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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Animation

The Beginner's Guide to Toon Boom


Everyone has a story to tell, and animation is one of the many awesome mediums to do just that. Animation allows you to create scenes straight from your imagination! So throughout this tutorial, we will be learning to create an animated scene in Toon Boom.

1. Get to Know Toon Boom

Step 1

Create a new scene by filling out these boxes upon opening the program:

(1) Name: Name your scene here.

(2) Location: Indicate where you want to save the file of your scene by clicking Browse...

(3) Camera Size: You can select a default camera size from here, or you can customize your settings by entering your preferred values in the boxes for Width, Height, Frame Rate, and Field of View

(4) Create Scene: You may click this button once all of the above are set.

Create sceneCreate sceneCreate scene

In case you decide to change your settings after you've created your scene, you can easily do so by clicking Scene > Scene Settings. Here you can adjust your Resolution and Frames per second.

Scene settingsScene settingsScene settings

Step 2

Familiarize yourself with the interface.

The following are the more essential parts that we will be using often in this tutorial.

(1) Camera view: This is the drawing area. Notice that there is a rectangle inside the grey space; this is the size of the camera and basically the stage where the animation takes place. Anything outside the borders will not show up in rendered outputs.

(2) Timeline: This is where we create and modify layers and frames, and edit the length of the animation.

(3) Toolbar: All our essential tools, which will be listed one by one later, are found here.

(4) Tool Properties: This is where you can customize your tool's properties and/or settings (if available).

(5) Color Palette: This is where you can create, select and modify colors that will appear in your scene.


Step 3

Familiarize yourself with the tools.

(1) *Select: Used for rotating, resizing, and repositioning any selected object in your drawing space.

(2) *Contour Editor: Used to adjust Vector Points in your drawings.

(3) Brush and (4) Pencil: Used for drawing.

(5) Text: Used to insert text.

(6) Eraser: Used for erasing.

(7) *Paint: Used to fill drawings with color.

(8) *Line: Used for making lines.

(9) Dropper: Helps locate a color swatch when a color from a drawing is picked.

(10) Drawing Pivot: Allows you to set pivots on your drawing objects.

(11) Morphing: Generates drawings between vectors.

(12) *Hand: Used to navigate the drawing space; however, keyboard shortcuts might be more convenient compared to this tool. The shortcuts are as follows:

  • Hand: Press the Space bar while clicking and dragging.
  • Zoom in: Press 1.
  • Zoom out: Press 2.
  • Rotate view: Press Control-Alt while clicking and dragging.

(13) Animate: Always enable this when using the Transform tool to animate

(14) Transform: Used to create some basic animations such as rescaling, repositioning, and rotating.

(15) Show Onion Skin: Enabled in order to view previous and next drawings while animating.

Note: Tools indicated with a (*) have a small triangle on their lower right sides, meaning more options are available when long-clicked.


Now, it's time to use these tools and features to create an animated scene!

In the next steps, we'll be learning to create a sky with twinkling stars and moving clouds.

2. How to Create the Background

Step 1

First, we want to create a rectangle. Using the Rectangle Tool, drag your cursor just outside the edges of the camera borders.

Create rectangleCreate rectangleCreate rectangle

Step 2

Fill the rectangle. Using the Paint Tool, click inside the shape.

Fill rectangleFill rectangleFill rectangle

Step 3

On the Color Palette, Double-click the color used to fill the rectangle. In this case, the default Black was used.

The Color Picker box pops up as a result, and this is used to edit the colors. I find the Multiple Wheel Mode more convenient and easier to control, so switch over to that mode by clicking the indicated button.

Color wheelColor wheelColor wheel

Step 4

In the Multiwheel colour tab, select Gradient instead of Solid. As a result, a spectrum with two nodes appears below it.


Step 5

Make sure the left node of the spectrum is selected, and then pick a violet hue from your color wheel.

Now we have a basic gradient!

Violet hueViolet hueViolet hue

Step 6

We want the gradient to be vertical instead of horizontal. We can edit the orientation using the Edit Gradient/Texture tool, which can be found by long-clicking the Contour Editor (white arrow symbol).

Using this tool, simply select the rectangle and rotate the fill of the shape.

Edit gradientEdit gradientEdit gradient

Step 7

Going back to our gradient colors, we want the violet color to transition into a yellow-orange.

On the Multiwheel Colour tab, select the right node of the spectrum and select the desired hue from the color wheel.

Yellow-orange hueYellow-orange hueYellow-orange hue

Step 8

Add another color to the spectrum by clicking on the area right between the existing nodes. A new color will appear, and while it is selected, pick a pink hue from the color wheel.

Pink huePink huePink hue

Step 9

You can edit the gradient further by dragging the nodes left and right along the spectrum. Now we have a nice gradient to serve as our sky background!

