Fierce Animals Pack 2 released for iClone

New on the iClone Content Store, Fierce Animals Pack 2. This joins the recent Pack 1, and there’s a discounted bundle offer if you buy both. There are also discount codes floating around, so check your email if you’ve previously purchased an animals pack. They’re non-standard characters that come with their own specific motions. In the case of the gorilla, it seems a pity he couldn’t have also been rigged for the standard human motions — I’d love to have a comedy gorilla in the library.

The state of Russian animation

An NTD report on the crisis in animation production in Russia, a nation that once had a thriving animation industry which could churn out funny movies even amid the horrors of socialism. Some of their techniques even influenced Miyazaki. Today the Russians still love their old animations, and some new ones such as the fairy-tales mega-series Gora Samotsvetov, but there’s a lack of talent (partly due to the long-term compounded effects of corruption and nepotism in government, and consequent lack of support for the industry) and a law banning TV advertising to kids (which makes producing for TV unprofitable in the face of cheap high-quality Western and Japanese imports).

For a more in-depth treatment on the crisis, earlier this year Russian Life magazine had an eight-page article titled “The End of Russian Animation?” (it’s behind a paywall), which opened with…

“If the artists themselves are to be believed, Russian animation is in its death throes. After barely surviving the turmoil of the Soviet breakup, this beloved art form can no longer count on state support, nor can it embrace advertising [due to laws against advertising to kids], making its future uncertain at best.”

“Here’s to dwarves who go swimming with little hairy .fbx’s…”

The participants of OpenGameArt have paid to get a professional character designer and rigger (‘thecubber’) to make a low-poly dwarf, in order to give away for free for Blender. It’s just been released, and it weighs in at a mere 12,000 polygons. I got him into iClone, but the .fbx conversion badly links the armour and cloth to the body. This means that although he looks OK in the static pose, if you edit motion using Motion Edit then the armour and cloth only half-follow with the body and the upper arms and feet thus “poke through”. The eyes also blank when the head turns. Still, this is what he looks like in iClone. If anyone who knows Blender can work around Blender’s nearly-always-rubbish .fbx output, then I’ll try again with a new file.

Webcomic template for CrazyTalk Animator

There’s a new comic-strip template on the iClone Marketplace, for those who want to make online comic-strips using CrazyTalk Animator. It’s 350 points on the Reallusion Marketplace, is packed as an editable Project file, and you get…

“the same strip as you see in the preview pictures […] It includes a special new ‘comic-strip panels’ prop, a vector prop which makes four “windows” into your scene. This prop instantly gives you the classic layout of four comic-strip panels, inside CrazyTalk Animator!”

3D World 145

A couple of items that might interest iCloners in the latest 3D World magazine #145, on sale in the UK from 30th June 2011.

Issue 145 has six hours of video tutorials for 3DS Max, taking you through the process of creating a “big space” interior that’s game ready (and thus by implication also iClone ready). The videos are free online, and the assets and scene files used are on the magazine’s free DVD.

There’s also apparently “10 mazes for games” on the free DVD, which sound interesting. They are going to be 3D rather than 2D tiles, so they might have some interest for us — especially if they’re clad in fantasy and science fiction themed artwork.

Videogames are protected under First Amendement, rules U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court has today issued a final ruling that videogames qualify for First Amendment protection under the U.S. Constitution. Although the Supreme Court ruling seems to me to be a completely obvious and common-sense decision, this is being reported as a landmark ruling and apparently sets a major precedent — one that may also affect machinima in future.

APIStudios releases selected art assets, as Creative Commons Attribution

APIStudios has kindly just released some of their concept art and game tile assets for their online game Gods and Idols on OpenGameArt, under a generous Creative Commons Attribution licence. So you can use these backgrounds commercially if you want. You must include a Web link back to in your attribution / crediting of this content if you use it in your animation, graphic novel, webcomic, etc, or if you use one as a base layer for your overlaid digital matte painting. I’m afraid I’ve been unable to find the name of the original matte artist. Possibly it’s the game’s Swedish developer himself?

