Antics 3.0 – Pre-Viz to Machinima Tool

“Antics is a tool that can be accessible to everyone. The director can block out
the character action, the art director can work with (Google) Sketch-Up
and import a scene into Antics, the Director of Photography can get involved,
even the editor...we thought it would be a great tool for bringing
together the whole production team and creating a new work
flow in order to create pre-viz very easily”

-Brad Kolacinski

It was perhaps inevitable that Pre-Viz (pre-visualisation) would start to look to machinima as a new market. For those of you who don't know the history of pre-viz, it's still just over a decade old, having begun in the early nineties with CG artist Colin Green while working on the film Judge Dredd. Essentially, pre-viz is a form of 3d storyboarding that allows the director (and usually the effects crew) to see their scene/shots in real time with real world measurements in order to properly plan the shots they are interested in and, most importantly, budget them correctly. Of course, this is the high end version of pre-viz created with programs like Maya and XSI. You've probably seen some of them on “Special Edition” DVDs of films like “The Lord of the Rings” and “A.I.”.

So where does Antics come in to the picture? Well, as the idea of pre-viz became more popular, many indie and low-budget filmmakers began to look for a way to get the same benefits from 3d storyboarding, but without the huge price and steep learning curve of Maya. Antics saw a need for a simple drop-and-click program that just about anyone could learn that was priced for companies (and individuals) on a budget. Antics released version 1.0 in 2000 to positive reviews and strong interest from the professional film world. It's growth as a company (still centered in Cambridge, England) has led it to create branch offices in London and in Los Angeles.

I was initially exposed to Antics through a recommendation from a fellow machinima filmmaker who told me that the program was promising. I was interested, but when I did some research I realized that while Antics (then in version 2.0) was cheap for the professional filmmaker, it was too expensive for a poor machinima filmmaker like me. I did like the look of the 3d world and the community looked interesting. With some regret, I turned back to games, but I've kept my eye on the development of Antics.

Then in the late fall, my friend, Phil Rice (aka Overman) blogged that Antics had released their version 3.0 and that the base program plus a decent amount of content was free. Well, I was very impressed with this move by Antics. After downloading the free program and checking out the site, I realized that Antics was now a viable machinima tool. And it appears that I am not alone in this opinion. Antic's user base went from around 700 to almost 10, 000 in three months. When Brad Kolacinksi, the sales and marketing director for the Los Angeles branch of Antics, told me this at a recent Antics LA users meeting, I was dumbfounded. What a huge change in direction for Antics. And if the huge increase in user base is any indication, it seems to be paying off.

This review will be a little different from a traditional software review in that I am going to focus primarily on viability of Antics 3.0 as a machinima tool. My background (in addition to writing) is in machinima, and I have a personal interest in Antics as a tool for several machinima projects I have planned for the future. Yes, I'll cover some of the basics of how Antics functions in version 3.0, but I won't go into great depth. I had planned to create a small film in Antics 3.0 (5 minutes) and journal the process, but deadlines and other projects pushed this idea aside.

So, lets get started with a short interview I did with Brad. I can say right off the bat that the support and communication with the community by Antics LA is very good. I've met Brad and listened to him demonstrate how to import Google Warehouse models into Antics 3.0. He is an interesting person who obviously likes his job and likes the product he is selling. We spoke last week on Skype about the history of the company, the Antics decision to create the free base program, machinima and a bit about Brad himself. This interview has been slightly edited for brevity and content.

Interview with Brad Kolacinski (mp3 format)

Antics3d version 3.0 was released in the fall of 2007. The free base program can be downloaded from the main Antics site. As Brad mentions in the interview, the added content for the download was light because they didn't want to make the download size too large. There is a large amount of additional free content available at the Antics site once you register. You can also buy additional packs which are reasonably priced. They have been releasing 2-3 new content packs every two weeks. This content includes sets, characters, props, landscapes, animations and more. Antics also makes a professional version of the program available for purchase ($595 USD) which contains a significant amount of content, free downloads of all premium content for a year, licensing for 2 activations, beefed up customer support and a 3DS Max Exporter, which will soon be available for separate purchase by Base pack users.

Since there are no significant differences between the Base program and the Pro program, in terms of functionality, I'll be reviewing the Pro version. It's clear that the free Base program is not a “lite” version, but can do nearly everything that the Pro version can do. My thanks to Brad and Antics for providing the Pro version of Antics 3.0 for review.

 

Assets are easy to find in Antics, just click and drag them to your set.

Antics 3.0 is the simplest and most intuitive entry level 3d movie-making software program on the market today. I created a set, decorated it, placed characters, charted their movements and animations, set up cameras and made timing adjustments on the time-line, all within an hour or so. And that's without reviewing the user's manual or watching any of the excellent video tutorials available at the Antcs3d.com site.

Part of the ease of use is the fact that Antics chose to create a graphical interface that is very much windows-based. The interface is familiar and responsive to the same “point and click” functionality you find in programs from Adobe Photoshop to Microsoft Word. Moreover, the basic work flow in Antics is simplicity itself. There are three simple workspaces in Antics 3.0; Set Building, Directing the Action and Editing/Output the Video. Each workspace is completely adjustable to reflect your own personal preferences. There is also a clearly organized assets viewer that allows you to choose assets from the packs you've installed and to search the Antics Warehouse site from within your browser of choice.