Sky gradientSky gradientSky gradient

Step 10

Exit the Multiwheel colour.

We can make ourselves more organized by renaming the color and drawing layer. Simply Double-click the text beside the gradient color and rename it to Sky. Then Double-click the text on the drawing layer and rename it to Sky_gradient.

Exit multiwheel colourExit multiwheel colourExit multiwheel colour

Step 11

On the timeline, notice that if you drag the Playhead (the red bar) to the end of the scene, the sky gradient disappears. What we want to do is select the last frame on the drawing layer (in this case, frame 60), and then press F5. This simply extends the exposure of the drawing.

Now that we've finished with the Sky gradient, let's Lock the layer so that we don't accidentally modify it as we move on to the next steps.

Simply click the symbol that looks like a lock on the drawing layer.

Extend exposureExtend exposureExtend exposure

3. Try Out Different Drawing Techniques

Step 1

Make a new drawing layer by clicking the (+) symbol on the timeline. Select Drawing from the drop-down list.

On the pop-up box, name the layer Clouds and then click Add and Close.

A new layer appears on the timeline.

Note: to delete a layer, select it, and click the (-) symbol.

Create new layerCreate new layerCreate new layer

Step 2

There are different ways to create drawings on Toon Boom. If you have a graphics tablet, you can use the Brush and Pencil with ease.

Test them out and draw some clouds using the brush and the pencil.

Brush and pencilBrush and pencilBrush and pencil

Step 3

You can also create drawings using the Polyline. This tool is helpful to non-users of graphics tablets. It is similar to the Pen Tool in Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator.

To use it, simply click a point on the drawing space, and drag to influence the curve. Click again on another point, and then Drag. Without releasing the point, Alt-Drag in order to change the direction of the next curve.

Repeat: Click, Drag, Alt-Drag until you want to close your drawing. To do so, click the next point on the starting point.


Step 4

Another way of creating drawings is by using the Shape Tools and the Cutter.

Using the Ellipse and Line, create a general cloud shape. Long-click the Select tool (black arrow symbol) in order to find and select the Cutter.

Under the Tool Properties on the right, make sure to select Round for the Tip Style. Drag the Cutter over the lines you want to get rid of.

Shapes and cutterShapes and cutterShapes and cutter

Step 5

Let's compare each drawing method and see which one you prefer!

The first cloud, created using the Brush tool, is fitting for graphics tablet users. Its strokes are made up of vector points on both sides, which makes it difficult to modify with the Contour Editor. I find it great for creating rough sketches and animations.


The second cloud, created with the Pencil, is also suitable for graphics tablet users. But unlike Brush strokes, Pencil strokes are made of a single path of vector points, making them easier to modify with the Contour Editor.

I find it great for creating clean line art.


The third cloud, created with the Polyline, gives you full control over the number of vector points you want on your drawing.

I find it great for creating clean line art, and it's useful for people who don't use graphics tablets.


The fourth cloud, created with shape tools and Cutter, is also good for non-users of graphics tablets.

It's not that easy to modify with the Contour Editor, but this method is great for creating geometric designs.

Shapes and cutterShapes and cutterShapes and cutter

4. How to Animate With the Transform Tool

Step 1

First, let's create the drawing which we'll animate.

Select the default white color from your palette, and draw a cloud using the Pencil or your preferred tool. Fill it with the Paint tool.

Select the cloud drawing, and then Copy and Paste and reposition them side by side. Once you have three equally spaced copies of the cloud, select them all and position them in the camera space so that the whole bottom is filled with the drawing.

Create cloudsCreate cloudsCreate clouds

Step 2

We want to extend the exposure of the drawing by going to frame 60 on the Clouds layer and pressing F5.

Then set keyframes on frame 1 and 2 by pressing F6 while those frames are selected.

  • F6 creates keyframes.
  • F7 deletes keyframes.

Create key framesCreate key framesCreate key frames

Step 3

Enable the Onion Skin by clicking the lowest button in the toolbar on the left. Doing this allows you to see the previous and next frames of your animation.

Enable onion skinEnable onion skinEnable onion skin

Step 4

The current look of the camera view is basically what our first keyframe looks like. It's the second keyframe that we are going to modify.

Now, make sure that on the timeline, the Playhead is on frame 2 where the second keyframe is situated.

Select the Transform tool, which is right above the Onion Skin button. The drawings on the Clouds layer become highlighted in pink.


Step 5

Spot the center of the selection, which is the small yellow square, and then click and drag to the right. Make sure to press Shift so that the drawing only moves horizontally.

When you move the drawing to the right, you'll notice a red version of the cloud behind it. That is a view of the drawing's previous position, or cloud 1 indicated in the image below.

