Product Review – Pencil Pro Studio Edition 2007

I’ve seen a great deal of poor Pencil animation online recently, and its my assumption that its the tool’s fault. For instance, look at how stiff this walk cycle is:


Let’s have a look at the toolset, and see if we can uncover what went wrong.PENCIL PRO – STUDIO EDITION 2007

This toolset’s legacy goes way back. It was used by animation pioneers like J. Stuart Blackton, Winsor McCay and unsung Disney hero Ub Iwerks. It was behind some of the most eye-popping, heart-stopping, jaw-dropping animation sequences in history, including Gertie’s first steps, Mickey’s first ride in the steamboat, and Snow White’s battles with the evil Queen. The Pencil Pro toolset was also part of the recent Winx Club production effort out of Italy, which resulted in this stilted, wobbly, unwatchable episode:


Pencil Pro has helped create so many great animated moments, but after watching this Winx Club clip, it’s a wonder they’ve managed to keep their doors open.The 2007 Pencil Pro model hasn’t evolved much, if any, since the 1800s. It comes standard with a hexagonal, thin, wooden cylinder and you can choose the graphite, clay or charcoal version. At time of purchase, you can also pick from varying degrees of hardness, but don’t be fooled, you can not upgrade to different hardness after purchase. But regardless of the hardness you choose, the toolset can be used to create beautiful artwork or meaningless drivel. From our exploration of video sharing sites like YouTube, more often than not Pencil Pro is used to create sophomoric bathroom humor. This rather crude Pencil animation used a 3B version of the tool.


Out of the box, the model we tested required a 1-minute drawing tip install. The process is called ‘sharpening’ and much to our dismay, the sharpening toolset is sold separately. Sharpening is required frequently, and we can only assume this is a software bug. We searched for an FAQ inside the box, but never found one.

THE UPSIDE:

  • Easy Glide Strokes – Pencil Pro has no match in this category
  • Cross-functional Usage – Good for grocery list writing and nervous chewing
  • Image enhancing – with each stroke, a darker line can be drawn (caution – 12 strokes tore through our test paper)
  • Easy Storage – fits in most pockets but can leave a graphite stain
  • No-roll design – hexagonal shape isn’t just stylish, it prevents the toolset from rolling off your drawing table

THE DOWNSIDE:

  • Manual Erase – handy eraser location, but leaves behind a residue – Could use an ‘undo’ function
  • Poor Battery Life – Our first one was dead (and 1/10 of its original size) after a week. If it is rechargeable, it did not ship with a power adapter
  • Color Adjustment – can’t adjust the color of a line once applied – a manual resharpen didn’t even do the trick
  • Ear Holster – tucking our Pencil Pro behind our ear worked until we forgot that we put it there

All in all, the Pencil Pro toolset seems sadly quite dated. New digital tablets and Paperless 2D software packages may be far pricier, but their functionality is light years ahead of Pencil Pro. But perhaps we’re missing something – recent blog comments about Flash seem to think new technology is to blame for all the animation industry’s woes.

Next week we’ll be reviewing the new 2008 model Horse & Buggy from Nissan.

Let’s hear your experiences with the Pencil Pro toolset. Is it sharp or a dull tip?

40 Comments

  1. TempleDog October 25, 2007

    I’ve never seen someone put so damn much effort into being a total bastard. Outside of politics. Good on ya!

  2. Anonymous October 25, 2007

    AHAHAHA BRILLIANT! There’s a box and everything! I can’t wait for it’s release! But maybe I’ll wait for version 2.0 once the bugs get worked out.

  3. Oh man, as soon I get the new version of Pencil Pro I’m sure my animation will get so much better!!

    So true. Thanks for this.

  4. Anonymous October 25, 2007

    I thought about getting this to augment my digital work, but I have to upgrade/downgrade my equipment considerably. Does anyone know if this package comes with an animation three peg hole punch? And what OS does the Boston electric sharpener run best on?

  5. Aaron Simpson October 25, 2007

    anon – the Boston Electric is actually Linux based, so you’re out of luck there. I recommend buying a refurbished Xactro Knife 2006 model. It requires regular blade upgrades, but it works on both PC and Mac.

  6. Animation Noob October 25, 2007

    I hope when 3M buys this out like Adobe did Macromedia, that they include a better cleanup tool. I got the Col-Erase version of the software, but the cleanup crew seems to negate all my work with their buggy versions of Blackwings and mechanical pencils. Maybe I should ask the tech guys to update the network with a life-drawing class.

  7. Prophet Buddy October 25, 2007

    I love you Simpy!

  8. dany boom October 25, 2007

    ho ho. you had me there, you really did. that WAS a stiff walk cycle. and the italian stuff …

    then i saw the link to cartoon brew. its on, isnt it ? those guys who say flash never created character animation, and that fosters is no good … well anyway. im pretty sure all debate is healthy.

