In my review of the superb new release of Reallusion's iClone5 last week, you may have noticed several quotations from John Martin II and Gabe Achanzar (Anima Technica). They were part of a longer conversation I had with both of them as part of my research for the review. John Martin II is the longtime VP of Marketing for Reallusion and Gabe is a power user of iClone, having used the program to create over a dozen machinima films.
I've know both of these fine fellows for several years now, having supped with them at the SIGGRAPH conference and even collaborated with them on machinima projects. And since we are all good friends, I wanted to get their impression of the newest version of iClone and perhaps get some background on its development and the growing community of users. Their comments were interesting and provide background information on Reallusion and iClone5 that I couldn't include in the review.
My thanks to John and Gabe for taking the time to answer my questions and for their insight into the breakthrough release of iClone5 and the company who produced it.
Ricky: What's your overall impression of the new release of iClone5?
Gabe Achanzar: I love it! it really expands what I could do as a low budget filmmaker - not only does it make me more efficient, it actually improves the look of the renders as well. The physics alone shaved hours of time and honestly, outside of making movies, I have a lot of fun playing with the physics.
Ricky: And, John, what were the goals in developing IC5? What did you achieve/not achieve?
John Martin II: iClone5's focus was to bring better motion creation and editing to users. We have the digital actors in iClone5 that are now able to move and animate in an assortment of methods. Motion capture in iClone has been a dream for quite some time, but the high-cost of camera hardware made it only a tool for big budget projects and well staffed studios. The introduction of Kinect from Microsoft changed the game, immensely.
Ricky: How much of the development was planned and how much was based on user requests?
John Martin II: iClone5 has had a focused roadmap on motion and physics, with much consideration from our user community. Our first demo of Autodesk's HumanIK was arranged by a power user that wanted to see it implemented. That is one of the greatest features of iClone5, HumanIK... because we listen. Some users are very direct with their requests and talk via Skype. The Reallusion forum is where the official documentation of wishful features is hosted. Here is the request bible that the engineers actually look toward for user input. If you have a request or want to voice a new idea, the Wishful Features forum is the place to share.
Ricky: It seems the new iClone 5 is focused on animation (among other developments). Do you think the updates to animation and motion capture are done well? The Human IK and real-time puppet manipulation seems to save a lot of time over the key-to-key approach. Have you found this to be true as well?
Gabe Achanzar: Definitely - iClone, through its evolution, has focused its version upgrades around a certain theme - iClone 2 brought with it character costume creation with clone cloth, iClone 3 improved its prop creation, and, if I recall correctly, also was the time-frame when 3D exchange came about so it helped improved the development of movie sets and props for iClone users. With iClone 4, they introduced more lighting options as well as atmospheric options to help enhance the visual impact. With iClone 5, they definitely focused on improving the animation. Features such as prop puppetry and motion puppetry really do help the process of creating believable motion. The Mix Motion feature allows you to blend motion files together, and it does so with very smooth transitions. Now, a lot of attention was placed on its ability to do mocap with Kinect. The concept is indeed intriguing because it brings what used to be the purview of big studios down to the hobbyist. Having said that, the current implementation is a good start. Not the ideal solution yet, but certainly enough to get one going - but, knowing Reallusion's track record, I have no doubts it will continue to improve.
Ricky: Have you used the iCloneXchange 4 much? With success?
Gabe Achanzar: yes it is actually a big part of my tool box - the number of props/sets you can bring into iClone via 3DXchange is a huge help. However, I end up re-texturing a lot of the props I import using 3DXchange, and often this is a very tedious process and there might be a lot of individual parts you have to change. In my movies, I've used a lot of buildings that serve as backdrops - for closeups, I usually just recreate a part of it and apply a high-res texture.
Ricky: What kind of person do you think buys a program like iClone? Have they expanded their market base?
Gabe Achanzar: I believe it is primarily the hobbyist, like myself, who is curious about 3D and want an easy way to get there. As iClone takes on more and more features, the learning curve goes up a notch or two, so it is a delicate balance for Reallusion to keep their focus on thier market. In the Reallusion forums, there have been high-end users clamoring for iClone to have even more features, but Reallusion knows their market they address.
Ricky: John, has the user base of iClone changed?
