Best Free Animation Software

Best free animation software for download

So you are interested in studio animation but can’t afford the software? Yeah me too. Luckily we are in “the era of the nerd”. Fellow geeks have created studio quality free animation software we can download and use for our projects. Because dang, industry standard animation software suites are damn expensive. So I have hand curated a list of software solutions that I believe are currently the best free animation software. I mean really, how do they expect to train more professionals if we can’t afford the software? Buying spaghetti, a.k.a. “fancy top ramen” is a stretch for some college students let alone a five hundred dollar piece of software. I mean really, who can afford these animation programs? Rich people?

Now, why should you read this list? I am an animation guru. Be it an amateur animator; I have attended Animation Mentor character’s course and creatures program. I have years of animation experience under my belt. I have written blog articles about animation books, animation lectures, animation resources; you get the idea. I am an animation nerd.

I see problems with other best free animation software lists.

I have been reading a few round-up lists out there for “best free animation software” and some of them seem like sketchy affiliate links to me. I didn’t get paid to write this article. I am not getting paid if you click on anything, and no I don’t want you to download a virus. I am not getting paid to post this article. No money.

The other problem with these lists, they provide links to pretty terrible animation software solutions. I am not giving you links to quick video makers, or ability to make “cool” logo animations for your crap sales meeting. If you are looking for that type of animation software, I would suggest you pogo on out of here. Or click on this affiliate marketing link (I lied I just couldn’t resist placing one, I hope you forgive me). Just kidding there isn’t an affiliate marketing link so don’t try to click.

BUT, before you continue reading I would suggest that you consider looking at student licenses for Maya, etc..  If you are a student, you can get a free license for some of these larger software suites. Or, in the case of Adobe After Effects / Adobe Animate, a discounted rate.

IF, you are not in an art class, why aren’t you? Perhaps check-out your local college for a “cheap” animation course. Take an art class! Take a class! Anything remotely to do with animation!  Maybe figure drawing? Why? Well, you will get better at gestural drawing. Or even videography to learn about camera angles and editing! You learn and get a student ID! With a student ID, you can get free educational software ;-). Go to school!

I really really really recommend this method. It will open up a world of studio animation suites that you can’t without a student email account, or proof of enrollment unless you have a few extra thousand dollars. Not all companies are like SideFX and Foundry (go Houdin and NukeX). Go to school! Even for a day. Drop the class if you have to, hustle! No, you won’t be able to use the software for commercial purposes, which if you are serious about animation shouldn’t be your intention yet. Again, this isn’t an article for your crappy sales pitch video.

If this is your method here are some links to animation programs that you can get for dirt cheap with a student license:

  • Autodesk Suite (Maya, 3dMax) – Normally $2,040.00 per year but free for student use.
  • Cinema4d – Normally $3,695.00 but free for student use (18 months).

Or if you are more serious in pursuing animation, find a four-year, attend Animation Mentor, or even Animation Mentor and IAnimate are pretty great programs. Cons of “art” colleges, generally they don’t specialize in one craft for the animation workflow. The positives you get a piece of paper that says you have a bachelor’s degree in digital finger painting.

If you are interested in a four-year degree and live in this here United States of America, visit Cal Arts, CSU Northridge, SCAD, Loyola Marymount (if you is rich), USC (if you is uber-rich), and even Chico State. Outside of United States? Gobelins or Sheridan. Or you can just check out this list, the 100 best animation schools.

My last piece of advice, if you are serious about animation focus on the 12 principles of animation. Learn them and endlessly try to perfect them. Animate a bouncing ball over and over and over again. Animate bowling balls, rubber balls, beach balls, all sorts of balls. Do it a million billion times, till you get sick of animating a dang ball. Then move onto walks and more complicated locomotion. You don’t need fancy bells and whistles, just paper and a pen. Don’t get hung up on software solutions. Just animate! Animate again and again!

Okay, no more ranting. You are looking for free animation software. You are either a hobbyist, student, or maybe thinking about changing careers. You are welcome, now for the list. (You can tell I am totally humble)

One of the Best Free Animation Software for Traditional Animation: Pencil2d

Pencil 2d is a free open source software which allows for “traditional animation” or hand-drawn cell to cell animation. Pencil2d is available for Windows or Mac. The interface is simple and relatively intuitive to use. It works well for 3d animators that are wanting to do a rough pencil test. The beautiful thing about this open source software is that the community has created lots of usage videos which are always helpful when starting out. It allows for various export file types for all of your needs.

The software also has a pretty decent community which likes to talk about all things animation. For those starting out, or animators on a budget this is a nice piece of software.

Link to download Pencil2D

Another 2d Solution in our list of the Best Free Animation Software: Plastic Animation Paper (Pap)

This software is old but usable. Don’t let the that fool you; this is an enterprise professional animation software solution. It is an option to try for those who don’t like the layout of The developer of this software hopes you purchase the newer one “animation paper” but is giving the old version away for free. PAP pro 4 is available free but only works for windows. This software option is for those who don’t mind the old 1990s / 2000s user interfaces. It looks like an old-school desktop application. Again, it is mighty. But in all honesty, the newer paid version is worth it.

PAP also comes with tutorials:

If you want to upgrade it isn’t as expensive as you would think. Animation Paper only costs $79.00. The money is well worth the price if you like clean, simple interfaces, and want to focus more on drawing than pressing buttons. Animation Paper works extremely well with a Cintiq.

