Software review: iClone5 Pro
Real-time 3D animation tool, iClone, has everything you need to set up your directorial
debut. But is it too limited, asks Paul Champion?
Upgrade from $120.
Other editions: Standard, $80
- Real-time animation
- In-screen motion editing and puppeteering
- Advanced timeline editing with transition curve
- Animate in real-time with motion-capture device
Converting your finished story idea into a pre-viz or polished animation often presents some daunting challenges, and selecting the right software applications to use can be a key factor in the time (and cost) spent completing it.
iClone5 Pro offers a happy medium between high-end applications that have seemingly endless options to tweak, and frustratingly feeble, user-unfriendly low-end software. The latest version of iClone has new animation tools, is still a breeze to use and remains competitively priced.
Now you can create your own version of Pixar’s The Incredibles, in a park and on a merry-go-round!
If you’re unfamiliar with iClone, it’s primarily a template-based hassle-free solution for real-time animation with plenty of bells and whistles. In terms of workflow, you’re limited to working with the rudimentary content supplied with the application, unless you’re prepared to buy additional assets via Reallusion’s Content Marketplace (which always seems to have some sort of deal on offer).
Getting your own assets into iClone5 Pro is quick and easy, but it requires Reallusion’s 3DXchange4, which converts files from applications such as ZBrush, Photoshop, Blender, Poser, Daz Studio, Vue and Maya, and costs $80 for the Standard version. You’ll need 3DXchange4 Pro ($120) to use assets in FBX, 3DS, OBJ and SKP formats.
Pre-viz users or anyone presenting a concept pitch to clients should find that the content provided is more than adequate for demonstration, where the actual look of assets is less relevant. End users, who will no doubt grow tired of the limited content provided, will be disappointed that they have to shell out for 3DXchange to import more material.
With the assets in place, it’s time to animate, and there are many new tools to help you with this.
Whether it’s sexy girls, gym kits or vampires you’re after, the marketplace has plenty of assets for you to buy
Direct Puppet lets you record your actor’s animation in real time, and if necessary lock body parts to locations. MixMoves enables seamless blending between motions. Body Motion Puppeteering enables the user to control the animation speed and direction.
Simple floor contact is taken care of with Human IK Motion Editing for Actors, and allows props (which can now be animated in real time) to be held onto realistically. The Timeline has been updated so that animation curves can be varied in playback by adding curve adjustments such as Ease In and Ease Out. For physics animation there are Rigid and Soft Body options for simulation, and other uses such as game prototyping.
Effects can help to enhance your movies, but they are limited to a maximum of five within a project
The premium new animation tool being touted for use with iClone5 Pro is the Mocap Device plug-in. With this you can act out your animations in real-time – the recorded mocap data is then applied to actors.
At $140, this is a lot cheaper than buying your own professional mocap studio, although it requires you to have an Xbox 360 with Kinect. It’s also only compatible with the Pro edition.
The plug-in is a significant add-on that falls outside the remit of this review. Judging by forum responses, however, it’s a successful product and great for anyone who wants to physically generate their own movement.
Other notable tools and settings, with which Reallusion is catching up with market competitors rather than introducing groundbreaking innovations, include Ambient Occlusion, which improves the quality of visual output with barely any impact on render times; post-FX tools for colour and blur, which are easy to apply; and cartoon rendering, which can be achieved with just a few clicks and some minor texture corrections.
Rigid body simulations can pep up high-speed chases. In iClone5 Pro they are easy to deploy
There’s still plenty of room for improvement in the renderer. The options are minimal and simplistic – which is part of the general charm of iClone, but it doesn’t always do justice to the end result. Multiple cameras and Picture-In-Picture features offer greater control between shots. Much-requested duplication settings enable you to instance objects with ease, and adjustable pivots, snapping and aligning tools are now possible for objects.
More resource-hungry improvements include higher poly counts for actors, with notable increases to head meshes, which enable more natural deformations. In practice this works far better than before, and since faces are areas that most viewers’ eyes are naturally drawn to, it’s a clearly visible improvement. However, it can still be difficult and time-consuming to tweak.
The new Toon Shader is found in the Atmosphere section of the Stage tab, and can be adjusted for your project needs
Cartoon character facial controls have been advanced to include exaggeration. Height Map Terrains now allow bigger landscapes, but they are limited to just five. Smart iProps have been updated for game-like interaction.
During testing, these new tools all worked admirably, yet iClone crashed a number of times for no apparent reason. When pushed to reasonable extremes for any shot – such as 20 actors set up with different parameters and animations applied – iClone responded well. But other times it would crash with, for example, a fairly empty scene during terrain set-up. Ordinarily, this would only be a minor annoyance, but since there’s no autosave option in the program, it becomes more
of a frustration.
Hardware-wise, iClone doesn’t require an overly demanding system. Rather misleadingly, it’s listed as being 32-bit and 64-bit Windows compatible, but it’s not actually a native 64-bit release, so it won’t take advantage of any extra memory installed over 32-bit limitations. It’s rumoured that a 64-bit update will be released, although this was unconfirmed as we went to press.
Overall, iClone5 Pro remains an easy-to-use application, and it can be a real time-saver for pre-viz work and presentations. The learning curve isn’t too steep, and setting up shots is intuitive. For existing iClone users, it should be a no-brainer to upgrade because content from previous versions is compatible, the upgrade price is good, and the new tools (and mocap plug-in, if you choose to buy it) will enhance its usability. New users will need to assess whether they have the funds for additional content and a copy of 3DXchange.
- Simple for novices without previous animation experience
- Easily modifiable preset models
- Ready-made animation categories
- Intuitive editing
- Options for advanced animators
- Facial profiles are difficult to tweak
- Additional content incurs extra costs
- Rendering options still limited
- Not a true 64-bit application
A speedy solution for pre-viz but hampered by limited content options, basic render settings, and lack of true 64-bit support
About the author
Paul Champion is the demonstrator for undergraduate and postgraduate 3D and VFX courses at the National Centre for Computer Animation, Bournemouth
Enter our iClone5 Pro prize draw for your chance to win one of four packages featuring Reallusion’s real-time animation suite, worth $1,352 in total
on Monday, March 12th, 2012 at 2:45 pm under Applications, Reviews.
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Tags: animation software, iClone, iClone 5, iClone5, Reallusion