Journal of Visual Culture – special open machinima issue

Sage’s scholarly Journal of Visual Culture has a special machinima issue out now. Normally such publicly-funded academic work is hidden from the public behind commercial journal paywalls, but for this issue only the editor has requested that they made the April 2011 issue open access. Here’s the contents list…

A ‘Different Technical Approach’? Introduction to the Special Issue on Machinima

Towards a Manifesto for Machinima

A Look Back at Machinima’s Potential

Machinima’s Promise

Machinima is Growing Up

Machinima: Limited, Ghettoized, and Spectacularly Promising

Where Were You the Day Onyxia Died?

Massively Multiplayer Machinima Mikusuto

Machinima in a Fanvid Ecology

Does Machinima Really Democratize?

Eight Questions (and Answers) about Machinima

Censorship as Criticism: Performance Art and Fair Use in Virtual Territory

Opportunity and Liability: The Two Sides of Machinima

Machinima as a Viable Commercial Medium

The Future of Machinima as a Professional Animation Resource and its Growth as Real-Time Animation in Virtual Worlds

Molotov Alva’s Further Adventures: A Conversation Which Could’ve Happened (But Never Did)

‘A Counter-Friction to the Machine’: What Game Scholars, Librarians, and Archivists Can Learn from Machinima Makers about User Activism

Perfect Capture: Three Takes on Replay, Machinima and the History of Virtual Worlds

Anyone reading this far in the post may also be interested in the May 2010 edition of my free academic ‘overlay’ ejournal The Journal of the Imaginary and Fantastic which was on ‘Machinima, the first decade‘, and which linked to selected free / open-access works.

“Can I do you now, sir?”

I’ve just spotted Alley’s excellent-looking 1940s Cleaning Lady (400 points) on the iClone Marketplace. Anyone doing animations for oral history / reminiscence recordings will probably want this.

Unlocking the ‘purchase’ (or even the wishlist) button in the iClone Marketplace seems to require that you already own Trumpet Short (100) and Violet Gown Lower (300), bringing the total cost to just 800 points. (About $8?).

(“Can I do you now, sir?” was the famous catchphrase of the British Mrs. Mopp character).

12 City Backdrops, Creative Commons

Procedural (automatic, semi-random) city generators are great, but often they’re only for the big beasts of the 3D software world, and tend to produce 3D models that are over 500,000 polygons. Sometimes you just want a view out of a window, or from your airship etc, that looks like it fits with iClone and which isn’t going to strain your already-groaning iClone scene. Here are 12 such city backdrops I made and rendered with iClone, at 3000 x 1200 pixel .jpg. Creative Commons, Attribution.

Download here (6mb)

My 3D CG story…

Seeing that iClone is 10 years old, I thought I’d do a little potted history of my own journey through 3D CG. Which actually started around 15 years ago…

Sometime around 1996 or perhaps 1997 I ended up with a free 3D landscape suite on my PC, given away on a UK magazine cover-CD. Possibly it was VistaPro or something similar? It wasn’t Bryce, and I’m pretty sure that Vue didn’t exist that time. This software was my first introduction to 3D, although I was also playing PC videogames such as Heretic and Myst and so (as a digital creative type) I knew something of how they were made. I liked the idea of using the 3D landscape software to make the sort of fantasy scene I’d played through in the game Myst. There was some excellent ‘click-the-hotspots’ game-production software called Illuminatus (now Opus Pro), which I owned and which I thought I might combine the landscape renders with. But these were the days of the 800 x 600 12″ monitor, CD-ROMs, and the Pentium II. There was very little 3D content around even if you could download it on a 36kb/s dial-up modem. And I hardly knew Photoshop at that point. Still, I learned a lot.

