When is the last time you drew something for fun? Projects for your job, assignments under a deadline, parts of a larger work — those can all be fun. But when is the last time you drew something just for the sake of drawing? Looom is a new iPad app that encourages imaginative drawing — no strings attached.

The iPad has long held latent potential as a tool for expressive animation. Until now, nobody had really dreamed up an interface that felt more natural and approachable than clunky desktop software. Looom’s creators, Finn and Eran of iorama studio, describe their app as “flipbook animation reimagined,” and that’s exactly what it is.

Think back to View-Master reels or the Zoetrope you might have seen in history books. Looom uses a similar idea, with “thread” reels representing each layer. Every hole in a reel is another frame that can be drawn on. Each reel can contain a different number of frames and loop at a frame rate of your choice.

Animating with Looom requires all hands on deck. You’ll want to set your iPad on a flat surface. With one hand you’ll spin your threads as you use an Apple Pencil to draw with the other. Looom also supports teenage engineering’s ortho remote for a more tactile experience. I imagine it’s a little bit like DJing with shape and color.

Once you get started on an animation, it’s hard to put down. Looom’s interface looks almost featureless, but functionality is progressively disclosed when you need it. That’s what makes the design so approachable and easy to jump in to.

Much of my enjoyment came from learning how to work within constraints. Each project (a “weave”) can contain five threads, and each thread supports just one color. There are no guides, shape tools, or a selection of brushes. Looom isn’t a desktop-class app like After Effects or even Procreate on iPad and its animation tools. I wouldn’t want it to be.

Looom encourages experimentation and rewards creative workarounds. Bending the features to work in an unexpected way doesn’t feel like a hack, as it often does on the desktop. I was delighted to discover you can simulate drop shadows by duplicating a thread and rapidly create animations by drawing *during* playback. I won’t give away all the tricks, you’ll have to discover them yourself.

To export your animations for sharing, Looom offers a screen recording feature that saves to your camera roll, where you can trim and crop the video using iOS 13’s editing tools. Expert users can also connect their iPads to a Mac and extract SVG files for use in an app like Adobe Animate. I’d like to see more seamless options like GIF export or one-tap sharing. iorama says they are exploring more formats for the future. In the meantime, apps like GIPHY can get the job done. 

Looom is $9.99 and a great way to let your imagination wander. If you’re not convinced, check out the #madewithlooom hashtag on Instagram to see what other artists are making.

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