Once you've either built your set and/or downloaded one from the Antics Warehouse, you proceed to peopling your scene with characters and setting up your shots/cameras. Camera control is one of the best parts of Antics 3.0. You can create simple camera shots, free cameras, follow camera or treat your camera as a prop and key-frame it's actions all with simple point and click actions. You'd expect this level of control for a pre-viz program since production companies are most interested in how the shot works and what will be seen within the shot. For a machinima filmmaker it's a relief since so many games have such complex and difficult methods to set up camera shots. Antics makes working with your camera simple, leaving you to work on timing the various elements of your scene.

The timeline (at the bottom) is clearly laid out. All events are simple to adjust.

Working with characters and their animations is an easy process within Antics as well; choose your character from an interesting range of ages, races, genders and classes, then simply click and drop them where you want on the set. You can then position them with ease. Choosing the correct animations is a bit more involved, but with some practice it becomes easy and straight-forward. Posing characters for Storyboarding down to the finger level is a snap (literally) and you can take screen caps with a click of a button.

Antics includes the ability to import BVH animation files into your scene. I downloaded several free BVH files from the net and every one worked just fine. While pre-viewing your animation files within the assets browser, you get a mini-viewer that you can play you animation in. Another nice touch within Antics is the simple AI within the characters that allow them to automatically sit down, open car doors or move around a telephone booth automatically. It's really very simple to set up movement paths, look-tos, eye movements and gestures which can be further tweaked on the timeline.

The Antics time-line is extremely simple, and yet it allows you to make very subtle and precise changes to timings of props, characters and camera movements. Again, by simply using the point, click and drag functions you can re-time just about any element of your scene with almost complete freedom. When you have your scene the way you want it, you can easily render it to Avi, Quick Time or image sequence. The preference section allows you to choose your output size and any other elements you want to tweak for your final output.

My experiments with rendering left me with a positive impression. Renders were fairly quick and the quality was quite high. Missing from the output possibilities are the Flash video format and Windows Media. Since many filmmakers will want to post their work to the net where the Flash video format is the most widely used format, adding the ability to export high-quality Flash video will be an essential upgrade for the next version of Antics. Windows Media would be a nice addition, but it's not as essential as the Flash encoder.

Exporting preferences allow you to choose the size and type of video codec.

And that's how simple and easy the work flow is with Antics 3.0. I found that while I was working through a few simple scenes that the program was very solid with no crashing or lock-ups. The default "save project" occurs about every five minutes, but is completely adjustable. One of my buddies who has been working with Antics a bit longer says that there is a little bit of instability once your time-line gets complicated with a lot of elements to manipulate. I also found that repeated use of the assets viewer forced me to re-size it each time as it would revert to it's default size each time you close and re-open the window. I have a large monitor (Dell 24”) and it became a bit of a pain to do this every time I wanted to look through the assets.

While Antics 3.0 is a very good program for the machinima filmmaker, it still needs development before it becomes a major tool. The lighting in Antics is very basic, and although lighting is simple to set up and modify, it really isn't robust enough for the kind of look filmmakers need in creating dramatic scenes. Moreover, there are no shadows cast by characters or props which makes it even harder to create convincing light effects. There are workarounds with exporting to Photoshop or After Effects and hand-creating them there, but this is somewhat time-consuming and not everyone uses these programs or can afford them.

Another serious defect is the lack of facial animation for your characters. In fact, I'd say this is the single most important feature missing from Antics 3.0. Without the ability to create expressive faces for your animated characters, you end up sucking the life right out of what might otherwise be a well directed scene. Facial animation, even in only very slight amounts, can create empathy for your characters which makes all the difference in whether your story is believable or not. Again, there is a workaround with the use of Reallusion's Crazy Talk 5.0. As long as you have a simple face forward close up, you can screen capture a still of the first frame of the shot, import it into Crazy Talk, puppeteer facial animation of your choice in real time, export as video and then add the new shot (now with the missing facial animation) into the DV editing software of choice. As you can see, this is a fairly complex workaround, but in testing it's worked quite well.

In a close up, the character models are quite good. It's a snap to add lip-sync.

In summing up, Antics 3.0 is a promising 3d animation package for machinima filmmakers. The Antics company has made the base program free and is making a concerted effort to connect with the machinima community. Ease of use, commitment to providing interesting and varied content at a price point that is affordable, strong customer support and the recently announced ability to import the Google Sketch Up file format into Antics 3.0 (coming in March, 2008) make Antics 3.0 a serious option for machinima filmmakers who want to work outside of the game EULA and own their own content. There is strong competition from other programs like Moviestorm and Frame Forge, but I'm impressed with Antics. If they are able to add facial animation and lighting to the program (and Brad , their director of marketing and sales, assures me that this is one of their goals for the future), I think Antics will be the program of choice for many machinima filmmakers.

