Reallusion iClone 3 Pro

Machinima for the mainstream

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Reallusion iClone 3 Pro
  • Reallusion iClone 3 Pro
  • Reallusion iClone 3 Pro
  • Reallusion iClone 3 Pro

Pros

  • Revamped interface makes simple animations a breeze, advanced camera and lighting modes, gamer-friendly 'morphing' tool

Cons

  • Advanced animation tools can take some time to master, it's all a wee bit nerdy

Bottom Line

iClone 3 is a streamlined CGI film-making suite that puts user-friendliness and quick results at the forefront. While not exactly ‘3-D Animation for Dummies’ it has one of the most intuitive and easy-to-grasp interfaces on the market — provided you have plenty of time to tinker.

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While still something of a niche interest, 3-D filmmaking has enjoyed a surge of popularity in recent years. This is in large part thanks to the prolific output of the machinima gaming community. An amalgamation of the words ‘machine’ and ‘cinema’, machinima refers to the use of pre-built 3-D worlds to produce animated movies — and it’s beginning to creep into the mainstream.

When you think about it, it’s not surprising that machinima holds so much appeal for amateur film-makers. Unlike traditional animation, you aren’t hamstrung by your own artistic abilities, and the benefits over live-action film-making are obvious (you can get by without a budget, props or actors for a start). The emergence of sophisticated game engines has provided storytellers with a wide variety of canvases on which to stage their movies; from the realistic architecture of Second Life to the otherworldly vistas of Halo. But what happens when you decide it’s time to step outside of the programmer’s imagination? What if you’d prefer to craft your own virtual sets and actors, instead of using those supplied in a game? This is where Reallusion’s iClone 3 comes in.

iClone 3 Pro is a computer-generated moviemaking suite that encompasses everything from character creation to camera editing. Since its initial release in 2005, the self-described ‘movie machine’ has broadened the scope of what a machinimist can achieve. No longer tethered to the limitations of a computer game, it allows you to tell practically any tale your brain can come up with.

While previous iterations of iClone helped to simplify 3-D animation, the process remained quite time-consuming and daunting. iClone 3 Pro helps to remove some of the complexity via its novice-friendly Director Mode. This is essentially a player-controlled CGI environment that lets you 'puppeteer’ your avatars in real time. This is achieved by selecting a persona (which dictates the style of animation) and using the keyboard to enter different commands — just like you would in a computer game. If this sounds a bit too basic for you, don’t fret: an array of advanced motion tools are also on offer, allowing you to make your animations as pixel-perfect as you like.

Instead of requiring a huge library of different avatars, iClone 3 includes a neat 'morphing' tool which lets you sculpt a variety of actors from a single puppet. You can even import a photo of your own face and graft it onto a 3-D character. The interface is very reminiscent of the ‘character-creation’ tools in modern computer games such as Oblivion: The Elder Scrolls IV. The level of freedom on offer allows you to make your characters as outlandish, freakish or stylised as you want; from manga-esque ‘super deformed’ cartoons to photorealistic aliens. (Naturally, if you’d prefer to get stuck right in, you can choose from a range of pre-built models instead.)

Adding props, objects and furniture to a scene is a simple matter of selecting what you need and dragging it onto the set, where you can adjust the size, position and angle of each object (fans of the game The Sims should find the navigation system vaguely familiar). You can also use the same drag-and-drop interface to add grass, flowers and trees to exterior landscapes. Handily, your virtual actors can interact with props via pre-built animations; this is a huge help when it comes to getting results fast.

Of course, creating the action on screen is only part of the moviemaking process: you’ll also need to edit your production with cuts, zooms and pans. Controlling and swapping between cameras is a relatively straightforward process: all you need to do is select a template from the Content Manager and drop it into the Editor window. You can also direct dolly shots by moving your mouse around the screen (the camera will smoothly glide in the same direction) as well as vertigo-style zooming effects (think of the famous scene in Jaws when Brody sees that kid getting chomped). Just like with a traditional nonlinear editing suite, you can add edits to specific points on the project timeline. This saves you the trouble of having to re-direct the same scene from multiple angles.

Another great addition to iClone 3 is depth-of-field camera effects. This is an indispensable new feature that adds a realistic ‘cinematic’ quality to flat, computer-generated environments. It’s amazing how much difference a simple focus pull can make to your 3-D world; suddenly it looks less like a computer game and more like a CGI movie. Advanced lighting techniques enhance the level of realism even further, with behavioural ambient effects, spotlights and reflections.

As with any 3-D animation program, the quality of your production will largely depend on the level of effort you put in. While it’s relatively easy to get a basic scene off the ground, you’ll need to spend a great deal of time finessing and polishing your project if you want it to appear even remotely professional. As with everything in life, dedication is the key.

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