I quickly moved on to the similar but more user-friendly landscape software Bryce, free copies of which were floating around on UK magazine cover-disks in the mid/late 1990s. But Bryce’s huge rendering times were just as deadly as those of VistaPro. Back then, you could be lucky to find 30 x free 3D objects to put in your library, and most of it was basic tech-demo stuff like teapots and beach-balls. The 3D human-figure software Poser 3 arrived in a box for me around summer 2000, and I think I bought it after using a free magazine give-away of Poser 2? Poser certainly didn’t have the huge range of content that there is now. But I saw the potential, I loved Poser’s interface even in version 2, and the rendering was at least faster than Bryce. I faithfully followed Poser over several years, wincing at the various indignities thrust upon the program as it changed ownership and became a big un-loved corporate cash-cow. Although I became quite good at making Poser scenes I really sighed over its frequent crashes, and the crazy days-long render times needed to get one large printable picture. And the infernally cluttered and convoluted content-library system, which has never really improved. At some point DAZ Studio came along to rival Poser (and with what is arguably an even worse content-library management system than Poser). But I stuck with Poser, even though the new owners had obviously lost interest. I was heartened by the DAZ/Poser content-base that was expanding at a stupendous rate, even if a large amount of it was dross or copycat morphs. Poser even turned out to turn a penny for me, through using it in my growing web-design work.

I was a teacher again from 2001, after the Web bubble burst in the great crash and businesses started using templates, and so I also did some basic learning on educational copies of 3DS Max, and later Lightwave. But once again the huge render times — on the puny home PC hardware of the early 2000s — meant that producing anything on these major 3D suites was a frustrating process. While a Silicon Graphics workstation remained out of reach, I was by then a veteran videogame player. Which at least meant that I had some graphics horsepower in my PC — and more importantly meant that I knew what real-time graphics were capable of, and the blistering pace at which free-market competition was pushing them forward. Throughout the 2000s I regularly read the UK’s Computer Arts magazine, but the main focus was by then on developing my 2D Photoshop and Web design skills. 3D was just a sideline interest — but I picked up the occasional copy of 3D World magazine, when they had some interesting giveaway on the cover. By tinkering in that way I kept up with 3D CG developments. I tinkered a lot with Cinema 4D, which seemed to be given away free on magazine cover-disks every other month, for several years around 2002-ish. But it didn’t stick. Possibly it was the lack of sci-fi/fantasy content (this was pre-broadband, pre- Google 3D Warehouse). I went back to Poser, which increasingly did have the content, but with less and less enthusiasm for the big lumbering crash-prone beast.

Then I read a positive review of iClone 2, possibly in the UK’s PC Pro magazine (I think it was there, rather than in the more likely Computer Arts or Digit or 3D World), and I instantly knew that real-time animation software was something I should closely follow the progress of. Animation software able to take advantage of videogame engines just seemed like such a natural fit, and the idea of having a “real-time rendering Poser” was fascinating. This was perhaps back in 2005? But I found iClone 2 to be too primitive to use at that point, compared to Poser. Yet I saw the iClone 2 “aliens in tanks demo“, and I knew that it could do impressive work in the hands of someone who was willing to put the training time in. I made a mental note to try the next version.

I gave iClone 3 a proper try in the Summer of 2008, but even after a day or two of learning I found the interface very frustrating and I just couldn’t get it to do what I wanted. Partly it was an “it doesn’t ***ing work like Poser!” problem. But it was also that I knew I wanted to get away from the starkly-lit puppets/game “uncanny valley” look, and into something more creative. Then there was the off-putting paucity of documentation and tutorials on how I might do that, although I was encouraged to see that free tutorials were starting to appear regularly on iClone Certified Training’s blog.

