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iClone Animation Pipeline review

By Jahirul Amin

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Date Added: 13th November 2013

iClone 5.5 is well-known in the industry for its great storyboarding, previsualization, character creation and short film making capabilities. Jahirul Amin puts it to the test!


Product: iClone Animation Pipeline

Company: Reallusion

Website: www.reallusion.com/iclone

Key features:

* Real-time animation
* Drag-and-drop creation
* Character templates
* Kinect Mo-cap Plug-in compatibility
* Easily transfer assets with FBX
* Motion Puppeteering – Body and Face
* Motion Editing
* Audio Lip-sync

Star Rating: 4.5 / 5

In this review, I will be taking a closer look at the latest release of iClone from the Reallusion gang, plus 3DXchange, which makes up the iClone Animation Pipeline. I had heard many good things about this package, such as its ability to allow for great storyboarding, previsualization, character creation and short film making in the form of Machinima (making films using game engines) to name a few. So what did I think of it? Read on to find out…

"Think of it as creating an animation in a game-engine, a very fancy game-engine with bells and whistles abundant"

So, iClone. What is it and how does it compare to other 3D packages, such as Maya, 3ds Max, Softimage and MODO? Well, like the aforementioned packages and others like it, iClone is an animation package. What makes it different is that everything is created in real-time and what you see on the screen is the final result. Think of it as creating an animation in a game engine – a very fancy game-engine with bells and whistles abundant.

When you first open iClone 5.5, you will be presented with a very cleverly thought-out piece of kit. On the left-hand side, you have the Content Manager and the Scene Manager. The main bulk of the screen will be filled with the 3D viewport and on the right-hand side, you have the Modify panel. At the top of the screen you have a tidy set of tabs that are ordered in such a manner that you can create a project by running through them in sequence – although you will undoubtedly go back-and-forth between the tabs. Each tab has a sub-set of menus to help in the asset creation/customization process and at the bottom of the interface you have the playback tools.

All in all, if you are familiar with other 3D packages, there is no doubt that you will be able to jump straight in and create. For those with minimal or little experience, there is a slight learning curve, but one that does not leave the soul destroyed – far from it!

Once you've made yourself comfortable with the interface, you can pop over to the Actor tab and start to bring assets in from the Content Manager. From the G5 Character set, you have the lovely Gywnn and the handsome Chuck, and accompanying them you have a good set of human and non-human characters, all ready to be directed by you. This is where the fun really does kick in, and the speed at which you can get things moving is astonishing!

Some of the gang available from the Content Manager

Once you have your asset or Avatar loaded into the 3D workspace, you will have plenty of customization tools at your disposal, allowing you to modify the broadest of changes or the finest of details. Just click the Avatar Proportion button and off you go. Here you can use a set of presets to edit the body type of your character or go in manually to push and pull its form using the sliders.

Want to give Gwynn a bad hair day or give Chuck extra beefy butch arms? Go ahead. This is the place to make those initial changes to your characters. You can also change the clothes, add gloves, shoes and handbags; it's all in there. One slight snag is that depending on which generation of character you are using (G4, G5, etc), some content is not usable on some avatars. For example, I could not give Gwynn a Robot arm from the Gloves tab. Shame, I could really see her as having a slight Terminator feel to her...

On a plus note though, you can easily update the texture files, allowing you to take Gwynn and zombie her up a little. By hitting the Launch button in the Texture Settings, iClone 5.5 will automatically send the texture maps to your 2D painting package of choice. Therefore, there is no need to go digging for images, and once you have made the changes and saved the file, iClone will automatically update the model. Sweet!

If you pop over to the Face tab, you can also hit the Texture sub-set button to bring up an Adjust the facial texture window. This allows you to make tweaks to the texture maps and view the results on a 3D Preview of the head. Double sweet!

The Face tab also allows you to make adjustments to the facial features of your avatar through a wide range of sliders, controlling everything from the style of the nose to the size of the ears. Push the sliders too far and you may end up having a character looking like he came straight out of a Spitting Image episode, which isn't a bad thing if that is what you are actually going for; being able to push the avatars this far is most welcome.

Customizing the facial features and editing the texture maps – zombie style!

With the avatar ready to go, it was time to get animating. Pop along to the Animation tab and here you can start to drag and drop motion clips from the Content Manager directly onto the avatar. Walks, runs, dances, boxing clips are all available from the offset. Drop motion clip after motion clip onto the character and you will get a sequence of clips animating seamlessly one after the other.

Now, I must admit, at first this did feel slightly alien to me. I'm more of a key-frame person and I like to see my key-frame ticks on the timeline and my animation curves in a Graph Editor. Not having this did throw me slightly, but once you open the Timeline and spend a few minutes pushing and pulling the animation clips, you should be able to pick up the workflow pretty quickly.

If you have a background in editing motion capture clips, you'll be totally at home here. The transition from clip to clip is fantastic. Every now and then you may get a blip but for the most part, the results are smooth as silk.

"If you want to create 3D storyboards, do pre-viz or just tell a short tale with the default assets, you could do so with ease"

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