trueSpace 7

This might be useful to have. The powerful 3D modelling application trueSpace 7 has become free since I last heard of it. It appears to have gone free in late 2008, after Microsoft purchased the Caligari company and acquired a full-blown $600 3D application along with it…

“This is the full 3D authoring package with no time restrictions and no license restrictions on how you use it”

I think the idea is that trueSpace is, to Microsoft’s Virtual Earth, what Sketchup is to Google Earth. Sadly they’re not actively developing it. But the community is continuing with unofficial patches (scroll right down to the bottom of the page).

Oooh, shiny… version 7 does real-time rendering…

It has a variety of free plugins (although no direct .fbx export for the range of characters that it ships with, that I can find) including a rather useful-looking collision-detecting flocking. Also look-at-camera billboards.

There appears to be no .dae or .fbx support.

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Free 3D dance-ware from Japan

Not that I want to unleash even more 3D dance videos on the world, but… I discovered recently that the Japanese have a complete real-time cel-shaded animation program. It’s devoted purely to producing anime-style dance videos. It’s free, and seems to be iClone’s “Jam Band” pack on steroids and with better cloth and hair physics. What’s interesting is that MikuMikuDance makes it seem easy to do good-looking real-time cel shading, which holds out hope that such a feature could be in iClone 5.

There’s an English version and English tutorials. A Japanese-language ‘PMD Editor’ model editor. And plenty of MikuMikuDance users videos on YouTube.

Fans are currently beavering away on SourceForge to convert MikuMikuDance to the XNA platform (Microsoft’s game-making format). Which presumably means that the characters might be coming to a format where they could be converted to .fbx files and thus be available in iClone? At present MikuMikuDance uses the .pmd format, which even the listing for PolyTrans doesn’t include.

Talking of Japanese free cel-shading software, there’s also the as-yet untranslated CelsView which seems to be Mac-only.

DigiMi

DAZ is now DAZ 3D-Gizmoz. Yes, DAZ merged recently with another company — which anyone who’s followed sister-software Poser‘s convoluted ownership history will know is probably a bad sign for the software. The new combo company has just launched a consumer-friendly 3D avatar-creation website called Gizmoz DigiMi (beta).

It seems to be very much in the same mould as the recently-launched iClone-Evolver partnership and website. It looks like it’s aiming at users of 3D social worlds, and may also possibly be of use to indie game developers. Although at present there are very few real technical details on DigiMi, even on the developer pages. And no forum-chatter that Google has yet picked up. It seems a fair guess that the avatars will load into the free DAZ Studio (which now seems to be also going by the name of “Super Avatar Studio”?), and (I’m guessing here) possibly also into DAZ Carrara? If they do load into Carrara Pro, then the characters presumably become .fbx exportable without needing the $99 DAZ Studio .fbx plugin. Or users may just get an .fbx download as the end-product of the website itself. However, it does seems that a “developer licence” is needed for distribution of characters made with DigiMi, so it seems unlikely we’ll be able to pump them through 3DXchange and then give them away to fellow iClone users.

B&W + red

I’m liking the use of vivid red in this new black & white iClone short, by student Maneco Looper…

Reminds me of the similar strong colour design in the excellent recent videogame The Saboteur. I’m also liking the integration of the title with the set, which is a lesson that many have usefully learned from Will Eisner.

Free comicbook fonts

Those intending to make comic books using iClone renders and Comic Life (or Adobe Illustrator, if you fancy wrestling with an unintuitive application that’ll take years to learn), may like to look at the wonderful range of free comicbook fonts over at Blambot. Blambot seems to have blossomed, since I last looked at it. It’s now become a viable free alternative to the expensive Comicraft fonts range.

Also useful for those needing good-looking animation-friendly fonts for a movie’s opening titles (definitely something that iClone movie-makers need to pay more attention to, I’d suggest). Check out Blambot’s “Design Fonts” section.

Oddly, Blambot doesn’t appear to have any speech-balloon fonts? The Comic Life software has its own limited selection. But, for those exporting panelled Comic Life pages to do the bulk of the small lettering in Photoshop, I suggest the free fonts Komika Bubbles (komikabb.ttf) and Talk (talk.ttf). Just paste them into C:\Windows\Fonts

Play back an iClone project file inside a web browser?

cNet reports that Google is getting behind WebGL, by offering an open source project that will translate it “on-the-fly” into Microsoft’s Direct3D. This means Windows users will be able to use it. WebGL is currently in the developer builds of Firefox, but a WebGL-capable Firefox hasn’t yet been released to the public.

For those who haven’t fallen asleep yet, here’s what it seems to mean, in plain English: web browsers will be able to easily tap the power of a PC’s graphics card, to do the heavy-lifting needed to display real-time 3D inside a web-page. So one day we may play an iClone movie simply by streaming an iClone project file into someone’s web browser, assuming the viewer has added an “iClone engine plugin” to their browser. For those who can assemble a complete movie in iClone (it’s possible) that can play back in real-time, it could mean no more rendering to video files and no more three-hour uploads to YouTube!

And assuming that the source file is in a genuine 3D format (like an iClone project file), Google’s YouTube could then theoretically automatically apply a stereo-3D filter to it as a standard option.


Catputer by Sarah G.

534-page printed iClone 4 manual

I’ve finally managed to convert the full 534-page iClone 4 Pro PDF manual to a new PDF that lulu.com has accepted for printing as a paper book (simply uploading the existing PDF isn’t enough, nor is re-saving it with the Lulu printing profile).

It’ll be a one-off paperback book for £13.35 ($19) including shipping, printed as a 6″x9″ black & white paperback of near-bookshop quality. It’s privately listed, so don’t go looking for it on Lulu. I’ll let readers know how well it printed, when it arrives in the post. I’ve found in the past that Lulu are either incredibly speedy or take several weeks to ship, so it might take a while to arrive.

