Freelancer Artist creates 3D effects in just minutess
M. D. McCallum
First and foremost... I would describe myself as a technophile and a fan of CG anymation and machinima. Especially small team or individual projects. Born and raised in the sparsely populated Texas Panhandle I turned to computers to pass the time and from there went on to do freelance work in many fields. The WarLord nickname is an old Dungeons And Dragons name from my college days at Texas Tech University and has nothing to do with war or a love of war even though I seem to do quite a bit of war related movie work. This is one of the most asked questions from my website.
Ingenious iClone Player
When I first discovered iClone I had been through a steady evolution in freelance that lead me from programmer to webmaster to graphics artist to 3D Designer culminating at that time in several opportunies as a storyboard artist for some indie studios. I was also heavily involved in 3D scene and prop making during that time. Mainly as a journeyman that handled whatever was sent my way. I became frustrated with the storyboard programs at the time and found iClone through a web search. Not sure how I found it but I'm sure glad I did. Within minutes of downloading the program it paid for itself. I used it that night to create a shot sequence with several alternates including angles not even discussed by the creative or visual group and sent them in with my next batch of work. The response wasn't exactly immediate... in fact it took longer than usual but then I found it was because the storyboard and shortlist had been circulated to people in the project for feedback that had never been included at this level before. The number of creative minds powering the team more than doubled by just having the ability to recreate a shortlist and send it to so many people so quickly.
I started when version 1.0 was released. iClone was extremely easy to learn and render compared to Poser and other character alternatives. In fact there was very little learning curve at all in those days. We didn't even have a free camera then. My first iClone movie was a James Bond movie because I was working on a Bond project at the time and needed to use the visualation iClone created. From that point on iClone worked its way into my daily production pipeline and soon became one of the programs I worked with on a regular basis.
Q: We've seen the tutorial you made for Post Magazine, can you share with us what' your experience in using iClone in the production pipeline?
I use iClone in my pipeline every chance I get due the speed and ease of which a scene can be created and rendered out. Saving time in this industry saves money and at times can mean a nice bonus. Post products like After Effects, Hit Film and others allow me to blend the output of differing animation engines making a superior final product. Another aspect as was mentioned in the Post article concerns the management of animation teams. Any competent professional animator can pick up iClone and be animating objects on a path or using character animation tools in a matter of minutes without ever having seen it before. The concepts are straight forward and simple to execute when you are already familiar with 3D work. This in turn frees up more experienced animators to tackle the tougher challenges of the project and keeps it on track and as is most important in the entertainment industry moving forward. Any delay in production is extra expense so being able to assign certain parts of any project to anyone on the team has its advantages. iClone not only frees up specialized talent it does so quickly with little learning curve for those pros stepping up to use the product for the first time.
Q: Where did your ideas come from of designing low poly crowds series? And how do you produce these content?
I needed to have a few hundred soldiers on screen at one time for a particular project. Characters were out of the question due to the poly count. Even a 5K character drags down the engine when 300 or more peeps are involved. Early Peeps had various levels of detail as I brought the poly count down to a bare minimum. The balloon heads were chosen due the fact that even very lightly detailed faces with nose and mouth added to the load on the engine and decreased the number of Peeps onscreen. The average poly count for a Peep dropped to a little over 900k. The low poly Peep is actually created in Studio Max as a skeletal character with either a CAT rig or a Biped. It could just as easily be exported as a non-standard character that works with iClone animations. In fact I have a working character version of most of the Peeps. The walkabout crowd is actually a crowd with behaviors scripted into each Peep then the animation is baked in and exported for use in iClone. iClone gives me the ability to put animated props into the hands of users in this case with no other interaction necessary on the part of the animator. Just drag, drop, position and press play.
Q: What are the general compositing features that you think iClone can benefit video producers?
It extremely easy to render out blue, green screen or any background color video. You can also render out an alpha video if preferred. These are essential to any composition as they must seamlessly integrate with the keying tools of compositing software. Compositing is 2D and that throws a curve to new 3D animators that have no experience with it. When you think about it all final renders are 2D. All compositing does is hide or show certain parts of a render. Rendering out easily composited videos with the proper background makes the task much simpler in terms of keying out the background making it a one or two click process without a lot of cleanup work. The image layers and billboards with opacity channels are also a plus as you can overlay images or video to these props and create your own layers within iClone.
Q: What are the top tips to handle large scenes with good performance real-time in iClone?
The poly count of a model is important but no longer the only guideline particularly in the 64 bit version. I still use 30,000 faces as a general guideline when creating a character but I regularly put characters of several hundred thousand to a million faces in a scene. There are steps that can be taken when working with a large scene.
Q: How do you think about the toon shader and NPR features in iClone5?
The Toon shader and NPR Post Effect is like having an entire team of cell shade animators without the hassle or the associated cost. With a few settings you can turn a 3D project into a very convincing 2D cartoon/illustrated look that completely changes the mood of a project.
Q: What's Sci-Fi Destructible Props Collection?
Its basically a collection of Sci-Fi warships, both capital and fighters, combined with space elements such as asteroid and debris fields, an exploding planet and one of my favorite props which is a planet with a cracking surface. There are also several high quality space backgrounds that were created in Vue to enhance the look of a space scene. My idea for the asteroids and planets pack was to provide a lot of detail to a scene that can help sell that scene to the viewer. There are over forty props in this special combo pack.
Q: Tell us more about your iClone book. What is it about?
I also added tips and tricks that I have picked up from the industry such as lighting, camera usage and layout among many others. These tips are gleaned from years of working on projects that range from a few hours to a couple of years by the time the final production is released.
There are new projects under discussion which include updating the book to version 5 or possibly writting a new book based on V5 advances. Even though the book says 4.31 on the cover it does have extensive appendices that cover the new features of version 5.
The new animation tools and I'm not talking about Motion Capture which is great in itself but the new animation tools such as MixMoves and Motion Puppet along with the HumanIK technology from Autodesk makes animating a much simpler task. Throw in the new Reach Target feature along with curves and you can have as smooth an animation as you want without a lot of work. In most cases none of this involves manual keyframing unless you just want to tweak the animation more.
The ability to mask out body parts with the Motion Puppet allows for the layering of animations in the timeline. We can use MixMoves or any motion clip then go into the Motion Puppet and mask out the body parts that we don't want to be effected by the new motions. This combines the two motions into a great animation.
Q: What's your important content or video creation in your iClone user history?
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