Studio Ghibli's Howl's Moving Castle
Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle - does this look familiar to you?Studio Ghibli

Toonz, the animation software used by Futurama and Studio Ghibli, is going open source and will soon be free for any aspiring animator looking to be the next Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata. From March 26, anyone will be able to download and use the "Toonz Ghibli Edition" which includes custom-features that Toonz developed for the Japanese animation house.

Created by Italian studio Digital Video, Toonz is used to turn hand-drawn art into vector graphics and can even turn a single drawing into a complete animated sequence.

Toonz was acquired by Japanese telecommunications and media company Dwango on 18 March. However, Digital Video will continue to develop and offer installation, configuration, training, support and customisation services to studios.

"The contract with Dwango, which offers the Toonz open source platform to the animation community, has enabled Digital Video to realize one of its strategies, i.e. to make of Toonz a world standard for 2D animation," said Claudio Mattei, managing director at Digital Video, in a statement. "This deal will be also the starting point of a new exciting plan to endorse the Open Source business model, by supporting training and customizing Toonz for the old and new users. We are proud to share this path with Dwango and with Studio Ghibli, the renowned Toonz user since 1995."

It has been the go-to software for Rough Draft, the studio behind Futurama, and Studio Ghibli, who produced films like The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle and The Wind Rises. It has also been used in the production of several Hollywood films, TV series and games as well including Fox's Anastasia, Amblimation's Balto, MTV's The Maxx and Psygnosis's Discworld 2.

"Our requirement was that in order to continue producing theatre-quality animation without additional stress, the software must have the ability to combine the hand-drawn animation with the digitally painted ones seamlessly," said Atushi Okui, executive imaging director at Studio Ghibli.

A premium version will also be sold at a "very competitive price" for companies who want to invest in customised Toonz features for major projects. The announcement to remove the financial restrictions is a welcome one for the animation industry, from established studios to smaller animation houses and independent animators looking to hone their craft and expand the creative sector.

The open source version of Toonz will be officially unveiled at Anime Japan in Tokyo which runs from 26-27 March.