Screenshot of Ludo in Synfig Studio

The making of Lūdō: L’s open source animation toolset

August 9, 2016 7:00 am Published by

The short film Lūdō was an amazing learning experience and proof that you don’t need expensive software and tools to tell your stories beautifully. I created the film using an entirely free and open source animation toolset and spent around six or seven weeks on it from start to finish. Here’s an overview of how it went together.

Planning

Tools: pencil + paper or LibreOffice Writer, Inkscape

The film is only two minutes and follows a pretty simple plot. I had the story in my head, but longer stories could (and should) be written down. I drew up the main character and the title in Inkscape to work out a style for the film. Inkscape and Synfig both use vector graphics and have similar capabilities, which helped me visualize how  to assemble the characters in Synfig later.

Music

Tools: Linux MultiMedia Studio (LMMS), Audacity

The music was the next step. I already had a plot in mind, and wanted to go with purely music for the sound – no voices or sound effects. Therefore, I had to get the story across with nothing but the mood of the soundtrack. LMMS is a very robust music composition program that comes with a lot of different sounds and tools. LMMS may be complicated to use for a beginner, but you can find a wealth of tutorials online.

Once I finished composing, I saved the file and took it into Audacity to edit it. I mostly adjusted the left-right balance and made the end of the song fade to silence.

Storyboards

Tools: Inkscape and Synfig Studio

Storyboards lay out the action of an animation in rough keyframes. I drew all my storyboards with a mouse in Inkscape, and although they weren’t very pretty they conveyed exactly what I needed them to.

I used Synfig to time the storyboards to the music by importing the music and png images of all the frames into the document and hiding or showing them as needed. This might not be the most efficient process, but it allowed me to see where the keyframes should be, and get a feel for how everything would fit with the music.

Animation

Tools: Inkscape and Synfig Studio

Animation was the most time-consuming part. However, Synfig Studio is a very capable program and the animation went better than I could have imagined. Truly, the only limit was my (admittedly rudimentary) animation skill. I drew and animated the characters entirely in Synfig. I ended up keeping my animation file separate from my storyboard file due to file size issues, but I could keep both open and refer to the storyboards as needed.

Inkscape was useful in drawing the backgrounds. The title image and other text were also imported from Inkscape. Since version 0.91, Inkscape ships with the option to export to sif (Synfig) format. You can then import these files into Synfig Studio and copy them into the main animation document.

Finishing up

Tools: Synfig Studio and OpenShot Video Editor

To save a final video, I exported all the frames of the animation from Synfig Studio as png images and imported the sequence into OpenShot Video Editor to put it to the music and save it as a video. With the correct frame rate set in OpenShot, the frames ended up timed exactly as they were in Synfig.
I feel like OpenShot offers more control over video settings than Synfig Studio does, and you can also use it to add titles and credits (I included these in Synfig, but it’s good to know for future reference).

That’s my open source animation toolset. You can download all of the above for free and get to work today if you desire! And if you do, email me links to your creations at l-james@azdion.com! I’d love to see what you make, and I may even feature it.

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