A Review of Reallusion’s iClone 5
If you’re involved in 3D animation, you know how much work is involved to create even the shortest of projects. First you’ve got to model and texture the characters, set up the rigs, make all the props, light the scene and then of course animate it all. That’s a tall order for anyone to do, even seasoned pros.
For those who have a story to tell and would rather not spend months, or even years cloistered away behind a machine painstakingly creating the worlds and characters that will bring their tale to life, there is another option: iClone 5 from Reallusion.
With iClone, you have a remarkable abundance of tools to create your own animated movies in a fraction of the time it would take to cook everything up from scratch yourself. Available in the program are fully rigged customizable characters, sets, backgrounds, terrains, props and much more.
Content is King
Think of iClone as offering up a major Hollywood studio on your PC. Often, large studios have backlots with pre-constructed stages and environments. Does your movie take place in New York? Just go to the studio’s New York lot. Need a prop for that location? Just pay a visit to the props department. iClone is a virtual version of just that approach.
iClone comes with enough content to get you started. You simply drag characters, props and sets onto your stage from the content manager. When your production calls for something more, you can visit Reallusion’s online Marketplace where you can purchase much, much more. Want more specific collections? You’ll find all sorts of useful content packs available, such as a range of different characters with many different hair styles, clothes, shoes, faces and costumes. Need a superhero? Not a problem. What about a policeman, fireman, wizard, witch, monk, or 3D cartoon character? You can have that, as well as extensive ‘environments’ such as a medieval castle or even a virtual Times Square.
What’s interesting here is how far Reallusion has gone to develop its online marketplace. Its easy to use City Marketplace Service allows users of iClone (as well as their other products such as CrazyTalk Animator PRO) to surf, download and insert a complete trial version of the content into their movie scenes on a “try before you buy” basis. This includes content that’s been created by iClone users around the world, so if you’re good with design, you might have a bit of an income stream from that alone.
Aside from all of this, there are libraries of motions available online that you can apply to your characters. There, you’ll find many pre-made motion files for all kinds of movement. For example, the Adventure Movies Motion Pack contains motions based on common movements that are found in adventure movies such as creeping through a cave, the movements of a hero, overcoming obstacles and so on. Other motion packs include communication, lovers, rock band, comedic clowns, dog motion, kung fu, dancing, combat, fantasy and many others.
I highly recommend you visit the online content store for yourself and spend some time browsing through that is available for iClone. Not only is it a lot of fun, it will also spark your imagination and might inspire you to create deeper and more visually rich stories.
Characters and props
iClone actors can be customized in many ways. Want your actor to be thinner, fatter, taller or shorter? How about a bigger nose or stronger chin? Need the eyes further apart or perhaps you’d prefer a darker complexion? All of these parameters can be changed to suit your needs in the Modify window.
Compared with all the nose-to-the-monitor work that goes into creating characters in a typical animation package, here it’s actually a lot of fun playing around with the different settings and watching the character instantly assume different looks. You can even randomize the settings. A nice touch to iClone’s approach is that by modifying one actor, you can form many different characters from that one instance.
Of course, you might want to change the actor’s clothes too. You can’t have him or her showing up at the opera in jeans and a tee. Changing attire is easy too. Simply double click to change pants, shirts, jackets, hats and even hair styles.
Props and sets often come with behaviors built into them. I was surprised to discover upon dragging a tree from the content manager to the stage that when I pressed the play button, the leaves and branches began to subtly sway as if they were affected by the wind. Water also comes with a built in wave motion. Simply add water to your scene and it not only starts to move up and down, but it takes on real time reflections.
Interactive Props are new in iClone 5 and feature the new Lua (lightweight multi-paradigm programming) language. This means that you can command your props to animate automatically.
While the online market place contains scads of motion files for you to use in your projects, you can also animate your character manually. Especially noteworthy is that in Reallusion v5 the company has licensed the Human IK (inverse kinematics) system from none other than Autodesk. Human IK forms the core technology behind AutoDesk’s professional Motion Builder software and contains a very high level rig with many advanced features such as pinning, reach targets and full-body inverse kinematics. With the advanced Human IK system, you can create sophisticated character animation within iClone for yourself.
But one of the most fun and interesting new developments in iClone 5 is its ability to use Microsoft’s Kinect motion sensor to allow you to do your own motion capture in your home or small studio. With the Mocap Device Plug-in and two Kinects, you can turn your iClone 5 setup into a mini motion capture studio and use your own body to control virtual actors and record their motion in real time. While this isn’t traditional, high-end mo cap which requires pricey multiple cameras along with a fair-sized studio, the results are still pretty impressive. Look for further developments in this capability in future versions.
More control over motion comes from stringing together different motion files and then applying the MixMoves system to automatically generate natural transitions between them. For example, you might apply a motion to your character that makes her dance, then you apply another one that makes her sit on the floor. MixMoves will automatically sequence motions and blend them together in a natural, believable manner.
Another way to control motion: puppeteering controls that you can control in real time with your mouse. By layering these puppet motions on top of each other, you can create effective animation quickly and effectively and in less time than keyframing.
Physics and particles
iClone 5 contains rigid and soft body dynamics which allow you to simulate the falling, collision and bouncing of objects; options allow you to control mass, friction, damping and other parameters. You can apply physics to both props and characters.
Need your character or prop to smash through a stack of barrels? What about a brick wall? Just use the dynamics system. The physics engine can also handle cloth simulations: vary parameters such as material stiffness to simulate anything from wispy silk to thick linen.
Traditional VFX are also included. The iClone 5’s particle generator creates fire, smoke, sparks or other particle driven effects such as a wizard’s magic dust. Attach the particle generator to the end of a log, for example, to make your character look like he or she is holding a flaming torch.
iClone 5 now has Ambient Occlusion when rendering. You might think of them as shadows, but ambient occlusion, or AO as it is sometimes known, simulates the natural way objects diminish the amount of light they receive the closer they are to each other. Meanwhile a new toon shader will give your renders a unique flair. iClone 5 also has a new camera gizmo that allows you to control multiple cameras more easily.
Other useful developments in the new version include the multiple duplicate dialogue; this allows you to duplicate objects while transforming their rotation and scale. These cloner-type effects are useful when constructing things like spiral staircases or other repeating structures. You can now also edit the position of the pivot in your objects giving you better control over its rotation and scaling.
Reallusion has done an impressive job with iClone 5. Not only is it just the thoughtful engineering and sheer scope of the software. I appreciate the considerable development that has gone into creating content and the online marketplace.
iClone has many more interesting features than I’ve covered here. As mentioned before, it’s a bit like having a movie production studio at your fingertips complete with backlot sets, a stable of actors, a props department, pre-choreographed motion and more.
Large 3D productions often require teams of artists and animators who might toil away for months or even years. At some of the larger studios a single animator’s average output for one week can result in only two or three seconds of work. He’s not even involved in modeling, rigging, texturing or lighting. However not everyone with interesting ideas for animation has access to an army of talented individuals or the time to spend.
That’s when you’ll appreciate iClone 5. It simply gives you a tremendous head start in making your next project. If you’re new to 3D animation or just don’t have the time or the patience to start from square one, think of iClone as the fast track way for getting your story out there.
The cost to get involved? It’s minimal: iClone Pro v5 lists at $199. More information can be found on Reallusion’s website.