Review: Physics-based animation with Cascadeur isn't 'groundbreaking' but has potential

Aug 12, 2020 at 10:00 am by nemirc

Although I like flashy technology (and flashy visuals ingeneral), character animation is still one of my main interests in computer graphics.

That's why Cascadeur sounded like an interesting proposal to me. Cascadeur is pitched as a “Software for physics‑based character animation” that uses “physics tools and deep learning instruments” to create realistic animations. I don't know about you, but to me that sounds like a very good pitch, although I am not a fan of pitches that make things sound like the “just click the create art button.” For this reason, I feel the need to state what Cascadeur is and what it isn't.

Cascadeur is a character animation tool that has a set of features that will make your life easier, but it is not a “just click animate” application. Knowledge on animation principles is still required to use it.

Right off the bat, one thing I found a little confusing is how the software animates body parts. Rather than animating a controller or joint, having the rest of the chain follow the transformation, you have to double-click a joint so the rest of the chain follows that transform.

That makes sense when you see transforming a joint causes the rig to adjust based on that joint's transformation. However, I think having a system that works somewhere in the middle of these two would have been good. Besides, sometimes the software didn't register the double click (I'm using a Wacom) so it was frustrating having to repeatedly try to select a chain of bones.

Limbs in Cascadeur use IKs, so you can use an aim controller to point the limb joints to the desired direction.

If you have used Motion Builder or Maya HIK, you know how you can just pull a single controller and have the rest of the rig follow that movement in a natural way. Cascadeur has a similar feature, and it nicely displays the amount of stress each bone is subjected to. You can even “lock” joints (Cascadeur's equivalent of “pinning” controllers in Motion Builder) so they don't move as you do this.

However, doing this on more complex rigs (please note I am using only the included sample files) can result in weird situations. The software is still in beta, and that obviously means it's going to have issues, so I hope this is fixed in a future release.

Another nice feature is ghosting and trajectory display, that lets you see previous and following frames of an animation, and also lets you see the trajectory followed by any joint of your rig.

You can even use “Ballistic trajectories” for things like jumps, and edit those trajectories easily. This is very cool because you can change the Ballistic curve and have your animation follow that new trajectory, without having to adjust keyframes in your animation. For example, in the image below I just moved the trajectory point upwards to make the character jump higher, but I didn't have to touch the animation's keyframes in the jump range (red square).

The software also features animation tracks. These are mostly meant to keep animation of each body part separate, but they don't count as “animation layers” or things like that.

One thing the software lacks (and will hopefully be added in the future) is the ability to animate morphs. While sometimes morphs will be animated inside the game engine, other times morphs should be animated in your application instead. If Cascadeur cannot animate morphs, then you are still forced to bring your animated model into another application to animate the face.

Cascadeur is an interesting proposal for character animation. Having used Motion Builder in the past (and being an active user of Human IK in Maya) I can't say that Cascadeur is “groundbreaking.” However, I like where the software is going. 

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