Monthly Archives: November 2011

Family Portrait

According to an irritating little pop-up I get every time I open my iClone trial version, I have nine days left to figure out how to use it.

Not likely to happen.

But I have made progress. Because the software as a whole completely overwhelmed me, I decided to focus on just one aspect of it at a time. It’s taken the entire month, but I’m confident now about puppet creation and the face mapping technology unique to this platform. I’ve learned to make and import hair, retexture and alpha-edit clothing using  iClone’s built-in features (as opposed to using Milkshape and SimPe, as I had to do with Sims 2), and tonight I experimented with motion layers. Saving, recording, and filming a scene is still beyond me, but I did succeed in photographing my little puppet family in some very convincing poses. I’ve uploaded a few for your entertainment—or for use as scarecrows when you plant your garden next spring.  :-0

I still have much to learn. Set creation, shadows and lighting. Camera technique. Animation sequences. Soft body and hard body physics. Motion capture. Gaah! Makes my head hurt just thinking about it.

But you know, seems like I remember feeling exactly that way when I downloaded the trial version of Milkshape. And when I opened a SimPe package file for the first time. Two things occur to me: first, just as it is today with those programs, so it will be after I’ve spent a little more time with iClone. And secondly, all those hours I spent meshing and recoloring and pulling my hair out trying to learn 3D modeling for the Stonehaven machinima were NOT wasted. That experience is paying off in spades now.

The iClone process is actually much simpler than anything I’ve done before. Retexturing is done within the software itself—there’s even a “launch” feature that opens my graphics editor from the main panel. But for all this ease of use, if I didn’t already know how to alter a texture file or do a clean alpha edit, I would be even farther behind the eightball. Six months of creating custom content for the Stonehaven video put me ahead of the curve and gave me an excellent foundation to build on.

Now for the pictures.

First, the real deal. This is a group shot of my family taken a few days ago while my son Jay was visiting:

Next are screenshots I made of us as iClone puppets. I made the Scott puppet first, and I see such a difference in quality between it and the others that I’ve decided to remake him. That will be my project for tomorrow. I was fairly satisfied with my own likeness, and Jay’s turned out pretty well, too. (He chose this hair for the puppet while he was here, because it looks like his did before he went stupid and buzzed it all off.) But the Laura puppet (my daughter)—holy cow. It looks more like her than the photo up there. How does that happen, I wonder?


Gathering No Moss

From one project right into the next–I downloaded the trial versions of iClone Pro 5 and 3DXchange, which only give me 30 days to figure out whether or not I can learn this platform. Yikes! So I’ve been practicing round the clock. My laptop might be permanently attached to my knees by now. Anybody know a good surgeon in case I need it removed?

So far, I’m loving every aspect of this 3D animation tool. It’s a powerhouse. Comparing it to a game engine like Sims 2 is rouqhly akin to comparing Microsoft Paint to Adobe Photoshop CS5. Or tin cans and a string to a Smartphone.

I’ve found no real disadvantages yet. Of course, I’ve only learned to skin new characters and just yesterday finally figured out how to make them move. So to say I have no issues with the platform is a bit premature. Still, though–I’m getting some pretty impressive results. I’ve included screenshots in this post of characters I designed based on real human actors. I may never be the world’s best at photoaccuracy when it comes to texturing these puppets. However, the improvement over Sims 2 in visual and animation quality–even with my clumsy efforts–is amazing.

One thing I don’t like is the hair currently available for iClone puppets. I’m confident that I can overcome this by creating my own meshes, and I cobbled together one or two for these characters just to see if it could be done. The answer is yes. The trial version of 3DXchange, however, only allows 12 exports. Which means I can’t tweak and tinker with the meshes enough to get them right. For now, it’s a one-shot deal. This will cease to be an issue once I purchase the full version of 3DXchange, which of course has no such limitations. Then I can fully customize props, puppets, and every accessory I can dream up–even legally sell those items to other users. How cool is that?

Another great thing about iClone is the willingness of its creators to facilitate customization. With Sims 2, it took an entire community of hackers several years to provide us with tools to “build our world,” as the SimPe splash screen says. With iClone, all this information is published by the copyright holder. For example, in one of the tutorials offered by Reallusion (the creators of iClone), we learn that iclone puppet bodies take their shading from a 10X10 pixel square located in the top left corner of their texture map. So if you want to alter the skin shading of the puppet, alter the color of the pixels within that 10X10 region. This is from the “horse’s mouth,” the Reallusion animation and graphic artists themselves.

I uploaded a very short video to YouTube so I can show everyone how these characters move. Keep in mind, because this is a trial version, I’m restricted to a certain resolution (size), can’t anti-alias (smooth the edges of puppets and props so they don’t look pixellated), and there’s an ugly iClone watermark all over the rendered video. My camera work is sloppy, the background is a featureless demo, and I didn’t set the facial animations to this puppet’s unique bone structure because I don’t know how yet. So her smile looks a wee bit goofy. Still, though–not as goofy as Sims in their natural state.

Hopefully, in six months I’ll look back at this first rendered video from iClone and laugh at how amateurish it is. 🙂

Left On Stonehaven, excerpt

Allow me to introduce the opening chapters of a true masterpiece: Carol Kean’s Left on Stonehaven.

Meet the cast of Stonehaven in this explosive introductory excerpt. Take a journey through their world of teenage angst and adult depravity, where egos clash with blind faith and monsters lurk in the beds of children rather than under them. Travel through time and space with Julian as he taps into the consciousness of an entire town, close your eyes with Romany as she retreats deep into herself to block out the horror her life has become.

Most of all, enjoy the read.



Synchronicity of the Best Kind

This morning I received an email that got me so excited I did a Snoopy dance. Through Carol, I learned that a fellow IWW-affiliated writer clicked on the Stonehaven link and an ad for her own novel popped up beside it. Now, that’s more than coincidence. That’s synchronicity, perhaps even Providence.

Even more fascinating, the ad also featured Ann Hite’s novel, Ghost On Black Mountain. Here’s what Rebecca had to say when she sent me the screenshot (quoted with her permission):

“Rhonda– here ya go. Carol sent me the link for your video of her novel, and when I pulled it up I also saw this B&N ad for my book and Ann’s (hers in duplicate, no less!). As you can see from the search bar and my tabs, I had been spending my evening doing some narcissistic Googling of my reviews and watching South Park and Malcolm in the Middle videos. Such is the life of a novelist under deadline and champion procrastinator. Enjoy :-)”

I can’t put my finger on why this thrills me so much. Sure, I’m tickled to death for Rebecca and Ann. But it’s more than that for me. Like walking through the streets after Apocalypse and seeing other living humans rise from the rubble, unscathed and healthy. Most other writers know that the condition of the current publishing industry is apocalyptic at best. But this. . .THIS. . .is thrilling, and I will shamelessly enjoy the moment with Rebecca and Ann and wish them success beyond their wildest dreams.

The photo will enlarge with enough clarity for you to read the Barnes and Noble ad on the right side.

Left On Stonehaven, The Machinima

Well, the day long awaited by Carol and me is here at last–Stonehaven just went live on YouTube:

I can’t believe I was actually nervous about releasing this video. I guess because so much heart and soul went into the project–not to mention all the hair that got jerked out by the roots, nails that got chewed down to nubs. . . .

Thanks for watching!