  9. Scotty A October 25, 2007

    I’ve been using Pencil for years now… (back when it was called Chalk)

    The eraser use to be a third-party plugin. It’s good that Pencil Pro has it built in.

  10. Best…Post…Ever…

  11. Anonymous October 25, 2007

    pretty damn funny. not so much the rip on the original article, which i thought was a chuckle, but man, those ego wars are pretty silly.

    yes, classical animation looks awesome.

    no, no one is paying for it anymore.

    sucks, man.

  12. Tony Mora October 25, 2007

    Pencil Pro is way to labor intensive. I started back when we used Mime 1.0. We would “act” out the scenes, then we’d have a “rememberer” dutifully takes notes. His job was to remember what we acted out and then relay this information to the audience. It was all in real time too. Not like this “rendered” animation stuffs. Pencils… BAH.

  13. Pencils? BAH HUMBUG!

    I am perfectly fine using my bird feather dipped in blood. But it appears I am running low. Time to hunt some more pheasants.

  14. Ramiro Olmos October 25, 2007

    HAHAHAHA wtf, that is soooo funny. I check CHF everyday and this was quite a surprise.hahah at first I thought it was a real article hahahah. Nice one! May I ask, what inspired such a funny thing?

  15. Anonymous October 25, 2007

    amazing

    that business was the last straw for me with that site.

    theres nothing like a site that claims “leading the animation conversation”, talking down to me cause i use flash.

    seems like now a days every few post on that site is a link to some animation and a post that reads “can you believe this garbage was actually made?”

    i expect more from a site that has the ear of the animation community than to use it to discourage animators, no matter what their skill level or how they choose to produce their work.

  16. Scotty A October 26, 2007

    Why back in my day, we would animate by drawing in the dirt with sticks. A short subject cartoon took 8 years to watch.
    We we paid with berries and bits of string we used to tie our beards around our head.

  17. Geek Booteek October 26, 2007

    Freakin hilarious dude!!

  18. Señor Chips October 26, 2007

    I posted a comment on the brew, but it didn’t get through their moderation. I was hoping to have a say in this whole discussion especially since it’s my skills they are devaluing. The brew and the traditional animation industry is a joke. Shut up and make something!

    -Eric Pringle

  19. Anonymous October 26, 2007

    Aaron, you are my hero. That CB post is such elitist bullshit and its good to see someone making light of it. Im so tired of the John K elitists and the Cartoon Brew elitist, so its great to see someone poking fun at that crap.

    Animation is the movement and the principles, not the tool.

    -ChrisF

  20. They didn’t look Italian….

  21. Brendan Burch October 26, 2007

    Aaron, this will go down as a ‘best of chf’ moment. This is a much clearer example of “tongue and cheek”

    This was so well done.

  22. Anonymous October 26, 2007

    OK, Aaron, enough is enough. You prefer to produce your 2D animation via digital techniques as opposed to traditional pencil-on-paper techniques. I respect your preference. But that’s no reason to insult and belittle those whose preferences lie elsewhere. If you sincerely believe it a moral responsibility to convert people who do not reside in your camp, you need to base your arguments in some kind of logic. If you said that the use of paper and pencils should be curbed in an effort to preserve the environment, for example, that would be one thing. But the examples you’re giving as to why paper animation is wrong and bad are faulty. Bad animation is bad animation, and it can be produced in any medium. If someone burns a turkey in the oven, you wouldn’t say that we should all stop eating turkeys. You would simply say that person does not know how to cook a turkey. I’ve been trying to adapt to the digital 2D medium for a while now, and I’m still not as comfortable with it as I am with pencil and paper. If someone is constantly telling me I’m brainless, it isn’t likely I’m going to side with them. Yes, it is very easy to insult Flash, because it has perhaps become too accessable for its own good. The internet is flooded with people who think they are now animators because they’ve put down their $700 (or not) and learned what all the buttons do. I’ve seen some really terrible Flash work, but I’ve also seen some really good Flash work. Perhaps there’s such a flood of bad animation right now not because of the medium used, but because of the present emphasis put on software knowledge over solid technique. You cannot say that the pencil was “behind some of the most eye-popping, heart-stopping, jaw-dropping animation sequences in history,” then say that it is now not only useless, but also renders its advocates archaic morons befit to public flogging. Pencil animation and Flash animation are two different things. If you really want people to see your side of things, be diplomatic and understanding, and don’t stoop to the childish practices of those on other websites. If you’re trying to convince someone of the legitimacy of your agenda, the last thing you want to do is alienate them.

