“We only breathe life into a character when it has personality. This is why we
added DAZ's head and body morphs in Cinema 4D's Visual Selector in such
a way that navigating between all possible deformations became quick and easy.”
The real secret of why the annual SIGGRAPH conference is so successful and fun is that it creates a place where you can accidentally discover new, exciting graphics technology simply by walking around and meeting people. This happened to me at SIGGRAPH 2012 in Vancouver, B.C. I walked past a small booth on the Exhibition floor and later received an email from Sara Richter, who ran the booth, asking me to stop by when I had the time. Since I always make room for happy accidents like this, I visited the booth the next day and spent a half hour with Sara, who demoed her modeling & animation Cinema 4D plug-ins for me. I liked the applications so much I decided then and there to review them for Renderosity.
The Kobold Charakteranimation (KCA) is a suite of plug-ins created primarily to enhance the character creation/animation inside of Maxon’s 3D application Cinema 4D, Studio version. Based in Germany, Kobold was co-founded by Sara and Bernhard Richter back in 2011. Their goal was to simplify character creation and animation by utilizing a simpler workflow similar to DAZ and Poser, both extremely popular 3D applications in their own right.
By bringing in the Poser style of character creation/animation and using the very popular DAZ model, Victoria 3, KCA has created a new, simpler workflow within Cinema 4D Studio. This is what the best plug-ins do; they enhance an aspect of the program they plug into, utilizing the strengths of the original program, but extending its abilities and enhancing its workflow. And since plug-in developers have a narrower focus in the development process, they are able to concentrate their work on very specific improvements within a particular program.
Taking its cue from the user-friendly Poser gui, KCA is composed of three separate “rooms” or interfaces that allow the user to: a) sculpt the highly detailed DAZ Victoria 3 model using sliders (Morph Room), b) animate the Victoria 3 mesh using a simple animation set up (Animation Room), again using sliders, and c) capture motion from a Microsoft Kinect motion capture device (Recording Room).
The Morph Room
The Morph Room is accessed through the plug-ins menu on Cinema 4D (Prime/Studio versions). Once activated, the DAZ Victoria 3 model is automatically imported into your initial scene along with everything you need to re-purpose the model (including changing its gender). There are over 600 DAZ body and head morphs available in the Morph Room, which are organized using Cinema 4D’s Visual Selector. Once an area on the body is chosen within Cinema 4D, the corresponding sliders for that area appear in the Attribute Manager.
By manipulating the slider strength in various combinations you can completely change every aspect of the character's appearance. Want to work with a male character? There’s a slider that will change the Victoria 3 model into a male. Want to add individual muscle groups? These are arranged neatly within the Morph Room workspace. I found the set up to be easy to use and intuitive and I had a working custom model in less than an hour of work from scratch.
“In addition, we have added a special feature: IK & FK work on 2 separate channels so you don't need to switch between one and the other. This means you can reach the rough position through Inverse Kinematic and in addition fine tune the final position through Forward Kinematic without losing the position you reached through IK.”
-Kobold Charakteranimation manual
The Animation Room
The Animation Room is installed in a similar fashion to the Morph Room and exists inside of the Cinema 4D plug-in menu. The DAZ Victoria 3 model (and all mapped textures) is loaded into the initial scene along with a Cinema 4D-based rig, a custom weight system and over 40 joint-driven morphs for you to animate with. Again, the system is slider-based, but easy to use. KCA makes it easy for you by organizing the model into sections for easier animation.
The Animation Room comes with Inverse and Forward Kinematics for use in animating your figure. IK and FK are organized into separate channels so you can switch to either as you rough out and then refine the animation. The layout for KCA is simple and easy to understand. You can choose to work with the custom KCA interface or through the sliders that appear in Cinema 4D’s Attribute Manager. Either way, the Animation Room improves on Cinema 4D’s animation system so that your workflow is faster.
The Recording Room
The Recording Room is actually two rooms: the room where you record motion using a Microsoft Kinect motion-capture device, and an editing room where you refine and edit the captured motions. Unfortunately, I gave away my Kinect last year, so I was unable to test this part of the KCA. From the demo I received at SIGGRAPH, the set up is easy and integration into Cinema 4D is fairly simple. You can learn more about the Recording Room here.
I plan on writing a separate article on motion-capture within Cinema 4D Studio using KCA at some point in the near future.
The KCA is an excellent system of plug-ins that provide unique morph and animation functionality to Maxon’s Cinema 4D. They are easy to install, and fairly simple to use. In a very short time you’ll be able to create your own custom character without having to resort to lengthy sculpting or polygon manipulation. For this alone, the KCA is worth the purchase price. The Morph and Animation plug-ins improve upon Cinema 4D Studio’s already effective modeling and animation set up by seamlessly integrating itself into the program so that you feel you are working within Cinema 4D Studio, but also because they simplify the workflow and help the user get to their final product more efficiently. The plug-ins are also a lot of fun to use.
KCA can improve in certain areas. The website for the plug-ins is rather spare. And on the learning side of things there is no forum or detailed tutorials, only simple introductions to each plug-in. A well-written manual comes with the plug-ins when you buy them, but it isn’t available for download separately at the website.
I also found some memory and crash issues came up while I was working with the Animation Room. However, Sara Richter, the co-founder, helped with the problem and responded quickly with technical support. It would also be useful to have a demo version of the plug-ins in order for prospective new users to test the applications on their own systems.
The KCA plug-ins are priced at $100 each, but can be purchased as a full suite for $200. You can also purchase the software requirements with the suite for $265. Students who provide proof of their status can purchase the suite at a reduced price. Remember, the purchase of the KCA plug-ins require a separate purchase of the DAZ Victoria 3 base mesh, head & body morphs and extreme close-up textures. They aren’t that expensive (approximately $65 for all three), but it would be a more attractive package if they were all included in the KCA plug-in package without having to pay an additional fee.
Overall, I’m impressed with Kobold Charakteranimation plug-ins. The plug-ins are a genuine improvement on Cinema 4D’s modeling and animation workflow. There are other plug-ins out there that provide a similar functionality, but cost more and simply don’t have the easy workflow that Kobold does. The developers are conscientious and will no doubt update and improve on the program in the years ahead.
KCA plug-ins are in development for Maya, but haven’t been released yet.
Too late for this review, I received an update for a Kobold Motion-Capture plug-in for Maxon Cinema 4D Prime. You can find out more information here.
Full requirements for Kobold Charakteranimation plug-ins are available here. The plug-ins work on Windows 64-bit systems and are compatible (except for Kinect plug-in) with Mac OS system.
My thanks to Sara Richter for providing the Victoria 3 model and the KCA plug-ins for this review. All plug-ins tested on a medium-level Windows 64-bit system, 8 Gb of ram and Maxon Cinema 4D R15.
Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff 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.
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