They’re all supplied as square 512px tiles, but I’ve gone through and cropped and converted to character-free and FX-free backgrounds at a background size of 1280px x 720px widescreen. Some filtering and blurring and cloning has gone on to hide most of the jaggies that sometimes resulted from the Photoshop upscaling. The 36 background mattes that survived the selection process generally stand up fairly well. If you’re planning to scale down your 1280px x 720px widescreen machinima movie by 50% for online viewing, most of the artifacts will probably be erased by the downscaling and the video compression.

Download here

Where to get pro toon sound FX, cheap

Sound. It’s what makes a cartoon come alive. So, where to get high-quality sound FX for toons? There are two big studio CDs of sound FX that you can currently buy used at fairly cheap prices on Amazon.

1) The ”Hanna-Barbera Cartoon Sound FX” CD was published in 1994 by Rhino. “No commercial use”, but presumably amateur use is fine.

Apparently this was a budget digest CD culled from an earlier and much larger four-CD collection (no longer available for sale) which is described on Wikipedia…

“Sound Ideas released a four-CD set entitled ”The Hanna-Barbera Sound FX Library”, featuring nearly all of the original H-B sound effects used from 1957 to 1990 […]. The sound effects were digitally remastered, so they would fit easily on new digital soundtracks. A fifth CD was added in 1996, entitled ”Hanna-Barbera Lost Treasures”, and featured more sound effects including sounds from ”Space Ghost” and ”The Impossibles”.”

2) The Warner Bros. equivalent CD is Crash Bang Boom: The Best of WB Sound FX published by Rhino in 2000. There are apparently 98 FX on the CD, but it’s less useful because you’ll need to rip the CD and then edit — as the CD is padded out by having the sound FX linked by narration and voice skits. This is apparently the list of FX on the WB CD…

  Merry-Go-Round Broke Down
  Who’s There?
  Banana Peel
  Daffy’s Plane Crash
  Big Blow Up
  Party Horns
  Seems Like Yesterday…
  Big Fat Kiss
  Ain’t I a Hoot?
  Nuttin’ Like a Little Shut-Eye
  Funny Animals
  My New Car
  Something I Said?
  Fast Talker
  Why Me?
  There They Go Go Go
  Funny Fall
  Paper Parasol Commercial
  Look Out
  Falling Rock
  Rock Fell
  Marvin the Martian’s Message
  Wild Uproar
  Wild Roar
  Road Rage
  Ooh, That Smarts
  More Funny Animal
  Another Monster
  Funny Growl
  Weird Vibes
  Outer Space
  Evil Laughter
  Mom’s Reaction
  Tweety’s Message
  Welcome to Wackyland
  Daffy Duck Tries to Read Poetry
  To Drink, Beep, Chain Saw, Paper Rattle, Flying Duck, Voo-Bah Voo-Bah,
  Funny Bonks
  Funny Car
  Funny Cork Pop
  Wild Corks
  Out of Steam
  Funny Gulp
  Big Slide
  Sylvester’s Message
  Tunnel Paint Commercial
  Big Train
  Big Horn
  Big Crash
  Pepe le Pew’s Message
  Two Dogs, a Bird, and a Bone
  Ah Choo-Choo
  Slide Whistle
  Goofy Gizmo Explosion
  Tower Construction
  Hair She Comes
  Tweety’s Tewephone
  Falling Cat
  Marching Pink Elephants
  Daffy Duck’s Message
  Porky Pig’s Message
  Big Balloon, the Big Gulp, Tarzan’s Last Swing, Going Down?, High W
  Happy Birthday from Bugs Bunny
  Happy Birthday from Marvin the Martian
  Good Egg
  Marvin’s Lab I
  Earthquake Tablets Commercial
  That’s All Folks/Merrily We Roll Along

Keep in mind also that WB are a company with a record of being very trigger-happy on claiming copyright infringement.

