A still frame from a short video created using Animatron.
A still frame from a short video created using Animatron.

Is there a Walt Disney, Matt Groening, or Hayao Miyazaki trapped inside you, just waiting to get out?

A Cambridge startup called Animatron recently released a free, web-based tool that aims to unlock your inner animator, and it has been generating some positive buzz on sites like Hacker News and Reddit.

“The initial idea,” explains Animatron CEO Dmitry Skavish, “was to create an animation tool to kill Flash,” the animation program from Adobe that costs at least $20 a month to use. “And we’re trying to build something that is easy to use, something for designers who aren’t developers — even for kids.”

The Animatron team, from left to right: Eugene Dzhurinsky, Natalia Dzhurinsky, Catherine Arizan, Kate Skavish, Dmitry Skavish, and Kirill Kalishev.

The Animatron team, from left to right: Eugene Dzhurinsky, Natalia Dzhurinsky, Catherine Arizan, Kate Skavish, Dmitry Skavish, and Kirill Kalishev.

Animatron is a spin-out from the Czech software company JetBrains, which is its sole investor so far. The team working on it is about 16 people, spread across Cambridge, Germany, Ukraine, and California. Skavish says that Animatron has been in development since mid-2011.

Animatron allows animators to collaborate with others by sending a link to the project they’re working on, instead of sharing big files. Animators can upload assets — like characters or backgrounds — that they’ve already created, or create them from scratch using the site’s tools. (It’s also possible to use someone else’s project as a starting point, modify it, and then publish your own version.) Finished projects can be downloaded in two different video formats.

For now, everything is free, but Skavish says that the company may eventually charge a subscription fee for users who want to keep their projects private, or who want to download all of the different assets they’ve built with Animatron. Another possible revenue model is creating a marketplace, allowing more sophisticated users of the site to sell assets they’ve created, or short clips or finished animations that could be customized or strung together.

I asked Dave Schlafman, creative director at CloudKid, a Boston animation studio, to take a look at Animatron, and he seemed to like the idea of a marketplace of characters and props. “That way, people can dive in and start making stuff without all the design work that’s needed,” he wrote via e-mail. “After all, how many times do you hear people say, ‘I can’t even draw a stick figure’?”

Schlafman said that Animatron is “definitely more accessible than Flash or Toon Boom (because it’s free!), but its feature set and layout of tools is incredibly similar to Flash. I have to admit that it’s impressive that the experience is all handled within the browser.” But he says he doesn’t think it’s for total greenhorns.

If you’ve got the creative itch, but find existing tools too intimidating or pricey, Animatron is definitely worth a whirl. And there’s another locally-built animation tool, DoInk, that is a bit more entry-level; it runs on iPhones and iPads.

The still frame above comes from this Animatron video; here’s the most-viewed short on the site so far.

Loading comments...