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MotionBuilder is now available in two versions – standard and professional. The professional version of this real-time character animation suite is aimed squarely at filmmakers, while the standard version (reviewed here) is set to take advantage of the desktop director market.
The package can bring models in from other applications, such as Maya, and give them animated walk and action cycles, or add facial animation. The results are viewed in real-time, and you can export them back to the parent package. Maya, 3DS Max, LightWave, Cinema 4D, and Electric Image Universe are all supported.
Characters are posed using the components of their control rigs – a representation in the Character Controls Window shows all the effectors that you can use to work on the rig, including those that can manipulate the body, hands, and feet through translation, rotation or scaling. There are separate finger and toe controls in this version, and constraints for keeping feet and hands aware of the floor.
Motion can be added by quickly animating sequences of control rig poses, or by dragging in full motion sequences onto the viewer window – the character instantly follows the imported path. You can add characters with different motion paths to the scene, and pan, zoom, and rotate around them in real-time.
A welcome materials CD ships with the application to get you started. You can characterize any imported model
that fits a base template MotionBuilder understands, by dragging a character template onto it in the Viewer window.
A control rig is automatically assigned that handles both FK and IK (or just IK) and you can begin working with it immediately. You can characterize your model as a biped, or as a quadruped.
The Story window is a major new element of MotionBuilder 5. This allows animation sequences to be built up in layers on a track-based timeline. There are Story controls for cutting, pasting, looping, copying, and splitting tracks, as well as controls to arrange the layers to create additive effects, or overwrite individual behaviours for periods of time. Video and audio tracks can be added as well as command (for controlling object visibility for example), and constraint tracks. All can be organized in hierarchical folders. When using the Story window, keyframes can be recorded and assigned automatically, and multiple or solo tracks can be selected at any time. Ghosts of the animation trajectories can be used to change character direction quickly and easily, with a facility to fade the changes in and out to smooth the animation.
Any new clips added will have the same trajectory thanks to an auto-match facility. Using clip tools, you can slow down and speed up sections of the clip sequence to give a Matrix-style bullet-time effect, while additive tracks can be applied to affect selected parts of the body. Camera animation tracks can be added in the same way. This includes the ability to set distinct constraint tracks and real-time motion blur. The Camera Switcher brings this all together, allowing directors to set up and switch to the desired camera shots and angles over a complete sequence, making pre-visualisation or animated storyboards a simple task.
Although a useful tool, MotionBuilder is not intuitive for the beginner and could have done with some printed lessons rather than a video,through.
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