Flipchart, stand, pen-hand, for CTA

While looking through the Odd Job Jack files I found a useful toon flipchart prop. Ideal for poking fun at office meetings and those spouting trendy jargon etc. Alternatively, cover the pen and eraser with little paint pots, and make it an artist’s easel. Non-commercial use only, as the usual Odd Job Jack assets licence applies. I’ve packed it with Bitterjug’s public domain “holding a pen” hand from OpenClipArt.

Download here

14 animated FX props for CrazyTalk Animator, free set

I was asked to have another look at the Odd Job Jack assets, looking specifically at getting some animated FX prop files for CrazyTalk Animator. Many failed the test of too many shapes or torn vectors on conversion, or were just not very useful-looking. But a set of 14 animated FX props made it to CrazyTalk Animator in the final cut. These are licenced as Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic. If you use these then please credit Smiley Guy Studios and the fine artists of Odd Job Jack in or alongside your movie, comic, illustration, or videogame, and include the original licence details.

Download here

Poser sale now on, deep price cuts

The Smith Micro store is having a big two-day Poser sale this weekend. I see Poser Pro 2010 at $175.00, down from $499. I see Poser 8 Standard at $100… but keep in kind that currently has Poser 8 at just $88.99 with free shipping. And also keep in mind that a great many Poser users still prefer Poser 6 — that’s why v6 keeps its used prices higher than v8 on Amazon, and it can no longer be purchased from Smith Micro.

Poser takes some learning, and newcomers to Poser may be more comfortable with Poser Debut at a mere $20. At that sale price it’s really a “why not?” purchase if you don’t already have Poser. But why might you want to spend even $20 on Poser, when DAZ Studio is free? It might be useful if you want access to Poser’s excellent sketch-like and toon rendering capabilities (the toon shaders are apparently included in Poser Debut, along with the powerful SketchDesigner for sketch renders). Very useful if you plan to use Poser for its original purpose, artist reference images for making a figurative painting. Maybe even for CrazyTalk Animator backgrounds, using the toon rendering. It might even be potentially useful to help create 2D CrazyTalk Animator figures.

But if that’s all you want it for, then keep in mind that we might well get nice sketch and toon rendering with iClone 5 (due Q4 2011). But then again, iClone 5’s toon/comic presets might be as bad as DAZ’s, and it may not even have sketch shaders and presets. Even if it does do sketch, it’s very unlikely to match the quality of Poser’s FireFly-powered SketchDesigner module.

As a tool for extracting Poser/DAZ content, DAZ Studio 3 is superior. Not only is it free and able to load and export 95% of Poser content (although some of that 5% is superb modelling and character-making) with a little tweaking. It also has the great advantage over Poser that it exports models with textures, without which it wouldn’t be possible to get most DAZ/Poser models into iClone. (Update: the new Poser Pro 2012 now exports Collada)

Either Poser or DAZ will both render you excellent still 3D images to use as impressive static backdrops for iClone movies, using their immense range of stock content and scenes. They can also be useful for animating the sort of obscure and/or ultra-high-quality content you’re never likely to find in the iClone store — you’d get it to iClone as a green-screened video clip via Reallusion’s popVideo software.

Mixamo’s Auto-Rigger costs evaluated

Announced a month ago, Mixamo Auto-Rigger looks like an interesting if very expensive service. I must have missed it when it first went live last month.

It’s now out of private beta, looks from the videos as though it really does making rigging a five second snap, and apparently currently costs $89 for a month of use. That doesn’t include the rather expensive individual motion-captures that you can apply to and export with your finished character. The monthly billing method and expensive per-motion pricing suggests the service is aimed at small indie game-developers. Although I guess someone with a large DAZ character library could probably rig a lot of characters in a month if they had the cash. But they’d be spending a lot of money… if you added twelve animations per character, and converted your favourite thirty DAZ characters that you’d spend a whopping $7,000 or more. For that kind of money, I’d hope the DAZ characters would be keeping their custom morphs through the process.