Notes:

My system: Abit P35 Pro Mobo
Intel Q660 CPU overclocked by 10%
2 Gigs Mushkin xxx Ram
XFX 8800GT PCI graphics card
On-board Realtek sound chip
Western Digital Raptor 150Gb Hard Drive
Dell 24” LCD Monitor
Antec P182 Case
Windows XP SP2

-Antics 3.0 is essentially a Windows based program (2000, XP, Vista) and does not support the Mac OSX operating system, however there appears that by using Apple's Boot Camp software, Antics will work on a Mac. I don't own a Mac, so I can't vouch for Boot Camp's effectiveness. I did see several Mac laptops at the L.A. User Group meeting last month, so it appears to be an effective workaround.

-The Antics 3.0 system requirements:

Microsoft® Windows® 2000 (SP 4), XP (SP 2), Vista
Apple® Boot Camp & MS Win XP (SP2) or Vista if running on an Intel Mac (please see our FAQ
page)
1.5 GHz processor, Recommended 3 GHz
1.5 GB Hard Disk space on C: drive. Recommended 3 GB
512MB RAM Minimum. Recommended 1 GB RAM, Vista Recommended 2 GB RAM
128MB video card with support for Open GL 1.4 or later
DVD Reader
3 button wheel mouse
Optional sound card and speakers for sound support
Internet connection for activation

-The Antics website is a very well-designed (like their software) and the community is active and helpful. You'll find a wide range of users from pros looking for pre-viz advice to newbie machinima filmmakers. The Antics staff is extremely good. I found it easy to communicate and get help. The Los Angeles office is planning a series of monthly user's group meetings. The January meeting was attended by about 20 people some of which were professional cinematographers and art directors. The networking is great and the presentation was superb. I hope to attend most of the future meetings as I learn more about Antics 3.0.

-Here's a nice product overview produced by Antics. You can also download the tutorials if you like.

-Mike Jones (fast becoming a Susan Sontag for machinima) has a fascinating essay/blog “Machinima, Software GUI and the Aspirational User” where he analyses the GUI of Antics and Moviestorm and who he thinks they were designed for. There are intriguing and feisty comments on the blog entry as well. Worth a read.

-I haven't come across any major reviews for Antics 3.0 yet, but there are lots of interesting reviews for the earlier Antics 2.5. You can sample them at the Antics site here.

-Pre-Viz has an interesting history. Wikipedia has a good overall history. Excellent interview with one of the founders of pre-viz, Colin Green. DV Magazine has a decent round-up of low cost pre-viz software (including Antics 2.5), you can find it here.

-Tony Bannon (Ammo PreViz) has probably created the most interesting work from a machinima perspective. His recent “Folie a Deux” is an excellent and imaginative film which won the Antics Medical Pack competition (you had to use elements from the recently released med pack). Tony's blog is a good source of information for Antics and Antics-related news. CJ Ambrosia is doing some good work as well. His recent “Have a Ball” is an amusing short that shows off some of what Antics can do. Leo Lucien-Bay's “Anonymous Coward” is another well-done machinima film shot in Antics. Both films are available for viewing at the Antics Cinema section of their website.


Ricky Grove [gToon], Contributing Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here

 

March 3, 2008

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Member Opinions:
By: FALCON2 on 3/7/08
Highly intriguing and after reading through your review/summary -- think I'll have to give this a try :D

By: gToon on 3/9/08
Glad you enjoyed the review and are giving the program a try. Antics3d.com is the main site address. If you use the free "base" program, don't forget to download the additional free content pack which has a ton of content. This pack is available at the Antics3d site, just follow the links there. Have fun!

By: DavidatWoodhorn on 3/13/08
I have played with Antics (base program) for a few weeks now ever since I got it free with a magazine.
I agree with everything that's said in this review. I really like this program. I use Poser and DAZ Studio and this is not in the same category nor is it meant to be. The closest program to this I can think of is iclone. If you think of Antics as a cut down, cheap (remember, Antics is free!) version of iClone, you won't be too far wrong.
It is very quick to produce animated characters and to get them to do many different actions easily. The manual tells you how to import your own 3ds files into a scene and how to make textures but I haven't tried any of this yet.
The free content at the moment consists of over 90 files for downloading from people to planes and from tanks to tableware - there is a lot to play with. Most downloads are about 20MB, so downloading all the free content can take a long time.
I can't afford iClone or its add-on packs. Antics and its free content does a lot of what I would want to use iClone for.

I really like this program. (Did I mention it was free?).

David.

By: gishzida on 3/17/08
How does Antics compare to MovieStorm? It's nice that it's "free" but I am put off somewhat by the high price tag of the "pro" version. Is there any differences in the features of the "free" vs "Pro" version?

Thanks!

By: gToon on 3/17/08
None. The free version is not a "lite" version (a point I make in the review) and the content package is generous (400+ mbs). The pro version is a bit high-priced, but you can buy the 3dsmax importer at a reasonable price along with content packs in the 10$ range.

Comparisons with Moviestorm are not very apt since they both have entirely different engines and graphic interfaces. Moviestorm has a lot to offer, so definitely check it out. I think deciding between the two programs is a subjective call. I like them both.


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