Procreate Dreams review: accessible, powerful, creative… faultless

When news broke that Savage Interactive (who now trade on the name Procreate) announced Procreate Dreams, the arts community poured forth endless streams of enthusiasm, excitement and praise, before even getting their hands on the software.

Procreate has been around for some time now and has a reputation amongst hobbyists and professionals alike, for being one of the most intuitive and powerful tools for drawing and painting on iOS devices. It works across iPhones and iPads old and new, as well as being the perfect companion for those using the Apple Pencil.

On top of the technical abilities of the app, fans applaud Procreate for the way they listen to the user base. On top of that there is also their business model, with no subscriptions, just a flat fee, making it accessible to all. (Read our Procreate review for more about this digital painting app.)

So, does Procreate Dreams take this ethos into four dimensions? That’s right, Procreate Dreams is an animation app, looking to bring the same level of power, agility and usability to a new generation of animators. If you don’t want to read on then the simple answer is yes. Very much so; Procreate Dreams is everything you could want from Procreate.

Procreate Dreams review: what is it?

Procreate Dreams; a time line in an animation app

Flipbook is Procreate Dreams’ homage to traditional cel animation, and it’s dead easy to use. Image by Nikolai Lockertsen. (Image credit: Nikolai Lockertsen)

Procreate Dreams is a 2D animation application that is exclusively available on the Apple App Store. It aims to blend traditional animation tools and techniques with the cutting edge, taking advantage of modern technologies, while paying homage to the classics. 

I’ve been testing the Procreate Dreams beta version ahead of release to get to grips with its workflows and abilities and, with my twenty years plus animation experience, I can safely say I’m a little blown away by it. I’ve never used a piece of software that is so intuitive that I’d happily hand it to my particularly un tech-savvy mother, confident that she would be able to understand it.

This is due to some wonderful UI work, which has everything in just the right place, easily falling under hand (or Apple Pencil). Gestures are present here and feel as second nature as they do for any other aspect of using an iPad. This comes into play in an even more striking way when having fun in performance mode, more on that later.

Procreate has always had a reputation for listening to its user base and the community trusts and respects them for it

Before I talk more about the software and how it feels in use I want to take a minute to salute Procreate for its choice of business model. The cost of living crisis is still very much present and the number of monthly subscription payments everybody is making seems to increase all the time.

While this can be good in some cases, where it reduces the overall investment, or gives an opt out opportunity, it can be taxing on people’s budgets. Procreate has gone for a single purchase fee with Procreate Dreams, which is low enough to be affordable for the vast majority and means less expense to budget for long term. Procreate has always had a reputation for listening to its user base and the community trusts and respects them for it. 

Read our guide, ‘Procreate Dreams: everything you need to know‘ for a detailed breakdown of this app’s features.

Procreate Dreams review: how does it work?

Procreate Dreams review; art and video on iPads

Keyframing offers a non-destructive workflow, while the app also supports 4K video editing, including real time zoom. (Image credit: Nikolai Lockertsen / Sk8 2 Create by 21-19)

So, what is Procreate Dreams like in use? To answer that I’ll give you a quick run down of the UI, so you can get an idea of how it works. If you are familiar with Procreate then you’ll feel right at home. In fact the brush tools are taken directly from Procreate, so drawing elements for your animations is easy, with a brush for any task you can imagine. 

The overall look and feel is similar to Procreate too. It’s clear a lot of thought has been put into the user experience. Everything is clean and readable and, more importantly, there isn’t much in the way of menu diving needed. Where multiple options for a tool or task are needed, it’s a matter of a single click on an icon, then choosing from a pop up. Intuitive, easy and allows you to work fast. The interface never gets in the way.

The interface itself is split in two. The top half houses the canvas/workspace area, while the lower section is home to the timeline and corresponding tools. The timeline is a thing of beauty to work with. Gestures make it easy to navigate even complex, stacked  timelines with multiple elements. Various pinches or swipes are used for finding your place, or resizing your viewing area, ideal for keyframing or onion skin style animation. The gestures feel natural and become second nature very quickly, as they are the most intuitive method of interacting with your projects.

The timeline is a thing of beauty to work with. Gestures make it easy to navigate even complex, stacked timelines with multiple elements.

Procreate Dreams makes use of a number of animation styles, from the classic to the modern. Each of these has their place and, depending on what you are trying to achieve, your choice will be pretty clear. I’ve found two features incredibly useful…

First, Onion Skinning. This is based on the classic method of hand animating, laying one sheet over the next, to draw successive images, which when played back produce the animation. In Dreams it works just the same. You can easily adapt the animated elements layer to create a new frame, with a faded view of the previous frame shown too, making it a breeze to animate motion that stays believable while retaining the ability to stylise. As with much of Procreate Dreams, this is a real pleasure to do and scrolling through the frames can give a real sense of fun as well as achievement.

Then there’s Keyframing; this is kind of like onion skinning on full throttle. You dictate the placement and orientation of a given element, at a given time, move to another point in time and set new positions and orientation. Procreate Dreams then fill in the blanks, meaning you can work very fast, letting the software do the leg work. It’s easy to go in and add more keyframes if you wish to tweak the motion.

Procreate Dreams review: how does it perform?

The cutting edge of Procreate Dreams animation tools is labeled Performance mode. As you may have guessed this takes live input to adjust elements in time. In practice this is huge fun and belies the power that is being demonstrated. If you wanted to animate a flower waving in the breeze, you could do this with any of the three methods.

However Performance mode lets you lay down a grid of points, then drag them live, while recording. The points correspond to a mesh which morphs the element over time, following the user’s motion. This is massive. It saves huge amounts of time, allows for organic feeling animations and is a real hoot. It’s hard to explain quite how good this way of animating is, so take my word for it, it is awesome.

Procreate Dreams has a lot more going on for it than just these animation methods. There are text tools, effects such as blurs. You can import art, photos and videos and huge amounts more. It can fit well into a wider pipeline too, with project settings for frame rates, codec and more. On top of this there is no waiting for loading or saving. It all happens instantly, even with larger projects. Open one form the gallery page and it is there, ready to play through. I’m not sure how they have managed this realtime rendering but it is truly remarkable.

Procreate Dreams review: should I buy it?

Procreate Dreams combines the familiar with the groundbreaking. Users of Procreate will feel right at home, while animators coming from different software will find getting started just as easy. 

The friendly workflow belies the sophistication of the results that can be achieved. Performance mode is a blast and makes it literally child’s play to create stunning animations, even on older devices. If you want to dip your toe in the animation waters, or would to add a portable tool to your workflow, then Procreate Dreams is like no other app out there. 

Landing the killer punch for anyone who owns an iPad is the price, you get the complete app for just $19.99 – no subscription, no extra payments or in-app purchases to add to the cost. This is a pro-level animation app, working seamlessly on iPad for under $20. How good is that?

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