Jasper Sharp investigates the hype over “free” animation software.

He is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Japanese Cinema. Michael Arias will be appearing atMCM Expo in the last weekend of May.

Last month, a press release went out under the heading ‘TOONZ goes Open Source!’ The revolutionary 2-D animation software, developed for the professional market by the Rome-based company Digital Video in 1993 and originally distributed by Softimage as Creative Toonz, has now been placed freely within the reach of the independent and the amateur filmmaker, and it was a Japanese company that had put it there.

That company was Dwango, a “new media” specialist and video portal provider founded in 1997 which counts the Japanese video sharing site Nico Nico Douga and the games developer Spike Chunsoft among its interests. Dwango is part of the Kadokawa Dwango holding company, established in 2014 through a merger with the Kadokawa media conglomerate. It was a match made in heaven: the Kadokawa side of “content creation” coupled with Dwango’s clout in the field of online distribution.

But it was a rather more familiar Japanese name that stole the story and caused such a stir within the animation community. Most of the news pieces that proliferated in the wake of the original announcement noted that it was the TOONZ Studio Ghibli Version that was being made available under its new name of OpenToonz.

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