Auto alpha-channel billboards tutorial

I actually started reading the iClone manual. And I immediately found a fab shortcut for automatically making 2D cut-out billboards. Press Crtl on your keyboard, as you drag a PNG image to the stage from Windows Explorer, and iClone automatically makes it into a cut-out billboard prop. You just have to have the right sort of PNG image.

Here’s how to do it…

1. Open up Photoshop — I’m using Photoshop CS3. Open File | New. Make sure the setting for the new file says “Transparent” like this…

You should have a chequerboard on your new image — that means your background layer is set to transparent…

2. Now open a second file — this is the file that contains the object you want to lay over the top of your transparent background.

3. Use Photoshop’s Magic Wand tool to select the object. Assuming you have a plain or fairly neutral background, you can probably use a Magic Wand Tolerance setting of about “30” and it should give you a good fit. Now look to see if there are any areas that the Magic Wand tool didn’t reach into. Such as these…

If there are such areas, put the cursor in them and then right-click and “Add” them to the selection.

4. When you’re happy you’ve got a complete selection, right-click on the middle of the object and choose “Select Inverse”. Now Crtl + C will copy it to the Clipboard.

5. Now switch back to your first transparent-background image, and Ctrl + V to paste the object in from the Clipboard. If the cut-out is too big, either enlarge the canvas (Image | Canvas Size) or scale the object (Edit | Transform | Scale). It should now look like this…

Do NOT flatten layers before saving.

6. Now go to File | Save for Web… Ensure you save the image as a PNG-24 with Transparency ticked…

Only PNG will work with iClone for this trick.

7. Now load up iClone and then open Windows Explorer to find your saved picture. Hold down Crtl while dragging the picture in from Windows Explorer…

8. iClone will work for a moment (you may see a progress bar), then will automatically turn the picture into a properly cut-out prop on the stage…

And you never once saw, or even had to think about, Photoshop alpha-channels or the opacity materials box in iClone!

Once you have such a cut-out 2D prop, iClone can set it to always face the camera.

Depending on the quality of your cut-out, it might have some unwanted fringing on the edges. This can be a particular problem on images that start off in low-grade form, such as the silhouette below which was a horrible sub-greyscale bitmap .tif file. In some situations the fringing can be disguised somewhat by using camera depth-of-field…

… but you may need to go back to Photoshop and start again by making a cleaner cut-out. Consider using the Extract filter tool or the Refine Edges selection options.

Infernal iClone

Just released — Canto III of Dante’s Inferno (1472), done in iClone…

A few too many camera fly-bys and some hair-problems — but otherwise this is very impressive and with a strongly immersive sense-of-place. The consistent colouring of the impressively-dynamic lighting helps to establish the sense of landscape, I think.

Chromatose Anymation Festival

The Chromatose Anymation Festival is happening in Canada, 30th April to 2nd May 2010. Deadline is 15th April, no fees. The festival will be…

“a fusion of new animation, performance art and live music events. We are still accepting submissions and are looking for handmade, DIY, cross platform and/or experimental machinima and animation from independent artists. We are also interested in seeing how independent musicians are working in animation, incorporating new media and technologies into their art form.”

“Send a web link to your animation in an email to:  theblackbags@yahoo.ca  with the heading CHROMATOSE ANYMATION FESTIVAL. Please include any biographical and press information you think relevant. If we programme your animation we will contact you for a high-resolution DVD copy. If your work is not online and you need to send us a hard copy please email us for mailing details. There are no fees to enter your work. Multiple entries are welcomed.”

I don’t think they’re looking to get 4,525 “OMG, I made a dancing babe” or “Halo dances!” clips. They’re inspired by, among others, Tom Jantol’s “Fish Incident”…

Click to play.

3D in a browser – and it’s not your Grandpa’s VRML.

Three Google developers have got Quake 2 running in a web browser. No plugins needed. Just a browser than supports WebGL and HTML5…

“For years, people have assumed the browser was a poor platform for this kind of thing, and that you’d need something like Flash, Silverlight, JavaFX, or native code. [ now ] all you need to do to invite someone to your game, to share it, is to send a link. […] No installs necessary.”

Source code is available for free. Factor in the ways that new procedural animation techniques can pack a Quake-style game level into just 100kb, and the future of browser-based gaming on the PC/Mac desktop looks very bright and open. Doubtless we’ll also see pre-rendered streaming services developed for mobiles and netbooks, although such services seems likely to be non-starters due to the crippling bandwidth restrictions that mobile broadband users are subject to.

I’d love to see a raw iClone project file running an iClone movie in a browser, in the same way.

Meet Meline

New Miyazaki-inspired animated 3D short from Sebastien Laban and Virginie Goyons of Lyon, France — with sound by Rousell and Denooz of Paris…

There’s also a superb “Making of” documentary in English. It seems they used Maya, and then a lot of layering and compositing in Combustion…