Autodesk MotionBuilder 2015 in Review

January 19, 2015 12:24 am

Tags: 3ds Max, Autodesk, Maya, MotionBuilder, Softimage


Autodesk MotionBuilder 2015

I received MotionBuilder 2015 as part of the Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suite. It comes with both the Ultimate Edition (which comes with both Autodesk 3ds Max and Autodesk Maya) as well as the the Standard 3ds Max Edition or the Standard Maya Edition. In short - they all come with MotionBuilder. MotionBuilder is, in their own words:

"MotionBuilder® 3D character animation software for virtual production helps you to more efficiently manipulate and refine data with greater reliability. Capture, edit, and play back complex character animation in a highly responsive, interactive environment, and work with a display optimized for both animators and directors."

It's basically a character animation tool that Autodesk absorbed from Kaydara eons ago. It used to be called Filmbox in those days. God, I feel old saying that. It's come a long way and Autodesk has invested no small amount of cash into making it better, because frankly MotionBuilder is quite handy.

MotionBuilder runs on Windows 7 and 8.1 as well as select Linux distributions (Red Hat, Fedora and CentOS). It provides tools for both traditional key frame animation, as well as advanced tools for dealing with dense motion capture data. It is a real-time environment where you can set up hardware devices to drive animation controllers. (In some cases, additional hardware is required: such as a Microsoft Kinect or other compatible devices as well as the associated plugins.)

So what's new in Motion Builder 2015? There's a few little tools and some content goodies, but as far as major, change-your-life features? Only one I can think of and even then it's not "new," per se, as much as it is now natively supported.

Microsoft Kinect 1.0 Device Support

The biggest feature this time around was native support for Microsoft Kinect 1.0 devices. So, for around $150 worth of additional hardware (a Kinect cam) you can have a basic, real-time optical motion capture studio.

While you could drive motion captured character performances in real-time with Microsoft Kinect before, you had to rely on third party tools to do it. Now you can simply install the Microsoft Kinect SDK and use the Kinect 1.0 device found natively in the MotionBuilder Asset Browser under Devices. This isn't so much a new feature as much as it is easier to accomplish now that it is natively supported.
Native support for Microsoft Kinect 1.0 devices (on Windows only)


The only down side here is that, being a Kinect device, it works exclusively with the Windows variant of MotionBuilder.


MotionBuilder now ships with a small motion library of 100+ stock animation files in FBX format. Use them to blend, mix and match, and pre-visualize your sequences. There are a lot of motion clips for basic hand-to-hand combat e.g: punches, kicks, rolls, jumps, etc., as well as less exciting everyday actions like dancing and applauding. There's a lot of variety. In total, there's 117 clips you can use in your projects, or even as a starting point for further revision.
Found in the Asset Browser in the PrevisMoves folder


Granted, this isn't exactly a new feature so much as it is a content pack, but we'll take what we can get.

Send to Softimage

Remember that menu item you can't live without in Autodesk Maya? It's the one where you can send stuff to Mudbox with one click. MotionBuilder 2015 now features a similar menu item to send things to - Softimage. You read correctly. While this is particularly useful when working with the crowd simulation tools in Softimage, don't get too attached to it because, as you may recall, Autodesk announced Softimage is to be discontinued. The last and final version of Softimage shipped with the 2015 suite. That said, I was rather surprised to see this as a new feature.
Use it while you got it


Transform Objects Slowly (High Precision mode)

Sometimes you need to barely nudge something. MotionBuilder 2015 introduces a high precision movement mode. You can now right-click and drag on the transform manipulator handles (arrows) to enable a slow, high precision transform; You can drag the mouse a lot, the object moves a little. This permits precise control. It's handy in that there's nothing to turn on or any check box to enable. Instead, you simply right-click and drag instead of the usual left-click and drag.
Click and drag with the right mouse button instead of the left for high precision mode.


Yes, it also works with rotate and scale.

Final Thoughts

There were some other minor upgrades and bug fixes as well. Support for pyOpenGL was introduced as well as a new light and shadow shader and other small goodies. For example, the FBX SDK was bumped up to version 2015. Other than native Kinect device support, MotionBuilder 2015 is more of an incremental update than it is a revolutionary new toolset. Still, it's worth a look, especially for those entirely new to MotionBuilder. In that case, it's all new and all awesome!

Readers can find out more about Autodesk MotioinBuilder 2015, as well as the Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suite. There's even a free 30-day trial!


Kurt Foster (Modulok) falls somewhere between programmer and visual effects artist. When not sifting through technical manuals, he takes on freelance roles in both programming and visual effects, attempting to create a marriage of technical knowledge with artistic talent. He can be seen helping out on the Renderosity Maya forum, when time permits.




January 19, 2015

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