  23. The Doctor October 26, 2007

    special thanks to the moron above me who apparently can’t recognize sarcasm. Jesus. way to eat the bait. hook line and sinker. does it taste good? to be so reactionary? i bet it tastes like adrenaline and stupidity.

  24. Anonymous October 26, 2007

    Well, the doctor, so much for diplomacy. Thanks for keeping the Flash-hating business alive. What would we do without you?

  25. By the way,

    Retractable Puke for the WIN!

  26. This is as brilliant a response to CB as I could ever imagine – take the rest of the day off Aaron and give yerself a raise bro :)

  27. Ronald Lanham Jr October 26, 2007

    Bwahaha. You had me going just for a second there. The box was the icing on the cake. Your point is so true. Keep up the good fight.

  28. Aaron Simpson October 26, 2007

    anon – i wrote that with my tongue poked perhaps a little too hard in my cheek. the point i was trying to make has less to do with pencils, clay, action figures or whatever animation medium you choose, but more that the tool isn’t the cause of bad animation, or good animation for that matter. i’ve got zero issue with traditional animation, light tables and timing charts and i know for a fact that all Flash studio bosses would prefer their artists know which end of the pencil makes it pretty, but i’ve grown tired of people incessantly taking the piss out of Flash because some artists didn’t use it right (IT’S A TOOL, YOU TOOLS!). join the digital revolution – or don’t. i think there’s probably a career out there either way, but know that i’m mainly rallying against ignorance that is steeped in historical pride and perhaps a bit of fear.

  29. Fonce Falooda October 26, 2007

    “OK, Aaron, enough is enough. You prefer to produce your 2D animation via digital techniques as opposed to traditional pencil-on-paper techniques. I respect your preference. But that’s no reason to…”

    OMG, he was SERIOUS?!!! Oh, no! I think Pete Emslie found us over HERE! Boy, that guy can rattle on!

  30. Anonymous October 26, 2007

    Fantastic, well-thought-out, attention-getting article. Good on ya. Very entertaining.

    I really hope all the genuine antagonism expressed on the web against and for Flash is typical Internet-spotlighting of a relatively small group. Because it’s just sad.

    -elcomico

  31. Anonymous October 27, 2007

    Aaron,

    This is the asshole who left the 3-page comment. I think it’s safe to say I overreacted — a lot. I apologize. I only realized your intent after I spouted off, and I should’ve given myself more time. Things have been rough for me the past couple years, I let my aggression out on you, and that was wrong. I think you run a great site here. This won’t happen again.

  32. I like both traditional and digital animation styles, when it’s done well. Yep, Flash has a stigma attached to it but it’s not the tools fault.

    I look at traditional animation for inspiration when I work on my digital animation.
    It’s similar to the reasons I like both anime and disney animation. Each has qualities the other lacks.

  33. Is it true that Chris Georgenes is working on a new book, “How to Cheat in Pencil Pro Studio”? I believe one of the short cut tips to faking animation is how to use a coin,like a nickel or dime, to easily create consistent multiple circles. Add a few lines and you’ve created a character. Forget honing your skills in Flash animation. Just cheat your way into thinking you’re an animator by moving some circles around on Paper. Why not, everybody else is doing it.

  34. Señor Chips October 27, 2007

    I guess this is what being a hot chick is like when all the ugly girls hate you and there’s nothing you can do about it.

  35. Anonymous October 27, 2007

    Good article. I usually use traditional methods for character animation and mainly use flash as an ink and paint tool. But I have to agree with the person who said “Im so tired of the John K elitists and the Cartoon Brew elitist, so its great to see someone poking fun at that crap”.

    I consider myself a traditional animator, but flash has made my life so much easier on several occasions. The animation community shouldn’t get torn in half because of the “digital revolution”. Instead, we should embrace the fact that new mediums are developing and work with each other to create these new mediums.

    On the other hand, those 3-d animators are taking over, and they must be stopped immediately. We must band together with our pencils and wacom tablets and destroy them…

    and just so no one gets confused, that was a joke, a bad one.

  36. “Pencil animation and Flash animation are two different things.”
    Not really, give a classically-trained animator a wacom tablet or cintiq and Flash, show them how to animate with it using frame-by-frame animation techniques and you’ll have your self some knock out 2D traditional/digital animation that moves just like it would on paper… however the final “look” of it may not be identical as old-school cel animation. Especially cause the final line and color cannot be duplicated to look exactly like paper cleaned-up lines xeroxed on cel and photographed on film…. Maybe with After Effects’ help, but still.

    But as far as acting, timing, movement it’s all the same, like Aaron and others said, it depends on the artists, s/he decides the quality of the animation. I’ve seen animation done with Sketchbook Pro, Photoshop, Painter, Macromedia Director, and even FutureSplash (from 10 years ago), and it looked great because a skilled traditionally-trained animator spent a lot of time doing it well.

