Cinematic storytelling is a field owned and operated by the big boys, its certainly not an easy place to break into and yet, there is a growing industry of indie filmmakers breaking into the market using platforms like YouTube to show their creations. The rise of Machinima has left many storytellers without an ability to bring their ideas to life. However, that was then, now slipping into the room on a trail of digital slickness is iClone 6, an animation software with a consumer price tag that has some very forward-looking, professional aspirations.
I am not a professional, in fact, I am a student who has been using iClone 6 in it’s most humble state but even I have managed to create some amazing pre-visualization images and footage. It has helped me think about scene building in a way I couldn’t do before and it has helped me see which areas of my storytelling need work or in fact, which elements just won’t work. Looking ahead I think I could use iClone 6 to create a full production of Machinimas and even video games.
To get to the point quickly, iClone 6 is very easy to use, I love the way I can create fluid animations but that I can also drill down and customize everything from makeup to skin tone and then on to things like ripped clothes. Reallusion have hit the user experience toggle square on the nose, its an amazing experience and I love the fact that the interface is customizable, it uses images and dials or sliders for most of the positioning of cameras models etc. When you put your first scene together and realize that you haven’t once had to look up how to position lights or get your model in the exact position you want you are suddenly in awe of the designer. Moving the characters within the scene is a joy, feet automatically make contact with the floor and shoulders, elbows and knees all move in a very realistic fashion and getting things just right is very simple because of the click and zoom controls on the timeline. Making changes on the fly is as easy as dragging and dropping because there is a huge library of textures, motion, and content presets.
The amount of options available is overwhelming for this type of software, in fact, there are more options than my entire class and I could think to use and this means there are tons of options that support that wide range of outputs. Using Character Creator, when creating and customizing the human form for characters is a breeze, you have total control over body type, ethnicity, and cosmetics with click-and-adjust tools. The complexity of these changes is hidden from view and means that although this is an extremely complex task, everything you see is very simple to use and very intuitive.
Scene lighting and texturing are a joy, I have never created an outdoor scene I was happy with until I tried with iClone 6 I created a beautiful area complete with trees, grass, and insects. Yes, animated creepy crawlies and the wind blowing through the trees is a few clicks away. The quality of light is easily controlled from harsh to full ambient with the requisite soft shadows everywhere. Physics is very robust and simple to engage and adjust.
Essentially, you first create a total 3D world which can be interior, exterior or both, and then you have a complete set of controls to manage it. I found the idea in my head was very quickly realized on screen but most importantly, it was very easy to do.
All this control comes at a price, you will need to be rocking a reasonable setup. I am lucky and have an i7 4790k and a GTX 980 with 32gb of RAM, but as the on-screen magic happens because the software is using the rendering potential of your graphics card you will need a little beef to get things going.
For single frame pre-viz, there is nothing to complain about. However, rendering is not something you will do quickly. The price of HDDs and RAM actually went up when Toy Story was being made because Pixar bought so much of it so you will need to be patient before you get to watch your render unless of course, you have a quantum computer or your own personal render farm. Joking aside one option would be to use a commercial render farm if you can find one available and I would think this would be essential if you were a movie maker or considering feature length, animated story telling.
There is an auto-recover option that helps prevent lost but in my time with the software, I found it to be very stable and actually have had zero crashes but I have heard that if you work it too hard that people have experienced a crash or two. Not being in the animation field as a professional I cannot say whether iClone 6 is a true cinematic quality animation tool. I can however confidently state that in the realm of pre-viz or Machinima, it is a perfect solution especially given its consumer price tag.
If you want to create a 3D character for rigging in another program such as Maya, iClone 6 is going to work pretty well and one of the targets for iClone is the gaming industry, specifically anyone using the Unreal or Unity game engines. Many of iClone’s feature sets are built with those needs in mind and pre-viz and scene and character building work is its natural home.