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. 🙂