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 dot.com 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…