DATELINE: August 2000 Issue
INEXPENSIVE 3-D CHARACTER ANIMATOR
By Darrel Plant
Modeling and animating organic creatures and objects is a difficult task no matter what program you use, but Animation Master Millennium makes it easier by providing 3-D tools that do more than just rotate logos and shapes. The latest incarnation of Hash’s venerable 3-D modeling, animation, and rendering tool offers a powerful combination of features and options traditionally found only in more-expensive programs.
Use the Patch
Animation Master models are made up of patches, a major advance in 3-D technology. Models defined with patches take up less memory and disk space than traditional polygon-based models, and you can scale and deform them more easily because equations describe the curves rather than just a series of straight lines between vertices.
In Animation Master Millennium, you can model in both wire-frame and preview modes. The larger window shows a posed model; the smaller window shows a side detail of the model’s face in wire-frame mode.
Modeling in Animation Master closely resembles drawing in Adobe Illustrator or Macromedia FreeHand, making it easier for artists to handle the transition to the third dimension. To create a patch, you click on a series of points in the 3-D space; the program then draws a spline curve through those points. Animation Master offers standard lathe and extrusion tools, but you can also join splines by dragging a control point on top of another point and pressing a button; three or four points in an enclosed shape make up a patch. The flexibility of patch modeling makes small tweaks–or even adding limbs–much simpler tasks in Animation Master than in many other modelers.
One disadvantage of the patch system is that you won’t find enormous libraries of models in the Animation Master format. You can import DXF-format models from other programs, but this may require so much additional work that you’ll find it faster to build models from scratch in Animation Master.
Bones! Action! Render!
As its name implies, Animation Master excels at creating not only organic shapes but also ones you can animate. Once you’ve created a model, you can define animations as reusable actions. Each action has its own timeline, with keyframes that store changes from the original model’s position and structure. To create both muscular and skeletal movement, you can either move the model’s control points or use linked bone structures. The CD-ROM includes a model of a standard human skeleton for creating bone structures.
You can apply skeletal and muscular actions to other models, and the pose feature makes it easy to reuse actions. When you define a pose, that definition stores the modifications to the model elements. Attach a pose to a model during animation, and a slider bar lets you control how much of the pose to apply at that particular time.
A second level of animation takes place in the Choreography window, where you position models in relation to each other and then apply and combine actions and poses. To make a character walk across a surface, you create a model, define a walking action that moves the legs in relation to the body, insert the model into the Choreography window along with any scenery you want, define a path for the character to follow, and apply the action to the model. An animation of a man walking across a field might consist of a model, a path drawn in the Choreography window, and a walking action. One of Animation Master’s strengths is its ability to combine building blocks of objects and simple actions to create complex creatures. With a few mouse clicks, you can make a walking and talking character by combining two actions in a choreographed setting. The actions are separate, so you can stop the walking action at any point but still have the lips in motion.
Another nice touch is the ability to add sound to the animation timeline. Because Animation Master lets you synchronize action and audio, you don’t need a digital video editor to add sound to movies rendered in Animation Master, nor do you have to make several renderings to synchronize a prerecorded sound. Scrubbing the timeline in Animation Master works just as in a video-editing program, defining how sound and image are synchronized. With the Dope Sheet feature, you type in text to match the audio track, and Animation Master breaks the words into phonemes–an invaluable aid for the lip-syncing process.
We did run into a couple of annoyances. You must have the cross-platform CD-ROM in the drive each time the program starts up. Also, the user interface needs polishing–it’s very tricky to control docking of floating palettes, we found unselected control points small and difficult to see, and the program has subtly different methods for drawing the splines for models and those for animation paths.
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