iClone5.3 Pro review
Alan Marques takes a look at iClone5.3 to check out the headline features and see if some of the old quirks have been ironed out
PRICE: $200 / Upgrade $120
OTHER EDITIONS: iClone5 Standard $80
- Atmospherics, particles and effects
- Rigid and soft body physics simulation
- Extensive character design, modification and face fitting
- Full body and face puppeteering system
- Real-time Ambient Occlusion, Toon and Post FX shaders
Reallusion’s iClone is a 3D animation tool built around game engine technology that leverages your graphics card for real-time 3D. It was originally designed for the machinima market to allow artists to make their own 3D movies that didn’t infringe game copyright. It now has such a wide-ranging toolset that it’s found a place in other markets such as education, as well as my own area of film and television pre-viz.
The iClone interface has remained unchanged over the years, other than to cater for the addition of new features. The application follows a filmmaking motif controlled from a series of main tabs at the top of the interface that cover project, stage, set and actors, as well as controls for animation, media and exporting files.
The rest of the interface is made up of a large central 3D viewport, flanked on the left by a content and scene manager and on the right by a modifier panel that focuses on tools for the currently selected item. Another important window is the Timeline display – this initially appears as a floating window when activated but can be docked to the bottom of the interface by double-clicking the title bar or hitting [F3]. Another addition is the ability to open a second, smaller 3D viewport – although nowhere nearly as flexible as a traditional quad view, it at least addresses one of the long-time gripes of not having a second view when doing critical animation posing.
iClone isn’t a modelling package, but the big geometry-based feature addition was the release of the G5 character models, which bring a welcome increase in render quality as well as a tweaked skeleton for improved skin deformation, much needed as the new animation features offer far greater movement options than before.
A popular use of iClone is for pre-viz – this image shows 3D assets animated on top of a location still
Animation has seen the most significant update, which is good for iClone as this is what it’s fundamentally all about. Version 5.0 saw the inclusion of a number of new features, and version 5.3 has enhanced these further. Real-time rigid-and-soft-body physics provides the ability to assign dynamic, kinematic and static states to objects, but most importantly you can now animate the dynamic state of an object over time. Before, objects could only have one state throughout the animation – so something set as dynamic would always remain dynamic. Now it’s possible to create a rock slide, for example, and once the rocks have stopped moving to switch their state to static so that they no longer respond to collisions from other objects in the simulation.
On the character animation front, the biggest addition is HumanIK. Licensed from Autodesk, this technology has been combined with two real-time body puppeteering systems and a third system called MixMoves. The old way of animating in previous versions of iClone involved either clicking on the ground plane in front of your character to execute a pre-canned walk cycle, or selecting a motion clip from the content manager library. The puppeteer system is a breath of fresh air and brings body animation in line with the previous puppet facial system.
The first mode is called Motion Puppet. Fire it up and you’ll get a floating panel from which you can select a basic body profile for Idle, Mood, Move and Talk motions. Under each one of these categories there’s a range of looping animations to choose from and these can be previewed and recorded in real time. For each motion there’s a range of sliders to control the posture and exaggeration of the animation, and there’s also the ability to mask off parts of the body. So you can record a walking motion on just the lower body and then rewind the timeline and apply a completely different animation cycle to the upper body.
The other main mode is Direct Puppet, which enables you to select a control point on the HumanIK skeleton and then use the mouse in the 3D viewport to puppeteer the character’s motion directly. This allows for pinning of hands and feet in space or to objects for full inverse kinematic control, so an actor can ride a bike and have their feet follow the pedal motion, for example.
One headline feature – which requires extra financial outlay on an additional plug-in and hardware – is support for Microsoft’s Kinect for PC. If you need a lot of bespoke animations, this is worth the investment. Like real motion capture, you need to be prepared for clean-up work on the recordings you make, but HumanIK is there to aid you with this task.
iClone can load stills and video clips into a scene. In the image above, my 3D animated avatar can be seen on a platform at the bottom of the screen
Not content with just making major animation enhancements, Reallusion has given the rendering side of iClone an equally impressive boost. In the past the looks you could obtain were very much restricted to standard 3D lighting and textures, with the use of normal maps a must for improving realism. A quick search of the Atmosphere menu (under the Stage tab) reveals two new options: a real-time Toon Shader for the classic cartoon look, and an Ambient Occlusion shader.
Animation mode shows the puppet panel as a floating dialog with the body masking feature
In addition to the new shaders there’s a range of Post FX filters that allow for camera blur, basic colour correction and colour balancing, as well as a basic NPR sketch filter that’s separate to the direct toon shader. For both the new shaders and the Post FX filters, ‘real time’ can be a bit of a misnomer – using these technologies in anywhere near real time requires a really good graphics card, but just like any 3D application iClone can of course render in non-real time too.
iClone has come a long way since version 1, and Reallusion’s ongoing, focused development has seen constant improvements to its animation and rendering capabilities. Although there’s a handful of competitors on the market, such as Moviestorm, none of them come close to iClone5’s feature set and flexibility. If you’re into 3D filmmaking and technical or narrative pre-viz, there’s no real competition. iClone5 Pro is the way to go and currently the only solution to support motion capture with a Kinect for PC.
- Most feature-rich real-time 3D toolset
- Support for Microsoft Kinect for mocap
- HumanIK motion editing
- Some annoying animation bugs
- No way to turn auto-key off
- No quad view
iClone5.3 Pro has its quirks but it’s still the most comprehensive real-time 3D movie-making solution on the market
About the author
Alan Marques is a UK-based freelance VFX supervisor and generalist working across the gamut of 2D and 3D VFX postproduction technologies
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on Monday, December 10th, 2012 at 2:54 pm under Applications, Reviews.
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Tags: HumanIK, iClone, Microsoft Kinect