Review: Autodesk's MotionBuilder 2016
Staff Writer By: Sergio Rosa (nemirc)
Very recently, Autodesk released the latest version of MotionBuilder (2016). MotionBuilder can be acquired as a stand-alone application or as part of the Entertainment Creation Suite. In case you don't know, MotionBuilder is a 3d animation package, and I'd dare say it's one of the best animation packages available to date.
Before anything else, I'd give you a short introduction, in case you've never used MotionBuilder before. There are a few features that make it a very versatile app. First, the viewport is very fast, so you can simply play back the animation to check the timing and overall feel, and it will play at normal speed. This is extremely useful, because it means you don't need to render out a preview of the animation just to check the timing and make adjustments.
MotionBuilder uses a rigging system known as "Full Body IK." Basically what it does is to make the body naturally move as you pull or move the joints. For example, if you move the hand control downwards, the rig reacts accordingly, bending the knees and spine in a more natural way. This is useful because it helps with the posing of characters, since you don't need to move joint by joint.
The software was specially designed for motion capture. You can capture motion and retarget it to another character very easily. Personally, I have never tried motion capture in MotionBuilder, since the only mocap system I have available is iPi Desktop Motion Capture, a system that, unfortunately, is not real time (I'm trying to get my hands on a Perception Neuron system, but currently I can't afford it). However, I can tell you that retargeting animation is extremely easy.
Every scene can have different "Takes" (animation tracks), so a single file can include not just one, but many different independent animation tracks. This is useful since you no longer need to save each animation in a separate file. Takes also play a big part when it comes to use the non-linear animation tools in MotionBuilder.
Non-linear animation in MotionBuilder works similar to non-linear editing in Premiere Pro. You can turn every Take into a track and use a video-editing-like interface to put an animation together using those tracks. Basically, there are 2 ways to do it. The first one is the Motion Blend mode, and the other one is the Story mode. I'd recommend using Story for your animation editing needs, because it has more functionality. Besides, Story has seen a few improvements for this release, making it easier to arrange and adjust clips.
With the Story tool you can put together a series of clips to generate a new animation, using tools similar to those in video editing applications. You can trim a clip, align one clip to another, and blend between clips. The resulting animation can then be plotted into a new animation Take.
MotionBuilder uses the standard FBX format, which means you can import your data into any 3d application or game engine without much effort, and that is always a good thing, since you don't need to deal with file conversions and the problems that can cause. If you remember my Unity articles, then you know Unity will seamlessly read MotionBuilder files (Unreal Engine 4 can also read those).
Regardless of what animation package you use, you should check out MotionBuilder. It offers an extremely fast workflow, and a lot of versatility when editing animations. Besides, you can't really beat Full Body IK, since it can help you in most situations. If there was one complaint I can think of, it'd be the lack of a Mac version, so if you're a Mac-only user, you should keep that in mind.
My thanks to Autodesk for providing a copy of MotionBuilder 2016 for review.
Sergio Aris ROSA (aka nemirc)