Best Buy
  • Price: 270 . 214 . 53

  • Company: Craft Animations

  • Pros: Simple to use, versatile set of plug-ins. Input is customizable, and multiple inputs can be used together. Supports all DirectX input devices.

  • Cons: Fairly expensive, and only works with 3DS Max and VIZ. Plug-ins must be purchased individually, and Help is Web-based.

  • Our Rating: We rate this 9 out of 10 We rate this 9 out of 10

Craft Camera Tools is a set of 3D camera plug-ins that allows you to record travelling, flying, or wandering cameras through scenes in Autodesk 3D products. The plug-ins work with 3DS Max and VIZ, and Maya versions are in the pipeline.

The setup is simple, and consistent across the set. You choose a camera and configure it for input, then record the real-time movements applied by the user. The resulting animation keyframes can be edited afterwards.

Input can be in the form of a keyboard, 3D mouse, joystick, or gamers steering wheel. For example, using the HeliCam plug-in (below), you choose the input settings (we used a joystick) and select from a range of helicopter profiles. The default model allows you to flit around the viewport with ease, while a ‘massive military’ profile adjusts the physics model of the helicopter, making it heavier and slower to respond.

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This lets you add a sense of real world drag and reaction to the final animation. The joystick profile has settings for thrust, yaw, pitch, and air brake so some experience in a flight simulator might come in handy. Setting up custom input device profiles is simple, and more than one device can be used with the same camera simultaneously.
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Flying the supplied model around the viewport is fun, but the serious application of these tools comes when you map them onto complex models created for animation projects. This doesn’t have to be a helicopter – the most obvious application is simulating bird flight but any model can be used. 
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Checking the ‘hide helpers’ box in the configuration panel makes the default model disappear, so you can make any object hover or drive around. 
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The company provides freeware utilities to smooth the process. For example, Bounding Poly is useful for reducing the poly count of objects in a complex flythrough scene, enabling smoother real-time recording in the view port. 
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The $99 DirectInputLink is another handy utility that allows you to combine multiple movements with the Camera Tools animation, so you could synchronize the movements of a model car’s wheels with its steering wheel. This adds a completely new team-based dimension to real-time animation. 
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The Craft Camera Tools are novel, but they offer 3D animators a new and innovative way to achieve a more cinematic look in their projects. Any of the plug-ins would be useful at the previz stage of filmmaking, too.
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