Messiah:animate is a standalone tool for 3D character-animation; it doesn’t replace your main 3D application, or plug into it.
Messiah:animate does its best to look friendly. There are lots of functions and buttons, but the developers have worked hard to make sure that concepts work the same throughout the package, so that once you’ve learned one method, you can apply it to a range of situations. This makes the learning curve slightly less steep. That said, you shouldn’t expect to master this package in a day.
Once you do, there are a number of powerful tools for boning and setting up character models. You can use traditional methods of assigning parts of your model to bones, and add extra bones to work as bulging muscles. There’s a Puppet Master function that cuts through the difficulties of assigning bones to complex objects by stitching back together a model cut up in a 3D package, using the cut points as joints.
IK is handled well, as is morphing – and it’s perfectly possible to use both at once, so you can have bones dictating the opening and closing of a mouth, for example, and morphing controlling expression. You can blend morphs to form complex expressions, forward and inverse kinematics can be blended in a single structure. It’s also possible to create custom sliders for easy control of a character’s movements.
Soft body dynamics are another useful tool, letting users create clothes for characters, or model loose, floppy skin, or hair. It’s quite a processor-heavy job, but Messiah:animate does it effectively, with high-quality modelling of the real-world physics involved.
The ability to use a spline as a bone is also useful. Traditionally, when trying to create a skeleton for a flexible object – a tentacle, a tail, a rope, or whatever – users ended up building strings of little bones in order to stop the object from kinking. This makes animation more difficult and motion less smooth. By using a curve as a flexible bone, swaying and bending can be animated with ease.
Messiah:animate has had an extensive code-rewrite. Highlights include Compose – a new tab providing access to non-linear editing of animations. Users can cut-&-paste motions and actions, quickly putting together complex sequences out of pre-animated moves. That way, once a character’s style of motion has been defined, it can be reproduced quickly. There’s also a new scripting language so you can program your own functions and add-ons. It’s also possible to work with proxy objects – so complex models won’t slow down your work, and there’s now better communication between Messiah:animate and 3DS Max, LightWave, Maya, and Cinema 4D.
Messiah:animate will find a place in the work of many character animators. Most 3D applications already have strong character tools, so connectivity with whatever package you work with is going to be crucial in deciding how often you use it. The lack of a comprehensive undo function is a bit of a puzzle, and although most changes show up in a way that’s easy to remove, this doesn’t entirely make up for it.
However, the strength of the IK and the new non-linear editor are both persuasive, as are functions such as Puppet Master, and the ability to “freeze” complex motion into morph sequences.