Two stills from my new iClone project

A couple of stills from my first 10-minute iClone short. It’s perhaps a little ambitious to go for a ‘name’ author and for a ten minute length, on the first try, but I think I can do it. Can anyone guess which public-domain short story is forming the basis of the film?

Click on the picture to see the full-sized version.

Click on the picture to see the full-sized version.

Stylistically, the inspiration for the silhouette film style is Jasper Morello via Lotte Reiniger. With a dash of British woodcut and wood engraving.

Cartoon cel-shading in iClone

Just posted from Mitchell Santine Gould of, a beautifully-voiced iClone video-clip animation of the great American poet Walt Whitman. It’s not on YouTube, sadly — so my WordPress-hosted blog won’t allow embedding. Just click on the picture…

This is interesting not just for the fine voice-acting, but also for the cartoonish cel-shading. Mitchell writes…

“I’ve developed techniques which allow me to generate cel shading in Reallusion’s iClone”

Sounds fascinating. Might these become available soon as a retail set of shaders/special-textures?

Woodland video backgrounds for iClone 4

Since iClone 4 can run video-file backgrounds behind your characters and props, I was thinking about which open-world games allowed the player to remove all or nearly all the interface elements from the screen, leaving a clear widescreen view of the game world. The best and most usable which came to mind is the free game TheHunter, which is set in a beautifully realised photo-realistic woodland / island environment. This free game allows you to remove all interface elements, apart from the top of an animated hand holding a camera. But this is a section of the screen which (for relatively static shots) might easily be covered by an alpha-channel billboard showing a close-up of a bush. Or by the ground plane. The Hunter is free, but is no piffling little Flash game — it’s a proper 3D game-world that runs at 50fps x 1920 x 1200 quite happily.

Of course, any video footage you might record from the game with FRAPS would not be royalty-free. But for amateur non-commercial fan films I doubt you’re going to have mega-corporate lawyers hounding you on YouTube (although don’t take my word for it, please). TheHunter is a small indie joint-venure enterprise. The UK co-partner who developed it recently had severe financial problems, and they’ve just sold the game to a new owner who’s going to carry on running it as an indie venture. The other co-partner is the Scandinavian indie developer of the forthcoming open-world game Just Cause 2 — and frankly I’m not sure if they’ve also sold their stake in TheHunter ahead of the launch of their new action blockbuster, or not.

Anyway, you now know the facts and the risk of using such footage is entirely yours. But it’s certainly a lovely-looking game, it’s free-roaming, and the woodland soundscapes are also very fine. One of its advantages over the lush SpeedTree woodlands of Oblivion is that these woods don’t look as “computer gamey” as those in Oblivion do. Fantasy fans who plan to make machinima/iClone hybrids should certainly be taking a look at it. All that’s really lacking in the game is more variety in the weather — but there’s a realistic real-time night/day cycle. Some genuine in-play screenshots from The Hunter

I’d love to see the new owners permit royalty-free usage of video and screenshots in non-commercial fan films. Maybe something along the lines of Microsoft’s much-acclaimed plain-English legal agreement with fans on game-based fan productions?

Stanford Law School: videos from the ‘Play Machinima Law’ conference

I was pleased to learn that Stanford Law School held a two-day Play Machinima Law conference (April 24th-25th 2009) on the legal nuances of game-based machinima — amid a panic among corporate lawyers, which had led to take-down notices flying around YouTube.

I was off doing other stuff in early 2009, so it was useful to see that the entire proceedings are now online as video. The files that load the videos are in the little-known Quicktime .qtl format (I’ve never heard of it before, and neither has my PC — it’s probably a Mac thing?), so you may need to manually associate .qtl files with Media Player Classic (aka QuickTime Alternative) before you can launch them.

‘Lawyer meets machinima’ by TheVader74.

SmartSound – free royalty-free music that morphs

What if you could have a royalty-free symphony orchestra playing on your soundtrack? Well, I certainly plan to have one on my forthcoming ten-minute short. But it’s to be provided by SmartSound Quicktracks, not a room full of people in evening dress. SmartSound is available as a free plugin for the video-editing software Adobe Premiere (and also works with my preferred editing option, Premiere Elements — from v4.0 onwards). For a freebie, SmartSound has some very impressive features. Like automatically re-composing your chosen music to fit the length of your clip, and adding a smooth ending. And it can also subtly adapt your selected track on-the-fly, to change the tempo or mood. The full spec sheet is here. And the free version of the plugin comes with ten unrestricted sample tracks — which may be all you need for your 3 minute iClone masterwork. If you’re making a longer epic, it seems that the themed Richard Band Vols. 1-7 series of retail expansion-packs is the cream of the royalty-free crop for SmartSound.