Then, in January 2010 I looked again at iClone — and found that iClone 4 had quietly appeared a few months earlier. Version 4 had a growing range of content, tight CrazyTalk integration, many improvements, and a good model conversion tool that tapped into the millions of free Google 3D Warehouse models. It also had an excellent and friendly community, and all its content had recently become royalty-free to use in movies. Taking all these factors into account, iClone 4 simply had no real competitors in the real-time animation arena. So, after some further weeks of testing, I bought both iClone Pro and CrazyTalk Pro as a bundle…

iClone is 10

Reallusion’s Effect 3D software appears to have been first published on 30th April 2001, so it looks like iClone (in its various incarnations) is coming up on its tenth anniversary! Here’s a quick retrospective of the software’s versions…

2001: Reallusion Effect3D Motion Studio

“Over 500 models are cleverly categorized for easy browsing and with over 70 behavioral Bio-Morph animation`s to choose from; Effect3D gives you the freedom to create uncompromising images limited only by your imagination! Using the most advanced animation technology, Free-Form Deformation (FFD) Effect3D can make 3D models bow, dance, or even do the hula-hula! Effect3D can also create dynamic 3D models by RTS animation so models can move back-and-forth, float, or rotate. Just let the Smart Wizard walk you through the easy-to-follow process of applying the animation you want”

2002: Reallusion Effect3D Motion Studio (v.2.0?)

2002: Reallusion ItsMe Motion Editor 1.0

2003: Reallusion ItsMe Motion Editor 2.5

(Oh no, interface disaster!)

iClone 1:

iClone 2:

iClone 2.5:

iClone 3:

iClone 4:

iClone 5:

Coming September 2011?

Ace demo

Japanese pro videogame developers tri-Ace show what they can do with real-time rendering in a videogame engine…

Rendered in real-time on Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3
Runs at 30Hz with 720p and is directly captured from the video output on the devkit
Real-time lighting and shadowing used (no baked light maps)
Key features are physically-based shading models, physically-based lighting and image-based global illumination

Full technical details are on their r&d page.

Second pack of lighting presets for iClone

Presenting my second pack of iClone Light presets. 26 lighting setups to serve as “quick-starts” for lighting your scenes. Creative Commons Non-commercial Attribution ShareAlike (applies to this pack and its iLight files only, not to the films or stills you make with its help). Just copy the folder of lighting presets into C:\Users\Public\Documents\Reallusion\Custom\iClone 4 Custom\Light\

Download here (400kb)

(See also: the first MyClone lights pack)

Real-time animation on the PS2

Turkey has a vibrant and strong fine-arts and media-tech-arts scene, possibly partly because the country has such an ugly and censorious government — gritty “rock or die” environments often produce the best art. The latest evidence of the scene in Turkey is this video of some home-brewed PS2 real-time animation kit from Nerdworking…

Shocking videogames

Prestigious academic journal Nature reports that applying a 9v battery charge to your scalp while videogaming can double the rate at which you learn how to play the game…

“Volunteers receiving 2 milliamps to the scalp (about one-five-hundredth the amount drawn by a 100-watt light bulb) showed twice as much improvement in the game after a short amount of training as those receiving one-twentieth the amount of current. “They learn more quickly but they don’t have a good intuitive or introspective sense about why,” says Clark.”

Nice. Will iClone 5 ship with a small “thinking cap” and a couple of spare batteries?

Dreamworks looks forward to WYSIWYG real-time animation

Variety covers a chat between James Cameron, George Lucas and Jeffrey Katzenberg…

As for animation, a sea change is coming, [Jeffrey] Katzenberg [CEO of Dreamworks] said, in the form of a process that will “fundamentally change the quality of what we do.” It’s called scalable multicore processing, essentially another exponent of computing power that will take the tedium of rendering out of the animation process.

“The power and the speed of the chips is about to take a quantum leap, the result of which is that our artists will be able to see their work in real time,” Katzenberg said.

As of now, animators make a couple of seconds of rough, low-resolution footage that’s sent to a rendering farm and returned as much as 12 hours later.

Not for much longer.

“It’s almost as if they were painting blind,” Katzenberg said. “What this next generation does is that the artist will see their work as they’re creating it. … I cannot tell you how transformative that will be in our storytelling.”