Ten free copies of iClone 4 Pro

The wonderful Make magazine has ten free copies of iClone 4 Pro to give away this weekend…

“just tell us in [the] comments what you’d do with a copy of iClone 4 Pro. What sorts of movies/animations do you dream of making? Comments for the drawing will close on Monday night at midnight Pacific time. Winners will be announced on Tuesday. [30th March 2010]”

If you’re still using version 3 or 4 standard, or have a friend or relative who wants iClone, this could be worth entering.

And if you’re into printing your .3ds or .obj files as real potato-starch prop objects (mmm, destructible!), the latest Make has a cover-article on how to build a DIY $800 3D fab lab…

Also a detailed 6-page article on how to build a DIY SplineScan 3D object scanner. If you can’t build it yourself, you might give the pages to a local hardware/electronics nerd and pay them to make it for you.

Space, the free game frontier…

With iClone’s major sci-fi competition imminent, I thought I’d do a quick round-up of space-sims which might help round out your iClone footage. Freespace 2 and the Infinity combat prototype seem like the ones with the most potential…

Orbiter : space flight simulator. Free British 3D space sim from 2006.

Freespace 2, a free open-source 3D game from 2000. I’ve played it and its portrayal of space still looks quite pretty on a big PC widescreen, if you judge it by the standards of the time. It’s possible to get many interface elements off the screen, and the retro look to the spacecraft and space stations could blend well if you’re not trying to disguise iClone’s low-poly look. Worth a look, if you’re thinking about combining iClone with some gameplay footage.

Vega Strike. Still only half-built but playable, an open-source game. Definitely not as pretty as Eve or X3 (see below). Between the two, I’d say Freespace 2 is probably the better choice and is easier for a novice to actually play enough to get to some interesting places in the game world.

Evochron Legends (demo). Nice indie community-powered single-player Elite-alike, using a procedural engine. Has a seamless planet-fall (i.e.: descend from orbit to land on a planet, all in a single sequence) but is otherwise several years behind the visual lusciousness of Eve and X3 (see below). As with all modern space-sims, there’s a ludicrously steep learning-curve involved, and don’t forget to pack your motion-sickness pills.

X3: Terran Conflict (single-player) and EVE Online (multiplayer) are generally considered the cream of the retail crop of PC space sims, and both look fabulous if you can peer through the mass of interface elements — but it’ll take you 50 hours to get into them, and the companies involved may well object to having their games used in competition movies? The same goes doubly for Mass Effect and most other recent major retail games set in space.


ABOVE: EVE Online — as with most retail space sims, there’s also a lot of micro-management interface cruft cluttering up the screen. And as you can see here, planets are often not optically correct — they looks “bulged” from certain angles.

You might get away with “fair use” with the poorly-received 2006 game Darkstar One. They’d probably be flattered that anyone is still playing it. The game has what is probably the most beginner-friendly learning curve of the modern space-sims and a demo.

Infinity combat prototype 2.2. 2007 community release of a playable visuals demo of a forthcoming (eventually) indie/fan-project game. Very nice visuals, it can apparently clear almost all interface clutter off the screen, and it can already do multiplayer. Definitely looks like one to test, I’d say.

There’s also good-looking free software such as Stellarium which is a free open-source planetarium. Visually it’s quite attractive, and might be useful if you need visuals for an info-graphic video clip (e.g. script: “we need to intercept the rogue comet here!” — /she points to a spot on an interactive star-map/).

Mars in Google Earth, based on NASA photos and mapping, might also be useful. Also the NASA photographs and the Hubble space observatory photographs.

Independent Exposure

Microcinema’s 14th Independent Exposure competition ends submissions on 30th April 2010. Accepting…

“all sorts of genres and media types, animation in particular” […] “less than fifteen minutes in length” […] “The collection of short film finalists is exhibited in art galleries, concert events, museums, and several other seasonal events.” […] $5 entry fee.”

CG animation software survey

An interesting snapshot of the megafauna of the CG animation software world, in the CG Animation Survey 2009. 2010 has just closed, and results should be available shortly. There are some applications here that I’ve never even heard of — XSI, Modo, Houdini? Cinema 4D I only know because it used to be given away free with laughable regularity on magazine cover-disks in the early 2000s. The semi-pro applications such as Carrara, Poser, Vue, iClone etc are all presumably crammed into the “Other, 6%” slice…

I’m thinking we need an “at a glance” infographic map of 2D and 3D animation applications, such as this one for web companies

iClone 4 now available from Amazon UK

An obscure and misty island drifting somewhere off the coast of Europe gets iClone today. Yes, today’s the British release day for Amazon boxed versions of iClone 4 Standard (£57), iClone 4 Pro (£126), and the iClone 4 Pro + CrazyTalk 6 Pro Power Bundle IV (£140). Brits could previously have imported from the USA, but the prices are actually much better this way (especially considering the dire exchange-rate, possible UK Customs tax surcharges, and the fact that Reallusion’s ecommerce vendor always changes UK VAT as extra) — and buyers also benefit from Amazon UK’s free shipping.

The Broken

Loving the semi-silhouette look in this epic sci-fi battle-machines short from We Were Monkeys. Awful music, but great visuals…

Made with actual Airfix-style plastic models from kits (airbrushed and then weathered), which were then green-screened.

The Cemetery

A fun ghost-train -style ride through a cemetery. It might seem a somewhat discouraging start for some — what with the use of a stock unmodified iClone figure — but give it until 0:38 and then watch the film take off. Strong editing, outstanding sound design, and well-built sets…

Warning: some generic monster-horror and mild nudity.