BVH to dolls?

An amazing Taiwanese combo of doll puppetry and video motionography…

   [ Hat-tip: PuppetVision ]

You may want to skip straight to 1:00, since the first minute is mostly logos and intro. Why do people do that? It’s a mimicking of antiquated TV habits, I guess. But 80% of your audience is gone before the film even starts.

Since the doll and the puppet traditionally play such a huge role in Taiwanese culture, I assume the dolls seen here are real rather than virtual? They’re not being animated with stop-motion, because of the breeze/wind effects you can see. I wondered if they’d built dolls controlled by servo-motors and wires, so that a BVH motion capture file can animate them “in real life”? But thinking more about it — the characters are probably being operated from below by highly skilled puppeteers?

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Say aah! for the nursebot.

For a while I assumed that Blender’s first open-source movie The Elephant’s Dream (2005) must have been about… well, elephants. How wrong I was. No elephants — instead it actually has some cool but rather complicated robots and some nice models of technology. Which I’ve taken the most viable bits of, and those which 3DXchange deigned to convert, and turned them into a completely new sci-fi scene with a newly-devised robot. It’s an iClone stasis chamber for deep-space travel, attended by a nurse bot and surrounded by a generic sci-fi circular space that could also serve as a starship bridge. Feel free to add self-illuminated glowing lights in the spaces for them that are set around the walls, if you have the patience. You may also feel that the nursebot needs some arms, and that the stasis chamber needs a control panel or two or perhaps a big number on the side. The scene is 190,000 faces, with two camera views. No textures, but I used the scene to learn how a combination of lighting and ambient/diffuse colors on props can serve instead of textures. Download here for a limited time.

They’re not in this scene, but if you need mad sci-fi tangles of wires then the Elephant’s Dream models archive is the place to get them.

Get a giant bunny dropping

The opening rabbit-hole scene from the open-source movie Big Buck Bunny, converted to iClone format. Selected items (mound with hole, tree, stones) exported and converted to individual VNS props, then scaled and arranged in a scene. Three native iClone trees were added and then rotated / positioned to provide the leaf cover, but you’ll still need to texture and then add grass + flowers as required. You may have to make your own texture to get enough detail and grain on the mound. Background picture not included. Download here for a limited time.

Default lighting used above. How it looked in the movie…

Put a hobbit door on the front of the hole, and it could also be a LOTR scene.

Zign Track

This looks rather interesting, if rather expensive ($159 or £115). Zign Track 1.4 offers facial motion-capture via a normal camera and facial dots, and then exports to BVH files or Poser…

There’s a seven-minute Zign Track to Poser tutorial on YouTube here, although the heavy Dutch accent makes it very difficult to follow. Anyone have success using Zign Track with iClone or CrazyTalk?

Perhaps this sort of webcam-based mo-cap will be the major CrazyTalk update feature mentioned as “forthcoming in 2010” in the Xmas Wolf & Dulcie podcast? Just a guess.

News services wake up to anymation

The Associated Press wire service is telling the world about the new wave of computer-based anymation…

“[…] online videos popping up with visual effects that just a generation ago would have been possible only for big Hollywood studios, with big budgets and armies of computer animators. Today the falling cost of computing power and cameras, along with the free distribution possible over the Internet, are giving everyday people more chances to follow their creative instincts.”

Not an especially good article but, given the wide range of places where AP stories end up, it’s encouraging to think it could eventually spark the interest of some kid reading the local newspaper in No Hope City, Venezuela.

Meanwhile, The Guardian muses on the emergence of animated recreations of unseen news events

“We have found some of the most interesting examples of the genre. Is animated news blurring the border between fact and fiction? Or are levels of media literacy advanced enough to recognise that the animations are not intended to be taken all that seriously?”


Above: the British Prime Minister, who is mired in allegations about his bullying of staff.

Understanding Machinima : call for papers

Submissions of academic essays are invited for an edited book with the working title Understanding Machinima: Essays on Filmmaking in Virtual Worlds

“We are primarily concerned with offering critical discussions of its history, theory, aesthetics, media form and social implications, as well as insights into its development and the promise of what it can become. How does machinima fit in the spectrum of media forms? […] How does machinima co-opt [the commercial] game engine to provide narrative? How may machinima, developed from the products of game and virtual world marketing, be used as an artistic tool? […] How does the open-source economy that currently defines much of global machinima relate it to broader cultural production generally? [and] Machinima as community-based practice and performance; user created content; online publishing; fan (fiction) communities; open source”