On the current frame, we want to place cloud 2 very close to the position of cloud 1 in the previous frame, but not completely overlapping it. We want to put it just a few nudges to the left of the previous drawing.


Step 6

Look at the timeline.

On the Cloud layer, drag the second keyframe from frame 2 to frame 60. This creates In-betweens between the first and second keyframes.

In-betweens are like transition images; they help create an illusion that the first keyframe is smoothly transforming into the next keyframe.

More In-betweens make the transition slower, and so make the animation slower. Fewer In-betweens make the animation faster.


Step 7

We can now preview what the resulting animation looks like.

Enable the Camera Mask to block out the parts that should be hidden. It is the rectangle symbol / the third button on the small panel between the camera space and the timeline.

Enable the Loop button, and click Play. These are located right above the layers panel.


As a result, we get a seamless looping animation of panning clouds.

Aside from animating a simple pan, you can also use the Transform tool to make an object rotate, scale up, scale down, squash, and stretch.

Cloud animationCloud animationCloud animation

5. How to Animate Frame by Frame

Step 1

Disable the Cloud layer by clicking the symbol that looks like cartoon eyes. This temporarily removes the cloud drawings from view.

Create a new layer and name it Star.

Create new layerCreate new layerCreate new layer

Step 2

In frame-by-frame animation, we're drawing one frame after another in order to make it move.

Important keys to remember are F and G.

  • F is used to go to the previous frame.
  • G is used to go to the next frame.

To animate a twinkling star, use the pencil (or your preferred tool) to draw a small diamond on the first frame of the star layer.

For the next few frames, draw the diamond growing until it breaks apart and disappears.

Animate frame by frameAnimate frame by frameAnimate frame by frame

Step 3

We want the animation to play on two's, meaning we want the drawings to have an exposure of two frames each.

Aside from click-dragging or pressing F5, we can extend the frame exposure by pressing Shift-+.

Go to the Star layer and press Shift-+ once on each frame.

Extend exposureExtend exposureExtend exposure

Step 4

Let's edit the position and rotation of the animation.

Long-click the Select tool (black arrow symbol) and click Reposition All Drawings.

Drag and rotate the drawing to your desired position. This modification is automatically applied to all the drawings on the selected layer.

Reposition all drawingsReposition all drawingsReposition all drawings

Now we have a frame-by-frame animation of a star!

Star animationStar animationStar animation

6. How to Complete Your Scene

Step 1

We now have a background, animated clouds, and an animated star. Now we just have to fill the sky with more stars and complete the scene!

To create a copy of the star animation, right-click the Star layer and click Duplicate Selected Layers.

Use the Reposition All Drawings tool to reposition, rescale and rotate the duplicate star, which is the Star_1 layer.

On the timeline, drag the frames on Star_1 to the right, just to create variety in timing.

Duplicate starDuplicate starDuplicate star

Step 2

Now we want to fill the stage with variations of the star animation and spread it out throughout the scene duration.

Create more layer duplicates, reposition the drawings, drag frames, and copy and paste frames on different areas on the timeline.

Fill the skyFill the skyFill the sky

Step 3

Enable the visibility of the Clouds layer by clicking again on the cartoon eyes symbol.

Earlier in the cloud animation, I thought that the clouds were moving too fast. To remedy this, extend the scene length by dragging the red bracket on the timeline from frame 60 to 120.

Select the last frames on the Clouds and Sky_gradient layers, and press F5 to extend the exposure.

On the Clouds layer, drag the last keyframe from frame 60 to frame 120. This increases the In-betweens and therefore slows down the animation.

Adjust scene lengthAdjust scene lengthAdjust scene length

Step 4

Copy and paste the star animations.

Select all the star animations by clicking the frame 1 on the Star layer, pressing Shift, and then clicking frame 60 on Star_1 layer.

Copy the frames and paste on frame 61 of the Star layer.

Copy paste star animationsCopy paste star animationsCopy paste star animations

Step 5

We want the clouds to be in the foreground, so on the layers panel, drag the clouds layer to the top of all the other layers.

Adjust layer orderAdjust layer orderAdjust layer order

7. How to Export Your Animation

When you're satisfied with the animation, you may proceed to exporting.

Go to File > Export > Movie... Click Browse... to name your output file and select your file location. In the Export Range, you can opt to select all or specify the frames you want to export. Click OK.

Wait for your movie to finish exporting, and there you have it! You now have a .mov file of your animated scene, which you can convert into other video formats using video editing software such as Adobe Premiere Pro.


Happy Animating!

While Toon Boom still has many more advanced tools and features to be explored, starting with the most basic techniques can still bring you spectacular results.

Your program and materials can only get you so far in creating good art—the rest is up to you and your creativity!

I hope you learned a great deal and have fun animating!

Looking for more Toon Boom tutorials? Why not try these:

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