Earlier this year, I wrote an article about a real-time animation software that promised to revolutionize the way animation was made. The name of that software was iClone (you can read it here). This year at SIGGRAPH, Reallusion, the creators of iClone, had a big booth where they were showing the latest releases of CrazyTalk and iClone (you can read my review of CrazyTalk 4.5 here), as well as releasing news about upcoming projects.
For those that are not familiar with iClone, I will briefly explain to you what it is. iClone is an animation software that works on an environment very similar to those of computer games (real-time render engines). The program is meant to make it easy for you to use digital avatars for animations, presentations, and even movies. You can change their clothing, skin tone and even texture. In the image below you can see that you can add any texture to your character's skin (you can even add your own face to it, and thus create your own digital identity).
iClone has gained serious momentum in the last months. There are some real-time movie festivals that run around the globe, and a lot of participants have created their entries with iClone.
Since iClone works as a real-time renderer, everything is rendered by your videocard. This means that your final work will take much less time to render than if you were to use software renderers. On the other hand, this can pose a problem if you are using an old videocard, since it may not support all of iClone's features. For more information about videocards, you can visit this link.
iClone 1.5 is pretty similar to version 1.0. The greatest improvement is the ability to create new render effects like glows, dynamic lights and shadows, reflections, and more. What's so good about it is that all these effects are generated in real-time by your videocard. iClone includes a few projects that demonstrate these new features, and you can even explore how they were made so you understand better how they work and learn from them to make your own projects.
This version also includes a Timeline that lets you edit your animation on an object level. Some of the complaints I heard was that iClone didn't let you animate cameras. But now in version 1.5, you can animate cameras, lights, and props. You can also create special tracks for your character's hands and add animation clips to them. I find this especially nice since I remember that most of the animations created with iClone suffer from rigid fingers.
If you have CrazyTalk installed on your system, iClone will automatically read your CrazyTalk script libraries since they are cross-compatible for both applications. CrazyTalk works perfectly well with iClone, and will make your facial animation a lot better. As you know, in CrazyTalk you can animate your avatar's facial expressions, and when you apply those scripts to your iClone character it will retain all those little details that you may have added to your CrazyTalk animation.
Besides using the content that is already available, you can create your own if you are part of the Developers Program (you can visit the website at http://developer.reallusion.com). New models, characters, and props can be created using exporters. Right now there are plugins for MAX and Maya (which is in Beta stage). This opens the doors to new posibilities since you can now create your custom characters for your real-time movies. There's even a marketplace running at Reallusion's website where people can sell the content they create.
You may be wondering what's next. iClone 1.6 will be released in January, and it will ship Particle Effects and support for HD Video, among other things. iClone 2.0 will be available around SIGGRAPH time next year, and while I can't tell you much about it, I reckon that you will like what you see when it's finally out. Reallusion has a lot of big plans for both iClone and CrazyTalk, so you should really keep an eye on these tools.
To purchase your own copy of iClone and see other cool products from Reallusion, please visit the Renderosity MarketPlace!
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Animation Alley is a regular featured column with Renderosity Staff Columnist Sergio Rosa [nemirc]. Sergio discusses on computer graphics software, animation techniques, and technology. He also hosts interviews with professionals in the animation and cinematography fields.