Please submit a 400 word abstract (i.e: a summary), and a short biography, via email to: understandingmachinima [at] gmail.com by 30 August 2010. We expect that final essays should not exceed 7,000 words and will be due in by 30th December 2010.

iClone’s character types explained (video)

The growing range of character types and bone rigs in iClone is usefully clarified in a newly-posted YouTube video. I don’t think this one is a repeat-posting. The last 90 seconds or so of the video is a mini-tutorial in the customising and uniform application of character skin tones…

[ Video here ]

It includes the “G-evolver” character type, and a screenshot of the Evolver-powered online iClone Avatar Builder site — which appears to hark back to the “It’s Me!” idea of having an simple way to create a portable virtual character that looks exactly like the user (or their favourite film star, etc.). A couple of months ago Botgirl made a useful demo video of the Evolver system.

She writes…

“You can also export your avatar’s source data to a fully rigged version for leading 3D model formats.” [including Blender, Max, Maya — cost seems to be $39]

Can’t wait for the “clone your pets” quadruped version 🙂 The web will be awash with virtual LOLcats and LOLhamsters.

Krang!

Need some strong science fiction concepts to give a satisfying ‘hard SF’ edge to your movie? Technovelgy is an online encyclopaedia of 1,800+ SF concepts. Need to know if the idea of a nanny robot has been done before and, if so, how it was handled? Just look up the robots page: “Psychophonic Nurse – a nanny robot”. Idea last used (badly) in 1928. Fair game! Want your aliens to have giant musical sound-weapons? Last done in 1972…

“The Krang is both a weapon and a musical instrument.” … “the machine generates some form of vibration… I confess myself hesitant to label it ‘sound waves.’ “

Of course, the problem then is to visualise the concept in iClone without it looking like this…

Spideroid

If you’re aiming at the horror end of science-fiction, 3D Science have a neat free alien. Only it’s actually a very earth-bound bacteriophage, and exists at the microscopic level where it feeds on e.coli bugs. Two .obj files with different poses, plus there’s a low-poly version in the .zip which is 18,000 polys in size. It has many individual elements, so you can dismantle if for parts using 3DXchange and re-build/re-use in iClone if needed.

Free from Fro

Ever wanted a background building to go with your Cartoon Masters character packs? Fro Games has a nice building in a similar style to the Cartoon Masters, as a free .obj/.3ds. 1,200 polys, and it comes with a texture. Fro says… “download and use in any free or commercial product”.

He also has several packs of buildings done in similar style, from $20.

Animation backgrounds

Mmm, luscious. I’ve just discovered a hi-illustration blog devoted to showcasing animation backgrounds. Yep, just the background images, although with older cartoons it’s hard to get stills without sometimes including the characters. The blog has archives going back to 2007.


Two backgrounds from Tarzan.

Of course, if should go without saying that you can’t use these big-studio backdrops for your iClone animation. But they do provide some mighty useful inspiration for designing your stage set in iClone.

I can’t help suspecting that in a few hundred years, when current fashions are forgotten and yet people still remember “the art of the 20th century”, they’ll be remembering cartoon art far more than most of the po-faced art that once filled white-walled galleries…

“Most of what will in time come to count as the best of the present day’s art is not yet even recognised as such by us — web-page designs, certain films, photographs, and television works, certain currently unsung paintings.” – Professor A.C. Greyling (Professor of Philosophy, Birkbeck College, London), in The Art Newspaper, 1st March 2002.

Art effects filters for iClone renders

While we’re waiting for Poser-style toon-ish cel shading and pencil-sketch effects in iClone, I was wondering which sketch plugins could offer batch processing of a series of images rendered from iClone. I was thinking that iClone’s clean and relatively “noiseless” 3D look might convert fairly well — better than a grainy/noisy and shaky camcorder video would.

Over the past few years I’ve tried many of the sketch filters, including Photoshop filters and the rather-good-but-fiddly Poser addon Art Materials Vol 2: Dry Shaders. The only sketch filters that remain in my current installation of Photoshop are Redfield Sketchmaster 2 and Virtual Painter 5 (which looks like a toy, but which can actually produce some nice results with a bit of care). I’m also considering adding AKVIS Sketch.

I’ve found that conversion times are often an issue in Photoshop, and the initial results are often far from ideal. Finely-tweaked custom presets are needed, to avoid the horrid “HEY! it’s a Photoshop filter!” look that will creep out all the graphics pros in the audience. Most of the time the conversion of a still image needs additional complex Photoshopping, including a layer blend mode used to apply it over the original photo. It is possible to get some nice effects but it takes some work and sometimes has to involve Painter. But doing all that by hand is not a viable solution for converting the 18,000 HD frames in a 10 minutes x 30 FPS iClone video.