I would say if you are serious about animation you should consider purchasing animation paper, even if it is for rough animation tests. The interface is far easier than Pencil2d, at least to me. Not that I am throwing shade on Pencil2d, but Pencil2d is to Windows as Animation Paper is to Mac. Some people love Windows. Some people love Apple.

The reason why the developer created Animation Paper was to solve issues caused by other animation software solutions. Other programs might have more features, but bloated code weighs down the responsiveness. Animation Paper’s focus is 100% on speed and usability. Using intuitive X-Sheets to provide a low weight application.  Animation Paper put a lot of effort in making the software extremely responsive. This attention to detail is present in the older version of PAP. Overall Animation Paper provides a suite of tools which you would expect: crisp, clean lines, amazingly responsive, onion skinning, colors, X-Sheets, different flipping methods, built for a Wacom tablet, and exportable into all needed file types. Now back to free programs.

Link to PAP (Plastic Animation Paper – Free)

Link to Animation Paper – Paid

Interested in the paid version? Below is a video showing it’s powerful interface.

Okay, one more free animation program for traditional animators: Opentoonz

Opentoonz is another open source animation software. The program is free for commercial use and powerful enough for amateurs, experts, and novices.

Packed with a series of marvelous features, if the other two programs don’t work for you, I believe this one will! So what other features does Opentoonz have buried in its code base? Beyond the standard anti-aliased lines and painting, Opentoonz has a powerful time-sheet interface along with “node” based editing. What is node editing? Node editing is a system which allows designers to apply tweaks and effects to vector-based images without destroying the image. Think photoshop for videos, but you can use “filters/effects” by connecting a series of Instagram filters. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it is the best explanation I have. Node-based filming editing for commercial use is done utilizing powerful tools like Nuke X…. Yes, it is called Nuke X, fix it in post just nuke it.

Opentoonz is available for Mac and Windows:

For English speakers, there is a pretty decent community as well:!forum/opentoonz_en

Best Free Animation Software for FX and Simulations: Houdini Apprentice

Interested in creating featured film video fx animation? Make things explode, or design massive storms? Sounds freaking legit! Enter Houdini. An industry standard software which allows creatives to produce alien worlds and blockbuster effects.

I mean check out their demo reel, if these commercial hits were made with Houdini, maybe you should try it too.

Houdini Apprentice is NOT for commercial use. It is for hobbyists, amateurs, those who want to play learn and grow.  It is a bit of the honor system. As the site states:

“Apprentice lets you save to disk and render out with a word mark.”

Good job sideFX! Trust people, give the people tools to create inspiration and change their lives. I freaking love this, and personally feel that other animation software suites should adopt this software distribution model. In this age the software technologists hold the keys to the castle, they guard who is allowed into the kingdom because of their license agreements. Who get’s the license? Only those who can afford school or a student license? Pretty ruthless. Go SideFX!

Anyway, I digress. Houdini is a node based program.  Houdini allows users to generate wickedly amazing liquid, cloth, particles, and crowd simulations. It is some insane stuff. Beyond simulations, you can also do character rigging and animation.  Once you outgrow the apprentice, Houdini doesn’t try to gauge your entire budget. You can then upgrade to Houdini Indie, for $199.00. Again, good job sideFX… you da real MVP.

Houdini also comes with tons of great tutorials:

AND a community!

Link to Houdini Apprentice

The Best Free Animation Software for 3d Animation Software: Blender

Blender is hand’s down the best open source 3d animation software. It has everything the feature film animators need, just not the prestige. Why it is open source? But that doesn’t mean you can’t make some impressive films with this piece of software. Blender is funded completely by donations, insane.

In Blender you can make simulations, rig, model, camera track, animate for games, etc.. etc.. Basically if you can master the principles of animation in this software, you can apply it to any software suite.

Think Blender isn’t mature enough for you? Well, maybe check out this demo reel.

Or Circle, which leveraged Blender to tell a fantastic story.

Still not convinced? “The Secret of Kells” was an Oscar-nominated animation made partially with Blender. So yeah, Blender is a powerful tool which can allow you to tell a compelling story.

Link to Download Blender 3d

Bonus Free Software used in the Animation Industry: NukeX and Mari

These are not “animation software solutions” meaning you can’t animate anything. But you can composite and texture what you have already created. Proper compositing, texturing and lighting breaths life into your works. It can make your demo reel shine.

I would highly highly highly suggest trying these pieces of software; you might find that you like texturing and composition more than you love animation. Who knows? Just try! I mean check out their demo reel on their site. The millennium freaking falcon.

This software can’t be used for commercial purposes!

Link to NukeX and Mari Non Commercial

One last rant about animation and software. Focus on principles not suites.

Resist the urge to get hung up on the latest software. The art is in perfecting the 12 principles of animation. There is not a magic piece of software that breathes life into your characters. News flash, there isn’t a magic box. Nope, only hard work and endless nights of staring at 24 frames of animation over and over and over.

Practice, practice, practice. A good animation studio knows they can train the hard-skills. How to use the software. In fact, a lot of studios have software systems that aren’t available to the public. Proprietary software built for their needs. For example Pixar’s Marionette. Pixar claims that they made the software for artists who have thrived in traditional cell animation. Again, don’t worry about the software! If you can animate, you can animate.

This is why again, I suggest you go to school. Join a community. Compete and contribute to communities like Create, critique, inspire! Animate, animate, animate!

Please comment below. Let me know if you found this article helpful or think I am wrong and dumb or if you have any other programs you want to add to this best free animation software list.