Unity 2D Animation vs Spine: Which One Is Right for Your Game?

We know the struggle of choosing the best animation software is real, no matter if you are a beginner or an experienced developer. To make things a little bit easier, let’s compare Spine vs Unity 2D animation.

Spine vs Unity 2D Animation

Overview of Unity 2D Animation and Spine

Both Unity 2D Animation and Spine are popular tools for creating skeletal animations or cutout 2D animation. For our 2D animation services pipeline, it has many advantages over frame-by-frame animation, from saving time to saving data. Let’s take a closer look at each of these software packages.

Unity 2D Animation

WHAT IS UNITY 2D ANIMATION?

Unity is one of the most popular game development platforms to create games, models, and designs. In 2018 Unity released its 2D animation package that allows you to work within their robust ecosystem. But is Unity good for 2D animation compared to other popular tools?

It has plenty of features you’d normally find in its paid competitors, and it’s a great deal since you get all benefits for no additional costs. The ecosystem allows you to create anything from a Unity 2D isometric game to a platformer.

FEATURES OF UNITY 2D ANIMATION

Unity has a feature of auto-generating the meshes of all the elements of your character. Moreover, if you create bones before the meshes, Unity will even bind them to the meshes and assign the weights. This option can be a huge help for beginners learning how to make 2D game art and animation. Spine doesn’t have these features. Here, you can create the mesh manually or use an auto-trace feature to define the mesh boundaries.

PROS AND CONS OF USING UNITY 2D ANIMATION

✅ Pros
❌ Cons
Built into the Unity ecosystem. 2D game creation is available both in Pro and Free Unity distribution
Vertices can’t be animated. Only bone animation is available, so you can’t get any organic feel
You can generate all the meshes automatically in just a couple of clicks
A bone can’t be animated without effects affecting the children. That is a critical feature for an organic feel, again
Well-arranged project folder structure
A fast computer with a lot of RAM needed
is unity good for 2d

Spine

WHAT IS SPINE?

Spine is one of the market leaders that focuses specifically on 2D animation for games. It has a workflow both for creating animations in the editor and for making use of those same animations in games using the Spine Runtimes. Spine integration libraries support most engines including GameMaker Studio, Cocos2Dx, LOVE, MonoGame, Unity, XNA, Flash, HTML 5, libgdx, Corona, and more.

FEATURES OF SPINE

Spine offers different scripts that make animators’ life a little bit easier. You can use a script for graphic imports. It will run from the software you’ve used to design your character. The script saves image layers as separate PNGs and creates the configuration files alongside.

Then you import the file and the character images will arrange themselves in the same way they were in Photoshop or other software you used. Unity has a similar feature, but it’s compatible with Photoshop files only. If you use any other tool to design your character, you will need to use a spritesheet and assemble the character manually.

PROS AND CONS OF USING SPINE

✅ Pros
❌ Cons
Simplified UI and flexible interface. Spine focuses only on the important tasks of smooth skeletal animation
Professional version is expensive. A cheaper Spine Essential license doesn’t include inverse kinematics, weights, and meshes
Easy learning curve with Spine Academy platform
No integration with lesser-known game engines
Stable and fast even on laptops
Spine 2D alternative

Differences Between Unity and Spine for 2D Animations

Spine and Unity animation both support similar features, but use different approaches. For example, both have inverse kinematics (IK). It allows you to create an anchor for the bones which you can move around and make the constrained bones adjust their movement automatically. It can be useful for animating characters’ legs. However, the logic behind these features differs dramatically.

Spine allows you to constraint up to 2 bones at the same time, and if you need more, you can create a hierarchy of constraints. And what about Unity 2D examples of this feature? In Unity, IK is restricted to exactly 3 bones, and you can not change that setting. Compared to Spine, the control of the IK constraints in Unity is very little.

Workflow and Ease of Use

DIFFERENCES IN WORKFLOW

Unity 2D animation vs Spine have different workflows when it comes to bones creation. The bone creation tool in Unity is not very convenient to use. You need more clicks than in Spine to create a single bone. For the character with many layers and details, that becomes very annoying and time-consuming. Then you need to name each bone manually, bone after bone. In Spine, you can name the bones automatically by simply holding the Shift key while creating the bones. Thus, Spine is more user-friendly when it comes to bones creation. 

