When iClone burst into the world it had a bit of an identity crisis. It was supposed to be an application that allowed almost anyone to animate their online avatar. At the time, this seemed to the hot ticket item. It had a very simple photo to face mapping feature that was much easier to use than Poser's attempt because it did a decent job of face shaping. In Poser, you could import the photo but the shape of the face never quite worked and required a lot of tweaking.
On one of my first attempts I was working on a James Bond project and for some reason, I put Roger Moore's face on an iClone body and it was instantly recognizable. No tweaking... no hassle. Within a few minutes, I was tinkering with the Bond character using supplied motions and cameras. There were no free cameras then, just fixed, or animated shots provided by Reallusion. This wasn't supposed to be an animation package so much as a make your avatar move around kind of thing.
Reallusion also supplied Dancing motions. Lots of them. More than other motions by a long shot so, in hindsight, the inevitable happened. iClone dancing videos flooded the internet and YouTube. Before long iClone was the Dancing Video Application and not all the videos were good... in fact... few were and it made iClone look bad.
The smitten never gave up. iClone was too easy to use so they clamored for more animation features and tools. This was the golden age of machinima. If you haven't heard of that term, don't be ashamed as you are not alone. It never really gained traction for a lot of reasons but the machinima community gradually morphed into an ever-growing segment of home/amateur/pro animators. Something that was once out of reach of the average creative person was now in their hands.
It just needed to mature which is what brings us to where we are today with iClone 7. There are so many features in this FULL animation package that you'd have to write a short story instead of a review as you just can't cover them all in detail without it growing to page after page trying to cover the features. Key framing, import video to backgrounds or props, free cameras that match real world cameras, mocap from various sources like Kinect to sensor suits, facial mocap, POST FX, PBR rendering along with a lot of other features... all in real time.
Oh... forgot to mention that a curve editor is slated to be released later this year. There isn't much this little animation engine can't do. It has become "The little engine that can" instead of fringe software. Even though it now has Pro features it retains all the things that made it easy to use for anyone that wants to animate.
So, let's take a look at what makes iClone 7 what it is today. No, we can't cover every item in detail but we'll go over what's new and the big-ticket items.
First let's look at the eye candy improvements. Eye candy is important... if it wasn't there wouldn't be so much of it out there. For version 7 its Global Illumination (GI). The ability to make objects light the areas around them without having to cheat by attaching a light. This IS a big deal. A game changer in terms of the overall "look" of the animation or still render.
While GI has been around in other engines doing it in real time was a bit of a challenge but the engineers at Reallusion kept grinding away at it and other features that were in their roadmap for the future. With the ability to make a fire or a prop light it's immediate area the realism took another leap forward.
Combine GI with PBR (Physically Based Rendering), IBL (Image Based Lighting), HDR Effect, LUT (Lookup Tables) and Ambient Occlusion to create stunningly realistic renders. The only thing holding anyone back from making a great render is skill and hardware. The more you have and the better it is the more you can do with iClone which is true with almost any 3D application.
For professional animators, there are new features like the Real Camera System feature introduced in iClone 7. According to Reallusion "Via FBX format, directly import camera information including lens settings, sensor size and animation data from 3D tools to iClone". Morph animation and editing has also been added in version 7 with the Morph Creator. The facial animation system was increased from 30 to 60 morphs combined with an enhanced Direct Puppet and Face Key editor (with three levels of face key editing) and the advance facial timeline creates a complete pro facial animation system.
iClone has been in motion capture since the Kinect sensor addition and sensor suits were integrated along the way. iClone mocap now includes a new facial capture solution that includes a version of Faceware compiled specifically for iClone.
Unlimited extensions are another new feature in version 7. A curve editor, custom shaders and Python scripting are all on the immediate horizon. The as yet unreleased Curve Editor is the real deal and will give even more professional muscle when it's made available. And of course, there is the Python scripting, the Shadow Matte System that gives each light its own attributes. This allow the use of dummies to capture shadows for compositing! Then there is HBAO+ Nvidia's AAA game quality ambient occlusion.
We've got to stop somewhere and this is as good a place as any. As you have read, iClone 7 is a monumental release from a company that specializes in monumental releases. As a longtime iClone user (since version 1) I can attest to Reallusion's willingness to listen to all of its customers... not just the big dogs. iClone and the entire iClone ecosystem from standard to pro are customer-centric with time saving jumps between apps without opening and closing, saving, or copy and paste.
To sum it up, it feels like iClone is used by the people that make it. The people that write the code and solve the bugs and remain forward looking seem to actually use the software instead of just developing it because some things just seem so intuitive about the iClone way.
If you are in animation or still in the machinima trenches then iClone deserves a look and if you tried earlier versions and walked away then you really need to give an iClone trial version another shot. You might be pleasantly surprised.
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Hardware requirements (for DirectX 11):
For Realtime GI Editing
NOTE: Please refer to the System Requirements and Graphics Card Information at Reallusion's site.
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. M.D. is currently working on VR projects and characters. You can learn more about MD at his website.