The SmartSound dialogue boxes can be a little tricky to located in Premiere once you install it, so here are some screenshots from Premiere Elements version 4. Ensure you’re on Edit / Media / Project / and then left-click on the little white icon…

Avatar in iClone

Wolf (of podcast fame) has done a quick iClone 4 speed-test animation which reproduces an Avatar-like jungle environment and adds a walking vaguely Na’vi-like character. I thought Avatar was a bad movie on several levels, but certainly the effects were excellent. So it’s a tribute to iClone that it can rapidly approach the look of Pandora’s jungle without needing any post-production work — Wolf’s video is just a straight render. Avatar fans wanting to make their own fan-stories set on Pandora, stories which look reasonably good on the screen, should take a look at iClone 4.

I’d say he needs more foliage in the bottom tenth of the screen, though. There is some, but it looks a little empty down there and more is needed to hide the flat-looking ground texture. The ground-snake is nice but it could work better in silhouette on one of the trees. I know the low-poly iClone foliage can look rough in close-up but, if this shot was to be worked on more, what about applying an alpha-channelled foliage-image to a camera-facing billboard?

Artistic Innovation and Participatory Culture

A long report from The World’s Fair “Fair Use Day”, specifically the first discussion panel on “Artistic Innovation and Participatory Culture”. Which included Halo machinima series creator Chris Burke…

“Chris wants to make a living from ‘This Spartan Life’, but not yet. Game companies are supportive, but [it’s] tough to make a living, particularly in New York. Others are doing it, but [game] machinima out there is free because [creators] can’t pay legal fees. We’re in it for the long haul; he makes a living from audio.”

Free audio recording podcasts of each panel coming soon, hopefully.

Animation World’s top ten webtoons

Rick DeMott, director of content of Animation World magazine, rounds up 10 webtoons you need to see in 2010. Fine work, but why are none of the 10 made with iClone or machinima? There could be. There should be, given the power and ease-of-use of iClone 4. Breathe by Stephane Hamache could easily have been made using iClone, although not with the refined cel-shading…

Breathe is a lovely film but is unfortunately paired with a very banal bit of French pop music. It’s also available at her site as a 28Mb Mov file, along with a more recent blipvert in the same style.


iClone users are, of course, happily used to real-time rendering. So when you occasionally go to use an application such as 3DS Max, the lack of real-time viewing seems very noticeable. But this free set of Max shaders, easily applied, enables real-time rendering in the 3DS Max viewport.

Real-time Max viewport render, using the Xoliulshader shaders.

If you’re interested in Laurens’ shaders, you may also be interested in this short free tutorial on enabling real-time shadows in the Max viewport.

DIY filmmaking in the New York Times

The New York Times today, on the new wave of independent filmmaking. What with the new NYT paywalls and all, the article may not be free for long. So here are some choice quotes…

“The D.I.Y. world isn’t new, but what is novel is how filmmakers and other industry insiders are sharing their nuts-and-bolts experiences and blue-sky ideas both in person and online, creating a virtual infrastructure.”

“One of the most critical problems facing [bricks and mortar] art-house cinemas is what’s been deemed a ‘hair problem’ — meaning, an aging clientele that’s either gray or bald and whose declining numbers are worrisome to independent exhibition. […] Any future alternative film culture will depend on the cultivation of younger patrons who are used to receiving much if not all of their entertainment at home and on hand-held devices.”

“This year’s Sundance [film festival] was abuzz about entries that were available for rental on YouTube or through video-on-demand during the festival, as filmmakers try out new ways to make an impact. These small-screen efforts have met with skepticism even while reaping the expected publicity, because it’s unclear how they might affect a movie’s [commercial cinema] distribution [deal] chances post-festival.”

How DIY filmmaking used to be: wind-up clockwork cameras, 3 minute reels of 8mm film, and your editing-suite was dad’s old razor-blades and a beer-mat. Creative Commons photo by Joi

Building the ultimate PC workstation for machinima

Richard Grove now has all parts (1-7, 12,000 words!) online of his epic account of building a PC workstation for iClone and virtual filmmaking

“the new workstation is built around Cinema 4D and Mach Studio Pro, but I’ll also be loading in Moviestorm, iClone 4, Blender, Steam and the entire HL2 saga + tools, Dragon Age and its toolset, plus the Torque Engine and Second Life

If I did this entire build from scratch, I estimate it would be about $1400.