AKVIS Sketch‘s tutorial suggests that their 500 frames (see video below) took three hours. I’d assume their test video was perhaps 800px x 600px, and that 500 x 1280px HD frames might take perhaps eight hours on a decent PC. So that means about one frame per minute. Or 300 hours for a ten minute movie (about 12 days, assuming the PC doesn’t crash and the CPU doesn’t start burning up)! Yowch! Then you have to add on the time it’ll take to compile all those frames into a video. Now I understand why we don’t see many art-filtered iClone videos.

Strongly discounted iClone 4 pre-ordering on Amazon UK

Just listed on Amazon UK today — iClone 4…

   * iClone 4.0 Standard — £56.99 + free shipping.

   * iClone 4.0 Pro — £125.99 + free shipping.

No mention of 3DXchange being included in the price, though. On Amazon U.S. the only boxed packages available there are…

   * “iClone4 Standard + 3DXchange 2” which sells for $100 (£65). Plus shipping to the UK.

   * “iClone4 Pro + 3DXchange 2” which sells for $250 (£162). Plus shipping to the UK.

If you go direct to Reallusion for just the Pro download (i.e.: without 3DXchange) then it costs $199 (£129).

So, the discounted Amazon UK boxed version of Pro looks a rather good deal — even if for some reason it doesn’t include 3DXchange (which is soon coming out in a new version 4.0 anyway). Having the boxed version, of course, means you can eBay it in a few years’ time when iClone 5.0 appears — and thus eventually get some of the cost back.

Those in the UK considering 4.0 should pre-order now, before Amazon change their mind on the pricing! If it turns out to be a version of Pro that includes 3DXchange, then it’s a bargain. Even if it isn’t then you’ve saved £5 and the cost of shipping from the U.S., which you can put towards the cost of 3DXchange 3.0.  UK release date: 26th March 2010, although Amazon often ship a little sooner than exact release dates on things like games.

Faerie Claims Rangers’ Heart

Some nice lighting going on in the just-posted YouTube iClone test-video “The Faerie Claims Rangers’ Heart“…

Somehow the gentler aspects of the Wild West of the woods & prairies and the faerie-world of Old Europe seem to ‘fit’ together. The fiction of Clifford Simak and Ray Bradbury (in his Dandelion Wine phase) seem to work at blending those sorts of subject areas, although shifting the classic faerie elements sideways into gentle science fiction. The graphic novel Tex Arcana took the idea in the direction of vampires and magic. But I don’t think anyone’s yet done a straight grown-up take on combining traditional American rural life and faerie, although Woody Allen’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy had a very good try and apparently George Lucas (Star Wars) is currently working on a major faerie film. Averse as I am to seeing Victorian-style winged fairies in 3D stills work (such an unimaginative cliche), as a storytelling genre type they do seem ripe for a re-invention and re-booting. Perhaps in the manner of what Wim Wenders did for angels in Wings of Desire, leavened with some of the whimsy of the mid-series Northern Exposure. Although I suspect that Hollywood would just unthinkingly take them in its usual “add sex! and fangs!” direction.

Shaman hut

Over the weekend facuhead posted some excellent free models at BlenderSwap, made for the forthcoming open-source Blender movie Sintel (aka Durian). These three sets of models (his superb shaman’s tent, pots and pans, and fireplace + a stool by inlite) have now been selectively ported to the iClone VNS format (all untextured), and scaled / arranged / parented in a single scene ready for you to texture the individual props. Download here, for a limited time. The scene is 250,000 faces. There’s also an additional bedroll.vns prop, included in the .zip file but not present in the scene. Tree not included.

“can haz Blender model flood?”

The folks over at BlendSwap have been having a major drive to get more models on the site. They’re all free, and Blender is (of course) also free. The last few days have seen a major flood of models on the site and, although most are unlikely to be low-poly, they’re of excellent quality. For instance, a cute kitten (46,000 polys)…

“Fully rigged and shape-keyed ginger kitten I made for a walk-on part in a film I’m working on. I wanted to share it with all those who consider it their life’s purpose to fill the internet with many and varied LOL catz images.”

The BlendSwap site is currently very rich in authentic items and sets associated with nomadic / shamanic peoples, and also a good range of broken windows and candles, plus a falling-snow video effect — I’d suspect that some of the Sintel models are already making their way onto this site?