Who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Bahi JD. I'm a 21 year old freelance animator and illustrator/character designer living in Austria/Vienna. I mainly work in the Japanese animation industry and freelance on both commercial and indie projects/music videos.
Recently I participated as an animator on "Kids on the Slope", directed by Shinichirō Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo). I've also done FX and Character animation for Konami's Skullgirls. Currently I'm a key-animator on a Studio 4°C feature film (the studio behind Tekkon Kinkreet, Animatrix, Mind Game).
I do all my work at home through the Internet, since the people and studios I work with are very far away. You can check out some of my works on my tumblr.
What hardware do you use?
At home, I work on an iMac 27" (3.4 GHz Intel Core i7) which I've upgraded to 16GB of RAM and a 2GB AMD Radeon HD 6970M. The hard drive is 1TB, and there are 3 external drives which have 2TB in total (more than enough currently). I draw on the Wacom Intuos 4 (L, A4 size) which is not that necessary, actually - I think a medium size tablet would be enough.
I also have emergency tools: an old Bamboo Fun (Medium) combined with a MacBook Pro 13" which I use while I'm away from home. I enjoy working with the Intuos 4 more, but the final result is the same when I work with the Bamboo. The MacBook Pro 13" is an i5 2.4 GHz with 4 GB of RAM - it's enough, since I don't work on it that often.
For printing stuff and scanning my analog pencil drawings, I use the Epson Stylus SX218.
During work, while I listen to music, I just turn on the speakers of the iMac. If the music is disturbing for someone I plug in the standard Apple Earphones - they're not the highest quality, but they're enough during working/drawing.
I want to be flexible and be able to work under any kind of circumstances, and do good work even with software/hardware limitations and other issues, so I just try to get over it and deal with the sound coming out of the Apple Earphones. But for serious sound editing, I borrow the Audio Technica ATH-M50 headphones from the university where I study multimedia (we have all kind of equipment there).
Music is playing a really big role for me during work - some animators like Milt Kahl said they like total silence while they animate, but it's the opposite for me. I like to get inspired and influenced by music/sound, which creates a specific atmosphere and energy during work. Currently I listen to Lone (Matt Cutler)'s Galaxy Garden and Ventla. Sometimes I just plugin the earphones to the iPhone 4 and listen to my Soundcloud favorites at work.
When I'm doing something else, I like to listen to my surroundings.
And what software?
For drawing/sketch/illustration/storyboard, I use Photoshop CS5, and some plugins like Coolorus (a nice color picker) or Alien Skin's Exposure 4 (I like the grain options) and Bokeh 2. For animating, I use Adobe Flash CS5 and compositing gets done in After Effects. Basically the whole CS5 package for most of my work, except Final Cut Pro for film editing.
Everything you see on my site is animated or drawn in Flash (except the latest ones, which are EasyToon). I get messages from people who can't believe I've animated these things in Flash, because when it's about Flash animation they have a different kind of style in mind (motion tweening and stuff, which I never do), but you can just draw/animate everything frame by frame by hand, as if it were done on paper. There are many professional animators that work in Flash these days, such as Ryo-Chimo and Shingo Yamashita, and I think some guys from the new Motorcity Cartoon recently used it.
But the tool does not bring the masterpiece - work with what you are comfortable with. I'm not saying that Flash is the ultimate tool; animators like Toshiyuki Inoue still work analog and their work is just amazing. I just use Flash as a blank piece of paper with a brush and bucket tool, and the onion skin function which shows the previous frames.
And that's how traditional animation gets done digitally in the first place, for me and many others in the industry. People find it really difficult to draw in Flash, and I had the same difficulties at the beginning and wasn't convinced, but you get used to it with practice (with the right brush preferences), and you'll be able to draw lines just as you do in Photoshop. You have to imagine it as animation frames on a piece of paper that gets scanned and polished and so on. Of course, you can use your rough Flash lines in the final rendering but it all depends.
If you think that Flash is a bit too complicated for starting out, I would suggest you try practicing animation in EasyToon. It's very simple animation software, but sadly only for Windows (thankfully there's Boot Camp for the Mac - I forgot to mention that I work on OS X Lion). I did this animation called SHITHEAD ACTION completely in EasyToon in 2009 when I was around 17 and doing lots of practicing (sorry, there's no sound). There's something similar to EasyToon on the Nintendo DS called Flipnote Studio.
For After Effects, director and friend Takuya Hosogane suggested this plugin which is very helpful, Background Renderer Pro (the title says it all). I also practice 3D sculpting with Pixologic's Sculptris, which is free and something for the beginners before getting started with ZBrush.
For writing the screenplay of my short-film (which is still in production) I used Final Draft, which a friend suggested to me.
What would be your dream setup?
We've been born with the dream setup, it's the mind in your head. To be honest, I have more than enough and dreaming about setups is not my cup of tea - it's more fun to dream about stories, characters and other visions and visuals.
Seriously, the iMac and Intuos are really awesome. I don't want the tools to be my weakness or my limit. It's always a great advantage if you are flexible. I don't want to feel disabled just because I don't have the best hardware/software. Creativity and drawing have no limits if you struggle for them. It's not just the big budget that makes a good movie. Lol, I'm just basic quoting around.
But since childhood, I've been told many times that it's almost impossible to become a key-animator for Japanese anime without living in Japan or having experience there inside the studio. I couldn't suddenly go and live in Japan for many reasons, and I had no time to just wait around imagining that someday, somehow I would finally live in Japan and work there.
Of course it's great if you can get there, but if you can't don't just give it up. I just dealt with the fact that I was in Austria and I tried to get this job with the circumstances I faced. There was hope, "the Internet".
What I want to say is that you can reach your dreams under any circumstances. Whatever the reason might be that you can't afford your dream setup, don't worry - it won't stop you from doing what you love to do.