iClone 6: The Fast Lane to Animation
April 26, 2015 11:54 pm
We all have a story to tell. Sure it’s a cliché but clichés exist for a reason. The existence of at least a certain amount of truth to them. In this case a need to tell a story either in an image or an animation. If we didn’t have some sort of story to tell we probably wouldn’t be on this website or reading an article like this one. Like moths to the flame we as creative people are driven to tools that help us fulfill our visions or if at work, fulfill someone else’s vision.
Imagine a tool that within a matter of minutes… a few drag and drops… you have an animated character mucking about the screen. And not just mucking about but talking - lip syncing with dialog you loaded as simply as opening a file.
We don’t have to imagine anymore as real time tools are growing in power and one that stands out in particular is Reallusion’s iClone 6 for both its simplicity and its power. Let me say that again. iClone 6 stands out for both its simplicity and its power.
The iClone 6 Customizable Interface
iClone can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. It’s as simple as that and I know a little about using this software as I’ve been using it since Version 1. Over the years I have developed iClone props, scenes and characters. I also provide video tutorials and authored the iClone Beginners Guide for PACKT publishing. I worked freelance for Reallusion and authored eleven of their initial whitepapers for their developer center in the early days.
While I’m not involved with its production you could say I’ve used it a bit here and there. That being said one thing I am not is a fan boy… of any software. It has to work and it has to produce. I’m all about the end results and don’t really care about how they are achieved as long as they meet certain standards. I don’t use iClone so much for final production as I do for pre-production (pre-visualization) and prototyping but I have used it for final productions on web based media. I found iClone looking for an easy way to create storyboards and was amazed at how fast I can push out image renders and even short animations for the pre-production phase. I’ve used iClone to help team members like directors of photography visualize shot lists when the budget was tight. The scenes were anything from blocks and dummies to detailed cityscapes with characters and crowds but they all allowed us to get a lot of kinks worked out before a production or film crews/animators are put on the clock.
With iClone you can produce at the very least (depending on skills) a crude but effective storyboard or animated previz. Sometimes a great idea is shown to be a major production hassle and or expense when visualized in this method or you can quickly overcome items like your placement of objects that actually blocked a key shot transition.
Easy Setup using PlanetStarDragon’s Free Rule of Thirds Overlay for Composition
iClone 6 particularly lends itself to visualizing and producing indie projects that have little or no budget. It has been used for complete productions to fund raising campaigns by a wide range of users from experienced animators to new users that have never produced a single second of animation before.
You read that right. Even if you have never produced a single second of animation iClone can have you up and running with your first scene in a few minutes to a few hours as long as aren’t producing Heaven’s Gate or rewriting the Bible for a screenplay. While iClone has matured into a more powerful tool over the years new users still need to keep a proper perspective about these things. You aren’t going to be turning out DreamWorks or Pixar animations unless you work for Pixar or DreamWorks and you still won’t get that type of render. Let’s get real here. Those are render farms with top notch equipment. Not you, me and the dog knocking this thing out after hours in our Mom’s basement.
This software is not going to turn you into an animating legend on its own. It has no easy button but it has some of the easiest to use animation tools (puppetry, masking, drag and drop motions) out there while still providing a dope sheet (timeline) and key framing if you want or need it. Animations can be layered with the Mask in the Motion Puppet and removing unwanted animation is a simple right click on the dope sheet.
New Indigo Renderer
One major enhancement is the Indigo renderer option which provides a much needed, high powered boost to the final render of any project be it images or animation. This option truly brings up the render quality many notches if not a different universe from the real time render. And keep in mind that Indigo is NOT a real time render and can take hours to complete but the wait has its rewards. This is a step towards those Pixar and DreamWorks quality renders and does so admirably for the budget.
The Indigo Renderer Interface
There are two minuses in iClone 6 that involve bouts of instability and the camera blacking out with movement when using some of the advanced lighting features. One can be an issue while the other is more of an annoyance. Using the HDR effect with Tone Map checked causes the camera to black out when previewing or rendering during certain camera movements. There is usually a quick workaround involving camera placement but in a few cases it can ruin a shot. The bouts of instability come mainly from scenes with multiple high poly, third party characters or large poly counts. I have however experienced random crashes though few and far between. Version 6 has included a recovery process that occasionally hiccups but usually restores the crashed project.
In summary iClone 6 has evolved into much more than a home/hobby animation or machinima tool. With its current toolset it is starting to venture into the professional ranks as a quick alternative to more expensive software tools. The cost of creating a second of animation in iClone is extremely cheap when comparing that to high end tools like Studio Max or Maya (keeping in mind that is like comparing apples to oranges due to the real time aspect of iClone). iClone 6 can produce animations and images for educational films, indie productions, comic books and illustrations to name just a few of its uses. iClone is fast… very cost effective…versatile and for most experienced 3D animators has a small learning curve.
iClone 6’s features and tools at a glance
Examples of Rendering in iClone 6 with 3 different rendering engines
1. iClone 6 DX11 Render
2. Toon Render
Create Digital Comics with iClone 6
I've created a 6-page comic called the "The iClone 6 Review" using iClone 6. It's an example of what you can do with iClone quickly and efficiently. This comic is a quick and dirty version, but you can take as much time as you like and create some very fine looking panels. Click this link to download and/or view the comic.
iClone 6 Tutorial
I've also put together a 12-minute iClone 6 Beginners Tutorial. This wil introduce you to the application and get you started in creating digital content. You can get more information and tutorials at the Reallusion iClone 6 website and on my own personal site.
I think that will always be a standalone product, 3DXchange, with their marketing strategy and price points. 3DX makes it possible to bring in just about anything including characters rigged in other applications which wasn't true a couple of years ago but it is a separate product.