Software review: 3D Automated Motion Systems 2.5
Does this product deserve the attention of mid-to-large studios producing animated series? Senior mocap TD at Framestore, Gary Marshall, takes a look behind the mechanics of 3D Artsgroup’s motion automation system for Maya
- Create and store motion patterns for your characters
- Full-featured motion editing
- Combine character motion clips from your AMS library
- Build skeletons
Based in southern Germany, 3D Artsgroup has been developing a system it says aims to provide “revolutionary tools for 3D character animation”. Already on version 2.5, 3D Automated Motion Systems (AMS) deserves to capture the attention of mid-to-large studios primarily involved in the production of animated series.
With the hectic schedules inherent in delivering episodic content, tools to create, reuse and edit animation quickly are life-savers. A glance at the feature set brings to mind competing products, such as animation heavyweight MotionBuilder, for similar tasks – but there’s something to be said for containing everything in a single environment, while saving your studio some cash into the bargain.
AMS, which works with Maya 6.0 and above, is distributed as a library of MEL scripts, requiring a little hoop-jumping to get configured. The first thing you notice when firing it up is the sheer number of windows, menus and buttons. On the AMS shelf itself, with no tooltips to guide you, things can get confusing – although it ships with a hefty help/sample package.
After a few clicks to import a character, you jump into pose creation. Animating with an AMS rig feels no different than traditional keyframing, with the bonus of graphical hot selection and keying shortcuts. The mechanics of capturing a pose, mirroring and setting up cycles is mere button presses – enabling speedy library generation. Cycles can be sparse-blocked and resampled with interpolation, delivering ghost skeletons in the viewport for finer tweaking.
The blending tools are intuitive and work well. Simply importing a new motion in blend mode sets it up as your secondary source, with full control over percentage of blend weight and target attributes. The blender also handles retargeting between non-proportional characters; while this works, a certain heavy-handedness is required to get a polished result. This is an area where MotionBuilder seems to be slicker, especially with feet stability. Looping benefits from helpful viewport visual aids, modifiable on a single keyed attribute to alter the frequency and timing of animation.
BVH motion (a popular mocap format) can act as a source for AMS once some scaling and control matching templates have been set. Development is also underway to take input from a Microsoft Kinect sensor using the Brekel library.
Once you have a workable palette, motion can be interleaved with path navigation tools, and it’s here that you feel the real automation occurs. Users set up landmark buoys, which have adjustable influence areas, and then define what motion samples to use to navigate from point A to B. Event triggers, transitions and behaviours can be crafted at each landmark to simplify and expedite the layout process, which is impressive.
For getting your own models into AMS, the Skeleton Builder module makes simple jointing and weighting of a character a breeze. Customisable skeleton segments are defined, transformed and scaled into place, then mirrored. Automatically creating facial deformers from spline curves is an added bonus, while skin binding and weight editing is also possible directly from the UI.
- Brings speed and efficiency to the pipeline
- Good path navigation/locomotion toolset
- Modular architecture
- Automation is ultimately not suited to extremely high-end performance
- Vast number of windows
- Some workflows lack refinement
AMS is a rich, multi-faceted system and the motion seems to match its intended target consumer. It’s well worth a look if you’re in the business of series animation
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gary Marshall is senior motion capture TD at Framestore London, and is currently working on Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. He’s spent the last seven years working on motion-capture projects around the world for VFX, feature animation and games, from capturing and editing data to writing tools and building pipelines
on Thursday, January 19th, 2012 at 6:19 pm under Applications, Reviews.
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Tags: 3D Automated Motion Systems, animated series, animating, Animation, Framestore, Gary Marshall, Maya, MEL scripts, mocap, MotionBuilder, senior motion capture TD