From Gouache to Gadgets: Shopping For the Animator on Your Holiday Gift List

A Tablet For Drawing Directly To Your Computer Makes a Perfect Gift. Alex Buga/Flickr
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Whether that person on your holiday shopping list is a die-hard animator or a just-for-fun animation enthusiast, gifts that suit their interests are sure to big a big hit during the holiday season. Perhaps you'd like to get them something that they can use: that gadget they've always been wanting, a boost to their software-bogged systems, or maybe just something fun and memorable related to their favorite animation topic--anything that'll make their faces light up in that way you'd been hoping for.

If you're struggling to pick out a gift, this little guide can give you a hand in narrowing down your choices. And if any of my family or friends are reading this...just consider this my Christmas wish list (and a not-so-subtle hint).

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2D Software

If you're shopping for a computer animator and you want to get them something truly valuable, software is the way to go. Animation software packages can get a little pricy, so gifting someone with one of the major brand-name packages will be a great way to show them that you appreciate them to the point where money is no object. It's also a great way to support their ventures in independent animation.

If your animator is into 2D, then Adobe's Flash should be at the top of your Christmas shopping lists. If you'd like to go the extra mile and expand on that, Creative Suite combines the multiple acclaimed Adobe products for animation, design, and web production.

For the 2D traditionalist, there's Toon Boom Studio, Toon Boom Solo, and Toon Boom Harmony, programs that take a more traditional approach to the process of computerizing cel animation with some great effects.

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3D Software

In the world of 3D, there are, of course, many programs to choose from--but the largest and most familiar names in the industry are Maya and 3D Studio Max. For the architectural and drafting animator, ​there's also AutoCAD.

Which should you get? Get to know your potential recipient. Ask sneaky questions; you may even get lucky and have them tell you right out that they've been wanting to get a certain software package.

If those aren't within your budget, check out CNet's, which offers a comprehensive directory listing of downloadable programs in many areas, including 2D and 3D animation programs at affordable prices. You can shop listings and compare features to find the package that has just what you want to get for your gift recipient, without breaking the bank.

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One problem with high-end animation software is that it's a little demanding in the area of system requirements, and without the power to run it, sometimes we can't use it. Maybe the animator you're shopping for has all the software they need, but their computer's having difficulty handling it; while you could always go so far as to buy them a new computer, buying upgrades can be a lot more cost-efficient.

A few extra sticks of RAM can let you give the gift of available system resources; an extra hard drive will ease the mind of the animator-turned-packrat who can't stand to delete a single iteration of a project.

Video cards make a nice gift as well; most associate video cards with an enhanced gaming experience, but the developers behind the animation in those games need those enhanced graphics just as much.

Buying hardware upgrades for someone else's computer can be a little tricky, though. If you can, at least find out the make and model of their computer, and research the specs to see what kind of available upgrade space it has.

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The most obvious computer peripheral that an animator would need is a graphics tablet

Some features to consider when shopping for a tablet are price, pressure sensitivity, and working area. For instance, you can get an Adesso CyberTablet 12000 with an enormous 12"x9" working area but you sacrifice pressure sensitivity and quality--as while the CyberTablet is a fairly good tablet and fine for everyday use, there's still a noticeable difference between that and a higher-quality Intuos or Graphire. Both tablets have smaller working areas and a higher price tag--but also higher pressure sensitivity and a smoother interaction between the pen and the tablet surface.

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Art Supplies

One thing you can never give enough of is art supplies. 2D animators go through non-photo-blue pencils like mad. If your animator has an artistic bent beyond animation, then you can also pick up some inking pens, brushes, pencils, pastels, sketchbooks, markers, color pencils, and paints (watercolors, acrylics, and oils are all popular).

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Art supplies are a great gift if you're working on a tight budget; although they're inexpensive and quickly exhausted, you can never have too many of them and they're always welcome. But side accessories can make good gifts, as well. Light tables are essential for hand-drawn 2D animation, and things like lap desks can take that animation process away from the uncomfortable, cramped restriction of the desk or art table.

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Odds are your animator is either an avid cartoon and film fan, an avid gamer, an avid artist, or any combination of the three. With that in mind, why not pick up some media from their favorite genre?

Before you buy a game, though, make sure that it's supported by the platform(s) they have, or you may end up buying a gaming console to go with it.

Also on the media front, you can always give books--art books, instruction books, or books on any other animation and art-related topic under the sun. And for the gift that keeps on giving year round, try out a magazine subscription or two.

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That's right, animators need our own furniture. Drafting tables, stools--you name it, we want it. And none of those hard, painful wooden stools, either. If I'm going to spend hours bowed over a light table or squinting at a computer screen, I want something comfortable underneath my bottom so I don't end up with the animator's equivalent of saddle sores.

Padded drafting chairs and stools can be a nice gift if the person you're shopping for spends a lot of time at the art table. For the computer-riveted recipient, however, you may want to look for something a bit plusher; leather executive office chairs are a comfy fit, and a nice step up from the standard computer chair. And let's not forget the tables themselves; drafting tables/art desks come in a variety of sizes and styles, from the foldaway style to the traditionally tilted easel style. You can even buy them in entire sets that include lighting and chairs.

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Does your animation-enthused giftee have a yen for a particular game, series, or animated film? Do they love collectibles from it--apparel, stuffed toys, or any sort of memorabilia? Then try shopping around the company stores. The Disney Store carries merchandise from any number of their hundreds of successful cartoons and films, as does the Warner Brothers store. You can even buy original cels from the films, sometimes signed by the animators themselves.

My personal favorite is AnimeNation. Nintendo sells toys, t-shirts, etc.; so does Sony, Blizzard, and many other animation and gaming studios. Letting loose in any of their stores can be like letting a kid run wild in a candy store; there's so much to buy, and you may even want to pick up something for yourself.

With these ideas in mind, you should have no trouble picking out a gift for the animation aficionado on your holiday shopping list. The only problem may be picking just one.