Mmm, and loads of great hardware pron pics for us PC-heads to drool over…

Fwoar! Look at the size of those heat-sinks!

Field Guide to New Media for the Performing Arts

Live Movies : A Field Guide to New Media for the Performing Arts (PDF, 12Mb. 2006) is a free 252-page ebook of theory, history, and case-studies. It should be quite useful for any university students writing essays about the blending of staged performance and interactive new media. Innovative stage-design and event-design is, of course, another area of creative production in which iClone users could deploy their talents.

Originally given away free (it was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts), the website for the book has since completely vanished from the web. It’s also not listed on Amazon U.S. or U.K. So I have to assume it’s “abandonware”, and that I can link to it at what appears to be the book’s last remaining location. If you’re interested, then grab it while you can.

Copying text from the PDF is disabled, but if students need to quote from the book in an essay then just use Microsoft OneNote thus…

Open OneNote, then: “Insert” / “Screen Clipping” / capture your paragraph as an image / then right click on the auto-inserted image, and click on “Copy Text from Picture”. The text is captured, made editable, and sent to your Windows clipboard.

If you’re interested in this book you may also be interested in Animata, free open-source software for real-time theatre animation. Judging by the videos, it’s “real-time motion capture and transfer, without the dots” (using eyesweb and Proce55ing)…

Reverse Shadow Theatre from gabor papp on Vimeo.

Those interested in the technical details behind using this sort of software for controlling shadow-play puppets might be interested in this technical paper (PDF link).

All Film Board of Canada short animations, free

Fed up with sifting through all the cruft on YouTube to find the best short animations? The Film Board of Canada has always had a reputation for excellent short films and children’s films, although often imbued with a certain leftist worldview. Now they’ve put all of their films online at one site. There are nearly 200 animated shorts of the highest quality, to keep you entertained and inspired over the remaining winter months.

And if you get tired of animation, there are over 500 short documentaries.

“I can haz freebie cats?”

Herding cats. Difficult in the real world, and even more difficult when you’re chasing the free 3D felines. So here’s my short time-saving guide.

White Tiger has the best, a nice iClone freebie small cat (sitting only). It’s low-poly and is done as an iProp with eight animations.

If you’re green-screening animated cats using Poser video, there are also some useful freebies for the retail DAZ Millenium Cat — such as running cat animations and walking cat animations.

And if you’re looking to bone a cat in 3DS Max, there’s a free domestic cat model (unboned) here. This 3DS model mesh, although it looks bad in the preview picture, is actually rather nice and is royalty-free for non-commercial use, because it was created by the French public-funded GAMMA project. GAMMA’s huge Animals directory is here — it’d be great to see the best of these 1,400 free royalty-free low-poly animals all converted for iClone! That’s right, they have 1,400+ free 3D animals, many made from scans!

You could also combine these parts to build some great (if un-boned and un-animated) sci-fi monsters or weird organic structures for an alien planet. Take a look at the base section of the lobster and around 400 insects, for instance. Their use of “$$” doesn’t mean some models are behind a paywall, but take care if you’re planning to use these animals as props in a film you may one day be paid something for. The GAMMA animals are royalty-free only for use in non-commercial projects.

And also for Max users who want to make their own basic cat, there’s a entry-level tutorial on how to model a cartoonish cat shape from a simple box in 15 relatively easy steps.

European Entrepreneurship Video Award

Now open for entries, the European Entrepreneurship Video Award 2010. Simply produce a short video (one to two minutes, animation or camera-based work) that addresses the following questions: What is entrepreneurship about? What could encourage people to become entrepreneurs? What could counteract old prejudices and offer new visions of entrepreneurship?

Prizes of up to 3,333 Euros (about $4,700) will be awarded to the winners. There are also special prizes reserved for film-makers aged 25 or younger. Entry is not limited to schools and universities — business and management schools, members of business networks and associations, entrepreneurs and professionals, and intellectuals are all are invited to portray their own experiences in the field of entrepreneurship. Deadline: 9th April 2010. Full details can be obtained at the competition website.

Creative Commons photo by Rachael Voorhees.