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review of loop, an iPad and iPhone animation app

I’ve been on an animation kick recently. I love the idea of giving some of my book characters a fresh life in motion. To add fruit to the blender, my son, Jack, is also finding his inner Walt.

So when I heard about the simplicity of Loop, one of the new animation apps for iOS, I threw another dollar of Jack’s inheritance at Apple and downloaded it.

Loop is, indeed, pretty easy to pick up and start using (continuing to use it can be a chore sometimes — more on that later). It’s a blank slate of an app, with as much white packed into the screen as possible (considering you have to put functional buttons somewhere!). As you can see in the image below, the developers, Universal Everything, went for minimalism.

loop ios app

While the control features are self-explanatory, some of the other buttons deserve attention.

You only get three color brushes. The brush thickness responds to the speed of your brushstroke. The faster, the thicker. It’s not as elegant as the drawing app, Paper, but it’s not bad. It would be nice to have a color selector in one button, instead of three preset colors.

The duplicate button allows you to copy your current frame. I’ve found that copying the frame three times is the bare minimum you need in order to see the picture in the final product.

The Onion Skin button is probably the most useful extra feature. It allows you to see previous frames while you draw. This way you can make sure that the animation does what you want it to do.

The upload button renders the film and allows you to share it via tumblr or to the Loop gallery. One important note is that the Share screen is poorly designed. The word “Share” is actually clickable, and allows you to send the animation via standard methods like email.

The most frustrating part of using the app is the eraser. Its width is tiny and I can’t find a way to make it broader. This makes for some messy animations, with ugly, small sparks of color flashing around. I may be missing something, somewhere…

Which leads me to my next point.

The app is worth the buck it asks for, but also needs some tweaks to make it more than above-average. Steve Jobs believed that, sometimes, it’s what you don’t include that makes something work well. Many app designers give that philosophy a whirl, and some succeed. But, in my experience, a sparse user interface is either the result of simple customer requirements, or simplistic developer sensibilities. Loop suffers from the latter. It doesn’t need to be so simple looking, and, indeed, it feels like the devs worked from the design first, and then added the features for a simple app on top of it. The evidence of that? Their reliance on iOS’s built-in share feature. It’s hidden, like an afterthought, behind a link that hides itself. The gallery feature uploads your piece to their site, where it will never be seen again. The animation gets lost in a sea of other people’s work, with no way to find what you shared.

I assume the Guide Movie that’s displayed in the app is its help feature. I don’t know, though, because pressing that button doesn’t yield anything for me. The app could certainly use integrated help; another piece of evidence that the dev may have relied on its simple design, as opposed to simplicity of use, a little too much.

But let’s not end on a sour note. My whole family (and the neighbors!) love playing with Loop. We’ve all gotten around its slight imperfections and are smashing through all kinds of animation milestones. I’m sure Universal Everything is tweaking their baby as we speak, and I look forward to Loop becoming the Paper of animation.

Check out some samples on the loop gallery. Here’s my son’s first animation. It’s a character he calls “Evil e”. Evil e drinks a potion and grows huge, becoming Evil E! Ah, the brain of a seven year old.

Evil E

 

Ben Zackheim