Even if you only have one favorite DAZ character you’d still pay $200 for one month’s access and six motions from Mixamo. Now admittedly… that does compare well to paying an iClone developer $300 to spend a day rigging your DAZ character in Max or Maya with the official iClone RL bones, and probably wrestling to keep the morphs along the way. But once the RL rigging was done then your character would load not just half a dozen motions — but thousands.

If Mixamo could auto-rig morph-retained DAZ characters with the official iClone RL bones, it would be an absolute wonder. Sadly, it doesn’t.

As an alternative to hiring an iClone developer, you might consider it better to invest in DAZ Studio Advanced, with its addon AniMate Plus and Digimi Game Developer Kit plugins, as a pipeline to 3XChange 4 Pro. Together those might cost about $500, although some people may already have bits of that pipeline because they took advantage of introductory prices and discount periods. But once you have them all then you can convert as many DAZ characters as you like for iClone. The only drawback is that morphed (i.e.: body customised and tweaked) DAZ characters won’t look the same by the time they hit iClone — 3DXchange 4 Pro throws away the morphs. Your fancy morphed DAZ character will turn back into plain old Victoria or Micheal. That’s a fairly annoying stumbling block to hit without warning, once you’ve spent that kind of money.

But that pipeline will work for some of the simpler and more unique-mesh characters — such as the 3D Universe toon characters, less complicated robots, etc. The process is… load your DAZ character in DAZ Studio as usual, Decimate the character’s polygons with the Game Kit if needed, then apply a whole load of aniMate motions (these apply to any DAZ character), bake the motions to Studio keyframes (right-click just above the special aniMate timeline, select “Bake to Studio Keyframes”, and your animations are transferred over into the regular DAZ Studio timeline — only then will they be loaded into the final .fbx), and finally export as a motion-loaded .fbx for conversion to iClone with 3DXchange Pro 4.

DAZ Studio 4 Advanced

DAZ Studio 4 Advanced should be available for sale any day now, according to an official statement on their forums in early June. If you’ve already purchased the new Genesis figures’ auto-fit tool now (currently discounted to $80, it fits most of the old DAZ clothing to the new figure type), then you also apparently get $50 off either the straight or upgrade price of DAZ Studio 4 Advanced when it appears.

It’s not such a good deal, though. They’re doing it because they’ve made a decision to include the auto-fit tool in the Advanced version. You’d be $30 down on the deal, if you’ve already bought the auto-fit tool and then buy DAZ Studio Advanced. It’s best to hold off on buying DAZ Studio plugins until it’s known what’s included in Studio 4 Advanced, I’d say.

On steam-guns and steam-rifles

A thoughtful new illustrated essay on the design inspirations for the WETA Dr. Grodbort’s rayguns.

You can get one of the WETA rayguns free here for iClone.

I also have a rayguns pack from the Google 3D Warehouse raygun challenge, which includes two steampunk-ish ray-rifles.

Want more? Renderosity has a very cool Steam Rifle Construction Kit for DAZ Studio and Poser. Currently it’s just $7.50. In DAZ Studio, find the main trigger-sections in “Figures”, and all the other compenents in “Props”, all under the label “Steam Rifle”. The chosen sections all fit into their correct place when loaded, there’s no fiddly positioning needed. Most rifles you’ll make with this are around 60 to 80k in terms of poly-count, but you can always reduce them with the DAZ Game Kit if you need them below 30k.

You’ll need to dial down the strength of all of the reflection maps once you get your rifle exported into iClone, since these will come in with a model-swamping 100% strength. It might be better to just delete all the reflection maps from the DAZ textures folder first, and not have them load up in the first place.