A viable 12-step Spore to iClone pipeline:
With special thanks to the Hairy Beari and ruedaminute.
To obtain access to 50 million rigged Spore characters inside iClone you will need:
$250. iClone 4. You probably want the Pro version if you’re going to edit motion on the Spore creature.
$99. 3DXchange 4 Pro.
$350. Maya 2010 and the free OpenCollada plugin for Maya. If you’re a student or teacher (or know someone who is) there’s a full educational version of Maya + 3DS Max for $350.
$25. A copy of Spore. This must be the full version, not just the free Creature Creator standalone module.
1. First ensure you have a fully patched version of the videogame Spore. You should be at a higher patch version than v5.1, which is when the export function was introduced. On my copy, the EA Download Manager automatically keeps the game patched and up-to-date.
2. Open up the full version of Spore‘s Creature Creator, and either load a finished creature you made earlier or make a new one.
3. Switch into the Creature Creator’s Paint/Texture Room (it must be the Paint/Texture Room) and on your keyboard press Crtl + Shift + C together.
4. This will bring up Spore‘s Debug Console box. Type in the magic word…
5. Spore will drop the model and textures into: My Documents/My Spore Creations/Creatures/ The model will be fully bone rigged and skin weighted.
6. Now obtain and install the free Open Collada import plugin for Maya. Maya’s own .dae importer cannot correctly import Spore models (it deletes the mesh, as does the free Autodesk converter — which is a kind of dumb mistake to make…).
7. Now open up Maya. Go to the top bar and find Window > Settings/Preferences > Plug-in Manager and open it up. Find COLLADAMaya.bundle and check “loaded” and “auto-load”. We just told Maya to always load the OpenCollada importer. Now close and then restart Maya, to get the OpenCollada plugin loaded up.
8. Now go to File > Import, and import your creature into Maya. You must have “OpenCOLLADA importer *.dae, *.xml” selected when choosing the file to import. Accept the default settings, and click OK. Maya will bring in your creature — amid a tangled mass of threads. Apparently this is normal. Just ignore these – take it on trust that your textured and rigged creature is somewhere inside the mess.
9. Now go Edit > Select All. You should see your creature’s mesh a little more clearly now. If you know what you’re doing in Maya, you might want to make the joint sizes smaller: Display > Animation > Joint Size around 0.04.
10. Now go File > Export Selection. Then export. Choose .fbx export. In the dialogue boxes, the official 3DXchange Maya tutorial video says choose…
Presets: Autodesk Media & Entertainment
Animation Group: Select “Bake Animations”
Animation Group: Select “Embed Media” to include texture maps on the model
Switch Axis Conversion setting to: Z (both Spore and iClone use Z-up)
And you probably don’t need to export lights and cameras either, but it doesn’t seem to matter either way. You may also want to experiment with setting the measurement units to millimetres, which appears to scale the creature up by a factor of 10.0. Make your choices and export. Save the file as something meaningful like maya-spore-export-001.fbx
11. Now load the resulting .fbx file into 3DXchange 4 Pro, accepting the default import settings. The model will likely be far too small, and will need to be scaled up as high as it can go (9999.99) — turn on the dummy temporarily to check the size. Now turn the dummy off and in the right-hand panel scroll down and click “Convert to character”. Ignore any warnings about loss of pivot points (a warning which doesn’t always arise – it seems to be something to do with the creature having been resized or not?), and accept the default bounding-box settings. Export the creature to iClone.
12. Now open up iClone and you should be able to easily load your creature into a scene. Double-click on it to activate, then right-click on it, and from there you can edit motions. Your creature should be quite low-poly, maybe around 15,000 polys. The textures should have made it all the way through the pipeline. Due to the huge variety possible when making Spore creatures (there are around 50 million publicly available for free, at the last count) some creatures will convert, and animate, better than others. Really complex ones tend to fall apart / distort.
You’ll now need to use the edit motion layer to make some basic animations for the creature. Existing stock animations can’t be dragged and dropped on the creature — they won’t work.
Possible alternative pipelines:
* Normal 3DS Max users: Max version 9’s default Collada importer and FBX exporter work with many simple Spore creatures, apart from occasional texture glitches. Apparently there are problems with Spore Collada support on 3DS Max 10 (there are iClone forum reports that certain texture maps / skins do not import, and there’s what looks like a very fiddly workaround). There are also problems with the free Autodesk standalone converter — so you may get better results by using Max 2010 with the free OpenCOLLADA for 3DS Max plugin with version 10. But Maya 2010 or 3DS Max 9 seem far more consistently reliable options.
* Reallusion developer 3DS Max users: If you are a Reallusion developer, and have access to the Max skeletons / plugins / INI files, then you might be able to re-rig a Spore creature, but this seems to be a tedious and arcane process which is only fully known to the iClone 3D gods. If you desperately need your Spore creature to do a silly dance, it’s far easier to just use Spore‘s own built-in animation functions.
* Blender: The gist of it — We may see a free Blender 2.5 beta in the summer which has an OpenCOLLADA importer. And it may work with Spore creatures. This would mean animations could be added in Blender before export. The deeply tedious detail — In Sept 2009 it was announced at SIGGRAPH that OpenCOLLADA would be “the basis” for upcoming Blender/Collada support, presumably in version 2.5. The current Blender v.2.5 alpha Collada import isn’t functional at present and nor is the .fbx export. The old 2.49 doesn’t use OpenCOLLADA and there is no downloadable OpenCOLLADA Blender plugin. In the meanwhile, if you’re really dedicated, this method might help Blender 2.49 users.
So to sum up: only Maya 2010 with OpenCollada is known to consistently convey all Spore textures, while (usually) refraining from distorting/exploding the model. If you’re willing to pay $350 for the student edition and learn how to add basic animation, then Maya 2010 can also add animations to the model before export. Animations that will carry over to the iClone version of the creature. The free Blender 2.5 may offer the same functionality as Maya 2010 when it’s released in the summer of 2010.
Don’t forget that you will need to include a standard legal disclaimer, as required by Spore’s publisher EA:—
This original Spore model, constructed by me, is being offered for use as part of a personal noncommercial free project, for the noncommercial benefit of the fan community for EA’s products. “This site is not endorsed by or affiliated with Electronic Arts, or its licensors. Trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Game content and materials copyright Electronic Arts Inc. and its licensors. All Rights Reserved.”
Related blog post: How to capture HD Spore animated background videos.