    Flash has been both very good and very bad for the industry at the same time (in my opinion anyways).
    On the plus side; It’s brought alot of work back to North America. Hundreds of students that graduate in North America now have the chance to get a job actually animating thanks to Flash, whether it’s big-budget, smooth-moving, high-quality series… or low-budget, 12fps, mediocre stuff, traditionally tranined animators can find work actually animating, while before 2001, it nearly ALL went to Korea, China, India for animation.

    As a fresh and new animation graduate you had the very slim chance of finding a job in design, storyboarding, BG layout, or key posing. Thanks to Flash SOOOO much work has been generated because of its cost-effectiveness, easy changes/revisions, very economical in design management, time management and its versatility in doing high-def TV, internet cartoons, and e-cards (which keeps many freelancers busy during down time).

    On the down side (as mentioned above) it’s easy accessibility and false sense that any producer things ANY retakes can be done in the blink of an eye (“Cause it’s all done on computers now right?”), has given Flash a bad name that has only recently begun to be lifted.

    Not there wasn’t any bad animation before Flash, but thanks to Flash it makes it easy to see lots of bad animation. Television execs that control all things that go on TV see Flash as the cheap way out, but by slashing costs of animated series by 50% or more (compared to budgets of 10 years ago) it can’t help but create mediocre animation, so Flash is seen as a sucky 2D tool, that can’t match the quality of the old classics. Un-true, it’s just that no one wants to pay money to make a good cartoon anymore (as someone said above). Flash has made some of the processes easier… “making” cartoons hasn’t gotten any easier, the competition is fierce and thanks to changing times in the industry of television in general, in fact I think it’s harder now then 10-15 years ago. Flash aids in the fact that you need noe paint on Xerox, paint on cels, photograph or scan every single frame. I’m not denying the charm and elegance often achieved in that the results of that method, but man how much easier it is now to not have to do that, it’s amazing. Inflation and thos cost of making cartoons has doubled since 10-20 years ago, but the budgets are at an all time low. It’s unfortunate that Flash has made the Quantity over Quality concept all too possible for television exec to take advantage of.

    Flash came around at exactly the right time. I am very convinced that it saved the industry because the costs were running too high to create quality animation. It’s just too bad that it got a bad rap because by saving it it came at a cost. Quality was sacrificed for pumping out lots of cartoons to raise the producers’ fees, make bigger profit, flood the market with more cartoons, overload the television universe with mass quantity.

    And for those who DO have the money to spend, there’s those rare gems like Justice League and Airbender, have you seen those types of shows? Wow! I drool over Feature-Quality backgrounds and their mind-blowing effects animation.

    Flash has given employment to hundereds if not thousands of animators who would have simply not been able to find work otherwise (unless they moved overseas).

    Especially Canada… Wow, the amount of 2D character animators in this country now is staggering compared to 12 years ago, I wish I knew the percentage of how much that community has grown. Animation has returned to us, yes, maybe sometimes Korea, India, China, Japan – based studios did better stuff then we have in the past 5 years using Flash for North American programming, but the fault is in the low budgets and the producers, developers, executives, funders in TV land that don’t want to give talented creators, designers, animators the time and funds they need to create good quality stuff.

    El Tigre, Fosters, and several others seem to slowly break away from that bad-Flash-mold.

    I’m really sorry about the long rant.

    Good article Aaron!

  37. Why is it that John always gets thrown under the bus when discussions like this get started? Yes, the man has his opinions, and he’s not afraid to express them. But it seems that in this post and the one at cartoon brew, his name gets brought up as that of an enemy or an “elitist”, as someone here put it, without him even commenting on the topic. Of all the people i’ve met in or out of the industry, he has been the one who has encouraged and helped me the most, so I don’t know what’s up with the attacks. Just my 2 cents.

  38. Aaron Simpson January 15, 2008

    and now the real software…

    http://www.les-stooges.org/pascal/pencil/index.php

  39. Lenna May 21, 2010

    Flash is great but let’s be perfectly clear about something YOU don’t need to be able to draw to use flash. You don’t.

    If you don’t want to draw, by all means, use flash. Just STOP HARPING on actual artists because they think you have no sense of design, volume or spacing.

    Flash animation is great but does it have the illusion of life—I DON’T THINK SO.

Trackbacks for this post

  1. [...] Bird, with all due respect, has fallen prey to the ol’ Flash Trap. While we appreciate his concern for folks who don’t want to seek higher animation knowledge, the tool IS NOT the culprit. Sure, there’s dozens of Flash-animated series that overuse tricks and the results are less than pleasing, but the same goes for pencil-animated projects – there’s hundreds of clunkers out there. Need we remind ourselves of the downsides of Pencil Pro Studio Edition 2007? [...]

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