Sir Billi

Hot on the heels of Ireland’s The Secret of Kells, Scotland is set to release its very first animated feature-film (unless The Illusionist pips it to the post). Sir Billi has been financed by one of Scotland’s leading industrialists, John Fortune-Fraser. The film is based on Sir Billi the Vet (2006), which was a well-reviewed $5-million 36-minute short… “about an eccentric veterinarian working in a remote Scottish village”. No trailers yet, but it sounds like an interesting slice of British quirkiness. Interestingly, the husband and wife makers are talking up the speed with which it was made…

“the creation of a full-length animated feature … in less time and with a fraction of the people [ used by ] a full Hollywood studio”.

It’ll be interesting to get a “making of…” and find out which software gave them their speed-boost, and if some of it was animating in real-time. Sir Sean Connery (the best James Bond) voices the lead character…

Spore to iClone with 3D Studio Max 9

How to convert Spore models for iClone, with 3D Studio Max 9:

(I have no idea if this will work with Max 2010. See the comments on this post, for a suggestion on how to cure the texture problems caused when using 3DS Max 2010 with Spore creatures.)

1. Export your Spore creature from the Creature Creator module in the same manner as shown in my Maya 2010 tutorial.

2. Load up Max. Then File | Import, and navigate to My Documents / My Spore Creations / Creatures to find your Spore-exported .dae. Make sure you have Collada selected in the file-types box…

If you get errors in the mesh, you could try the alternative OpenCollada Max plugin as an import option.

3. After a while the Spore creature will appear in the Max viewport. If you know how to use 3DS Max to add useful animations to a model (i.e.: walk, turn head, etc), you can add them now — and the new 3DXchange should carry them over to the final iClone avatar. I’d welcome confirmation on this last point.

4. Edit | Select All. Then File | Export. Choose “Autodesk (.FBX)” and type in an .fbx extension after you type out the export filename. Save the .fbx into My Spore Creations/Creatures, so you know where to find it. Below are the FBX export settings I used. Note especially the need to scale up in size…

Along with the .fbx file, 3DS Max export will only give you the diffuse texture map. A Maya 2010 conversion will give you texture maps for diffuse, and specular and normal.

5. Now load up your creature in 3DXchange 4 Pro. It will probably appear at an odd angle, despite having set a Z-axis in the .fbx export (both Spore and iClone use Z). So you may have to rotate it until it stands normally. You may also need to “Align to Ground” and “Alight to Center”.

6. Now turn on the 3DXchange 4 Pro dummy. You’ll probably see that the model is still too small, even after the size boost you gave it when exporting from Max. Here the model is scaled up again (by 250) in 3DXchange, and is finally starting to look like the right size….

7. Turn off the 3DXchange dummy, and click “Convert to Character”. There may be some warnings about pivot points and an options box allowing you to adjust joint sizes. Just click past these, if you don’t know what they are. Then you can click on File | Export to send the creature to your iClone folders.

8. Load up iClone, and you should find the creature in Actor | Custom. Drag and drop the creature onto the stage, and then you can use Motion Edit to add / save some basic animations…

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.”

It is possible that the free Blender will do all the above, but only once the new version 2.5 comes out in the summer. Blender 2.5 (possibly as early as the first beta?) will support OpenCollada import for .dae files, and will hopefully export 3DXchange-friendly .fbx files. Blender version 2.49 doesn’t work properly with Spore models.

Celtx 2.7

I’ve been looking seriously for over eight weeks now, and I’m amazed I’m still turning up useful movie-making software. Yesterday I found there’s a $60 utility called Ultimate Unwrap that (hiding behind its ability to unwrap meshes/textures) will convert a vast range of 3D model types to and from each other. It can even do .dae to .fbx, but it doesn’t convert Spore models properly — they still have the same gross opacity-layer problems they acquire by using more roundabout pipeline routes. So far, only Maya 2010 + OpenCollada import OR 3DS Max 9 + normal Collada import are known to consistently and easily convey Spore textures while refraining from distorting the model too much.

And today I found Celtx 2.7 which is a free open-source pre-production suite. It’s a plotting and script-writing tool, a story-board, a production schedule, a props and asset-management tool, and even a basic set-layout tool, all rolled into one. It’s available for Windows and Mac, and you can even get it for the Linux version of the Asus Eee netbook.

Blender’s compositing and sculpting tools

Two things you probably didn’t know that the free Blender could do. I know I didn’t, until recently…

Video compositing/overlay of 3D models on video

Z-Brush -like “3D clay” modelling

Now at the moment Blender is, of course, not as user-friendly as it might be. In terms of usability, it’s currently a bit of a 3D bear-pit. Which is why the interface is getting a major overhaul in version 2.5 beta (in alpha now, and by Summer 2010 it should be in usable form). So when we get 2.5 along with new features such as the ragdoll / collision motion-recording, and new free companion software such as MakeHuman, I’m certainly going to start trying to use it as my default major 3D application alongside iClone.

And I’m thinking that iClone 5 could add many powerful new features, simply by having buttons that launch Blender — seamlessly looping the iClone content out into Blender, and then bringing it back again.