourself at


A little known tool that I've been using sing the late 90's and I'm quite surprised it's still out there and available. A testament to its usefulness. If lip sync is part of what you do then this is the tool for you.

It allows you to break down phonetically your shots and import lip shapes to rough out when your characters should be making what phonetic shape.

Available here:


I've put this next in the list because it's by far the longest I've been using a 3D package. I don't use this as part of production any more but it served me well and I learned my craft back in the 90's using this tool (and real 3D and Sculpt 4D before it). But the animation industry moves on and Lightwave seems to have been stuck for a few years now.

Take a look for yourself at


For me, Lightwave's replacement and part of my daily workflow. A great production tool for all of our 3D work that allows us to create photo realistic renders and animations. The benefits for me are its ability to handle PBR workflows (Physically based rendering), It has superb lighting control and is under constant development.

Take a look here:


Our goto image manipulation tool for over 20 years, there's been tons of revisions and additions and it's still under development. But if you can think it, Photoshop can probably create it. Combined with a Wacom tablet it provides a great companion for pre and post production.

available here:

After effects

As above really, but for moving images. We use it for everything from previewing animations (as you don't have to save the file, unlike Premier), Compositing, VFX, motion graphics, motion tracking, titles and just about anything else we can think of. It really is a standard for small and medium sized studios.

available here:


We use Premier purely for final edits and audio, a great professional tool for bringing our animations and video production together.

available here:

Adobe Animate

Or Flash as it used to be called. Now massively unpopular on websites, it is extremely useful for 2D motion graphics, Info graphics, 2D character animation and the like. Still a great and easy to use tool when you need it.

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