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Review of iClone 3 With 3DXchange

iClone 3.1 With 3DXchange

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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iClone 3
Image Courtesy Reallusion
Have you ever wanted to make your own 3D animated movies? iClone is a tool that promises to do just that. Reallusion offers iClone 3 in both a $199.95 pro or $99.95 standard edition. The box edition is $20 more and comes with 3DXchange2, software for importing 3D objects from various other sources, including the Google Warehouse.

Who Should Look at iClone?

It would really help to have previous experience with video games, 3D animation, or film editing. However, it's not required. It's not as full featured as a high-end professional package, and the results will not be as slick, but iClone is far more affordable.

This is a great package for people who want to simulate scenes from video games or create machinima - 3D cinema from lower end software or video game captures. Using a tool like iClone is a lot easier than trying to stage and capture a production from within a video game.

Educators and students could also use iClone to make short presentations, and anyone who has lots of storytelling ideas can make their movie without the budget, cast, or sets of a Hollywood production.

Mac users will have to look elsewhere. iClone runs on Windows Vista or XP only.

The computer I used for this review was an AMD dual core with an Nvidia GeForce 8400 video card running Vista. This was well within the minimum requirements, and I had no problem with unexpected crashes, sluggishness, or video effects that wouldn't render.

Real Time Personality

One of the fun aspects of making animations with iClone is that the figures are editable in close to real time, and they show those hints of personality even when they're standing "still." They still breath and let their hair blown in the wind, just like characters in video games. This prevents your movie from looking too stiff.

Rapid Editing

Most effects are applied in close to real time. If you drag a motion onto a character, it will immediately demonstrate that action and the time line will advance to the end of that motion. That means you can rapidly set up a serious of motions (walk this way, turn to the other character, dance, etc) and then add audio.

Advanced animation editors want to precisely control all aspects of their animation, but this is a real time saver for someone who just wants their story to be told.

Adding Audio

You can add audio by recording an audio track within iClone, so you can make sure the audio matches the action, or you can use a previously recorded audio clip and match the action to the audio. If you're in a pinch and short of voice actors, you can also type out your message and have iClone use a voice synthesizer to read it. The effect is a bit robotic, but that may be what you had in mind.

Although you can tweak it a slight bit, most of the lip syncing is done automatically. You can add emotions to spice it up, like making a character happy while telling a joke.

This is much faster than traditional methods. If you want more control for closeups, Reallusion sells a face morphing product called CrazyTalk for $50 extra.

Customization

iClone comes with a few built in characters with names like "Trinity" and "Trey," but you can customize the face of those characters very easily by importing image files, using morph sliders, and adjusting layer features. This means you can make a virtual "you" or cast any actor you want in any part. (Use the image of famous people at your own legal risk.) You can also morph characters into monsters or give them cartoon proportions.

Poser made me cry in frustration. iClone, however, does a pretty good job of making custom face models from your own pictures. Use a well lit front and side view, and you'll have a passable custom 3D actor in no time.

You can add bump maps, diffuse maps, tinting, and other advanced features to make a really wide range of characters from realistic to monstrous.

Customizing characters does involve digging through a lot of menu choices and learning a lot of options, but the end result is worth the effort.

Clothing

iClone starts with a few default pieces of clothing, but like other aspects, you can customize this. If you have Photoshop or other image editing software, you can work with clothing textures to add designs to T-shirts. The really advanced iClone user can even import objects they've created in onther modeling programs.

Online Store

Reallusion is more than happy to sell characters, props, clothing, and backgrounds for those unwilling or unable to make their own. Prices tend to be in the $10-$15 range for most additions.

CloneBone

iClone 3Image Courtesy Reallusion
In professional level 3D packages, you add "bones" to objects to make them move. CloneBone starts out as a face and a basic skeletal structure, and you add the objects to make up the custom body. You could build objects from primitives (cubes, spheres, etc) or you can import objects you've made elsewhere. You can then save these collections of objects as custom characters that move with the same motions you use for other characters.

3DXchange

If you buy a boxed version of iClone, it comes with 3DXchange. This is completely worth the extra $20. 3DXchange lets you download models from the Google 3D Warehouse and import them into your iClone scene. That means you can instantly get access to high quality props and environment, and it means you can use virtually any major city in the world as a setting for your story.

Browsing for files from Google 3D Warehouse is easy, but it isn't entirely intuitive to edit them for importing. Models end up in your props folder in iClone. Be sure to watch iClone's tutorial before you attempt it, so you can learn how to simplify complex models to avoid bogging down your computer.

You can also use 3DXchange to directly import objects from SketchUp or other 3D modeling programs.

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