If you have ever tried modeling, texturing, or animating a character, you know it can be a time consuming task. In order to offer a solution, some companies have released different software packages that let you create characters easily, such as Poser or Creature Labs. iClone™ is a 3D software package based on the same concept. With it, you can create a 3D human character, modify the body and face, animate it, and then render it. At a glance, you may think this is like a "Poser for the web" program, because these 3D identities can be used in websites and such. However, both programs have their differences.
iClone is meant to help you create your digital identity. What does this mean? You can modify the character to look like a digital, or a more stylized 3D version of yourself, using photographs to create the textures for your character. The program has different modules depending on what you want to do. The character modules are where you customize your character's face and body; the animation module lets you import animation and edit animation clips to create custom motions; and the scene module lets you define the background.
Customizing your characters is very easy. If you have used Poser before, you will find the dials-based workflow to be very familiar. Perhaps you will find yourself limited because you don't have as many dials as you would with, for example, Victoria 3 (you can only control the size of the mouth or nose, but you don't have countless dials to control their shape). The same goes for the rest of the body. You are not able to customize a character's shape as much as you would like. You do have the ability to change a character's look by changing outfits and colors, as well as textures.
The software includes a large animation library that you can use for your characters. This may interest the non-animators, because this means they don't need to know how to animate in order to get nice results. The animation module also includes the Motion Editor: a little app that lets you load, crop, combine, and modify existing clips. If you are willing to invest your time making your own animations, you can also do it in this editor. Even though the Motion Editor works great with pre-existing clips, you won't find it to be the most versatile tool to create animations from scratch.
Poser animators will surely be happy to know that they can use their animations in iClone. All you have to do is animate any standard Poser character, export the animation as a BVH file, and then import that into the Motion Editor. This is good news because if you have Poser, you don't need to struggle with iClone's Motion Editor to get a decent animation. You need to pay attention to your character's proportions, though. I had very good results with the standard P4 male, but I don't know if a Victoria 3 animation would work on an iClone character.
Another interesting feature is the lipsync. Keyframe animated lipsync is extremely difficult, but this can be easily done in the Motion editor. You just have to load your sound file, and iClone will generate the animation for you. I can tell you it really works! You then add facial expressions to your character to go along with the dialogue and you are done. You can even use CrazyTalk to do your lipsync, and then import that into iClone.
Out of the box, iClone ships with a limited library. However, you can download more content from our Renderosity free stuff, www.iCloneCenter.com or www.CoolClones.com. You can also buy iClone content from the Reallusion online store. If you are a 3DS MAX user, you can also use it to create your own iClone content.
iClone is not a new contender for Maya or XSI, but I don't think that was the plan all along. Not everybody is a good modeler, much less a good animator, and Reallusion knows this. Now with iClone, you can create professional digital content, without spending countless hours modeling and animating your characters. If you are still not convinced, I encourage you to download the demo version and see for yourself.
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Animation Alley is a regular featured column with Renderosity Staff Columnist Sergio Rosa [nemirc].