No matter what animation tool you choose, make sure to start with concept art for animation first. It will help to convey the look, feel and mood of your scene, and overall will make the production process of the game easier. 

EASE OF USE OF UNITY GAME ENGINE FOR 2D ANIMATION

If you are using Unity as your game engine, it can be more convenient to animate in Unity as well. Thus, you will skip the process of endlessly exporting and importing your animations. It can be very useful, especially if you make a lot of changes. 

EASE OF USE OF SPINE ANIMATIONS

Spine supports more animation techniques and makes it much easier to achieve the organic feel of animation. In Spine, you can control any part of the mesh and animate it the way you like. Unity doesn’t support the free form deformation. You can only animate the bones, but not the mesh vertices.

Unity 2D animation vs Spine

Which Tool is Better for Your Game Animation Needs?

LICENSING DIFFERENCES BETWEEN UNITY 2D ANIMATION AND SPINE

If you are an individual developer, you can get a Unity Personal license for free. You have to make sure you meet the revenue criteria, of course, and always keep that aspect in mind. But you will receive the 2D animation package for no additional cost.

Spine Professional license will cost you $369.
You can buy Spine Essential for $69, but it lacks meshes and other advanced features.

Spine is not cheap, but it’s a one-time fee, compared to Unity Plus and Unity Pro licenses paid annually.

Which Tool Should You Choose?

The 2D animation package from Unity has a lot of potentials. Most of the key features are already there, but in Spine they work a little better. If you are a solo indie developer working on your first game, Unity animation is a good option for you. But for bigger projects, we recommend going with Spine.

Spine vs Unity animation

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Tool

Deciding which tool to use — Spine vs Unity animation — depends on different factors like the size and skills of your team, your experience in game development and the time frames.

TYPE OF GAME

If you are an indie developer making a small game on your own, you can definitely start working with Unity. But keep in mind that Unity requires a faster computer with a lot of RAM. If you are working on a complex game with dozens of characters, we recommend you switch to Spine. It has a much smoother workflow and can work even on laptops. And what if you don’t want to stick to classic 2D graphics, but still want your game to be cheap on hardware? In this case, a 3D game with 2D sprites can be a good alternative for you. 

TEAM SIZE AND EXPERTISE

Since Unity is one of the most popular game engines, it has a huge community behind it. If you have any trouble, active Unity users will support you and help to resolve the issues. Unity’s documentation, however, is not beginner-friendly and seems very complex for a new user. Spine, on the other hand, has plenty of educational options. If you are a beginner, Spine Academy has everything you need to get started learning the tool. It includes detailed documentation, videos, FAQ and forum to get support. Spine Academy will also help you find nearby educational institutions offering Spine courses. 

No matter what animation tool you choose to use, it takes time and resources to master. To speed up the development time, we recommend using game art outsourcing services

BUDGET AND TIME CONSTRAINTS

The high price of Spine is worth it when it comes to saving in development time. And Unity is a good Spine 2D alternative when you are on a budget. Using game animation services is a perfect solution for both saving your time and financial resources.

Final Thoughts on Unity 2D Animation vs Spine

FAQ-Unity 2D Animation vs Spine

Spine allows for easy exporting of artwork from third-party programs thanks to dozens of scripts available. While Unity 2D is perfectly built into the Unity ecosystem. Unity Personal license is free, but at the moment the software feels like a work in progress.  Even though Spine Professional is expensive, it does give all future updates for life and is updated very often.

Both tools share many similar features with slightly different approaches. But Unity automatic meshes generation function is way more superior. Whereas Spine has better IK constraints and bone creation systems. 

Spine has a nice and flexible interface. It focuses only on the important 2D animation aspects and implements them perfectly. Unity 2D animation is a good solution if you’re animating as a hobby or just starting out. And if you are doing this professionally and have cash, we definitely recommend you to use Spine. In the future, Unity can become a strong competitor to Spine. But for now, Spine feels more polished.