Synfig is a resolution-independent vector-based animation program that lets anyone create amazing 2-D animation. It’s designed to produce quality films for broadcast, but people also use the software to produce web animations for educational proposes, feature films, advertisements, and just for fun.
Unlike some animation tools, Synfig has independence of resolution in space and time, thanks to the fact that all internal calculations in Synfig are done with floating point numbers, so the output result is always accurate. It’s perhaps the only open source vector-based 2-D animation application with interpolation between keyframes. And, although all the animation definition is vector-based, there is an intermediate raster calculation at the pixel level before the software creates the final output that makes it possible to apply filters or effects to the animation, as can a non-linear video editor.
Synfig has lots of awesome features not visible at first sight. For instance, you can link parameters between different layers. As an example, the color parameter of a layer can be linked to any other color parameter in any other layer in the same (or another) document. If you modify one of the linked parameters you modify all of them at the same time. This simplifies work in a project with many layers.
Original author Robert Quattlebaum (who is no longer involved in the project) started developing what would become Synfig in 2002. It was originally called SINFG, a recursive acronym for “SINFG Is Not A Fractal Generator,” referring to the fact that the software was capable of generating some stunning fractal imagery in addition to animation. Quattlebaum and Adrian Bentley, a classmate from the DigiPen Institute of Technology, founded Voria Studios in 2004 to do in-house animation production using the software, but they ran out of money by the end of the year. Quattlebaum says, “I came to grips with the fact that our most valuable asset wasn’t our animation production capabilities but rather our software. I started trying to come up with a new, more marketable name, but after discussion with our lead animator, who liked the name, I agreed to only change the spelling. For all of you who thought it stood for ‘Synthetic Figure,’ well, now you know better.
“I released Synfig as open source because it wasn’t doing me any good rotting away on my hard drive. It was my baby for several years of my life, and I had a huge emotional investment in it – so large that I needed to completely detach from it to move on.” When Quattlebaum took a job at Crystal Dynamics, he open-sourced Synfig.
Today Synfig benefits from the efforts of many contributors, all of whom are listed in the AUTHORS file included with the source code. “I think it is about a 17 for the Synfig core (command-line renderer and core libraries) and 21 for Synfig Studio, the graphical user interface,” says Carlos LÃ³pez, the project leader. “Chris Moore, with 2,000+ commits, has been one of the most active contributors in the last three years. Currently only two people are actively working on Synfig code: Nikita Kitaev and I. From time to time others send patches via the tracker or contribute with code in the forum. We have the source code in a Git repository. People who have write rights create their own branches on it, and after some testing I perform to validate the modifications, I merge them into the main branch. Usually we get in contact by the forum or IRC and discuss what’s the next thing to fix or implement.”
While most of the project’s work is hosted on SourceForge.net (including trackers, IdeaTorrent, code repository, download file manager, and mailing lists), Synfig has gone elsewhere for specialized needs. LÃ³pez says, “At some point the people who were taking care of the project needed a virtual machine (VPS) to create daily tarballs and updated Doxigen documentation, and a place to host the forums, wiki, and Git repository (SourceForge didn’t support Git on that time). Eventually maintenance became a pain and cost became an issue, so we decided to migrate back to SourceForge. However, we found that the sendmail service was disabled and addressing of external machines was not possible either from MediaWiki or phpBB. Without sendmail no new users could register and without external machine identification the reCAPTCHA plugin didn’t work at all. SourceForge’s administrators confirmed the problems and offered us the use of the built-in forum and wiki services, but we could not afford to lose the user community we already had, so we wound up hosting those databases and the website at tuxfamily.org.”
The project, while nominally in beta, is already quite advanced and getting better with every release. LÃ³pez says, “We have a lot of things in mind for development. At the moment we are looking at restructuring the code internally without adding new functionality to allow future developers to read the code easily. After that we want to put away Autotools and implement other modern build tool such as cmake or perhaps waf. That would allow us to relaunch the Mac version and to quick build on a Windows machine. After that we want to implement the OpenGL renderer before any other enhancement.
“Of course we still add minor features and make bug fixes when possible. We have other big changes in mind (GUI reorganization, scripting integration, addition of a frame-by-frame module, enabling sound support) but they’re not realistic with the number of current developers.
“We also have a team of people working hard on updating the documentation. Luckily the main leaders of the documentation project, Konstantin Dmitriev and Oliver Horn, are very good at what they are do. It is not an easy task, and it is hard to keep up-to-date without community help.”
In addition to coders and documenters, LÃ³pez says the main thing the project needs is help with promotion. “I’m absolutely sure that the help that we need will come once users and coders understand what Synfig is and how unique and powerful it is.” The best way to make contact is through the project’s forums.