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.