John Martin II: The iClone user base has always been changing from the beginning until now. The constant is that all that have entered have had a desire to create 3D animated films, yet as while iClone has matured from version 1 to version 5, there has emerged a toolset that enables professionals too. The iClone user is not so easy to define in terms of what they do... some are certainly production, film and TV professionals, like Vic Fina at the The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or Jesse Griffith of Jimmy Kimmel Live, but some are also insurance salesmen, teachers, students and creative minds with all sorts of day jobs. iClone is still a tool with the threshold to welcome newcomers to animation, while offering a complete toolset for professional to get down to business.
Ricky: Gabe, you've directed over a dozen machinima films. Some of them are quite long. What is iClone like to use on a large production? Do you find it to be stable? Does more ram or cpu speed make a difference?
Gabe Achanzar: My biggest product so far is The Nobbit, having just completed part 3, it spans about 90 minutes altogether. Part was, I thought, going to be difficult to make because there were a number of scenes I thought might be too complex to pull off, like the Dragon's attack on Laketown and the final battle scene. To my delight, iClone turned out to be more than capable in pulling these scenes off. The other great thing about iClone, from a production perspective, is how it lends itself to fast movie making. We recently participated in the 48HR Film Project and had a relatively tough genre to do - with iClone, we managed to finish 5 hours before the deadline and walked away with Best Direction, Acting, Sound Design, and almost got the Best Picture :) Again, it shows how not only flexible iClone can be, but how efficient a tool it is.
Ricky: What are some of the new markets iClone appeals to, John?
John Martin II: iClone5 is growing in broadcast production, pre-visualization, education, e-learning & training.
Ricky: And what are some uses for iClone that aren't commonly known?
John Martin II: iClone is also a real-time compositing tool for video and 3D. Much of what you can do with Nuke is possible with iClone, in real-time. Add iClone's core for character creation and you have a 3D, video, digital actor studio. Green screen or blue screen video can have backgrounds removed in one-click. Then, export the transparent video to iClone for scene creation and compositing.
Ricky: Where is iClone heading in terms of its appeal and development?
John Martin II: iClone continues to develop with real-time innovation in mind. The ability to more easily import and animate content from every library or tool is a goal. iClone is a virtual toy box of unlimited content to match our community's imaginations.
Ricky: What do you think of the growing marketplace for iClone related items, Gabe? Use it much?
Gabe Achanzar: The marketplace for iClone has grown tremendously, and many talented developers have come on board. So, really, it has been great for the iClone user. I remember back in the days of iClone 1 and 2, to make a movie you had to create everything. These days you can buy almost any item in any genre off the marketplace. I've purchased a lot of items over the years for use in my projects. I've always tended to want to create everything myself, from costumes to sets, but these days, with time becoming tight, it is much easier to buy them off. I also sell a few of my costume and set designs through Alley's and AfterThought's store, and what money/credit I get is used to buy other people's creations, so it is sorta self-sufficient that way.
Ricky: How does one become an iClone developer? Has there been an increase in developers for the program.
John Martin II: The marketplace is a great way to make money with your original 3D content. Developers need to have a license of iClone PRO and register it on our website. Then, go to developer.reallusion.com to access all the white papers and template downloads. If you are curious about the developer program, visit the site link mentioned for more info.
Ricky: Lastly, why do you choose iClone over other applications? How does it enable you to achieve what you imagine?
Gabe Achanzar: I actually used RayDream, TrueSpace and Poser before I got into iClone - over a period of a couple of years using these tools, I find myself maknig a lot of test videos, but never a complete movie. They were just so time consuming. Once I discovered iClone - I went off and made a movie, uploaded to YouTube within 3 hours of buying it. I find it very very flexible in addressing many different genres - I've done samurai movies, 18th century British India, Steampunk theme, Star Wars, and, of course, Middle Earth with it. I even made a movie about God and the afterlife with it. Really, with this tool your imagination is the limit.
It is hard to imagine how much iClone has evolved since version 1. Back then there were no third party developers, there was no 3DXchange, no 3D blocks, so really you had a very basic tool. Early users like Warlord, Shygirl, myself, along with a number of other early iClone users were undeterred, determined to make it work and pooled our resources to create and share with the community. And Reallusion lent its support to the community, helping foster it, and we had faith that Reallusion will continue to improve this product we loved. Many of the members of the early days are still with us and I am sure, like me, truly appreciate the amount of progress in the software. All along, Reallusion kept in contact, asking for feedback, and lo and behold, the next version implemented some of that feedback.
Additional info on iClone can be found here.
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