Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Introduction to 3D Art and Animation

I am fairly new, at the time of this writing, at the whole 3D art and animation world. However, in the short time I have been doing it, I have acquired enough knowledge to give some tips to those thinking about getting into it but might not know where to start. So I can at least provide you with some of the basics.

There are numerous programs available that you could acquire in order to get started. There are very expensive programs as well as moderate and low cost programs. The expensive ones would include programs such as Autodesk's 3ds Max and Maya. Unfortunately, you are talking thousands of dollars to purchase either program. Fortunately, though, you may download trial versions that would allow you to use them for 30 days for free. If you feel you may be able to grasp onto it, then you may decide to make that big purchase. Those two programs are industry standard programs used in 3D animation and art.

Now let's talk about more affordable options. First of all, not everyone has the kind of money needed to purchase the high end, industry standard programs. So how do you get into it without going broke? One idea is to purchase the more affordable and more user friendly programs and become proficient at those before venturing into the more expensive and more difficult programs. I am referring to programs such as DAZ 3D, iClone, Poser, Bryce, Blender and Hexagon.

Reallusion's Iclone is probably the easiest 3d animation program to learn. It's not a high end program like 3ds Max or Maya though, so you won't be getting an animation job working for Disney but you can learn enough of the basic concepts that would make it easier for you to learn the high end programs later on, should you decide to try them. Even if the interface is different between all of these programs certain concepts learned in one can be applied in another. So iClone is a good place to start. It also has a great lip syncing feature that makes it easy to make your characters talk in sync with a wav file or with the text to speech feature that comes with the program.

Iclone includes basic characters that you could modify with different facial features, clothing, hair, etc. It also includes some motion capture (Mocap) files that can be applied (dragged and dropped) to a character that will animate that character with relative ease. There are also ways to modify the character's movement and make fine adjustments. You can get the professional version for under $200. there are also numerous add-ons you can purchase in order to increase your capabilities. Add-ons or additional content like clothing, scenery, characters, motion capture files and more. Many of the add-ons or content go by specific themes. You may find out more on Reallusion's website, Reallusion.com.

Then there is Smith Micro's Poser. Poser is great for creating 3D artwork and you can find online galleries consisting of submitted works done by its users. Some of it is quite impressive I must say. You can acquire Poser for under $200 from Amazon.com as well. You may want to check Amazon for any of the programs I mention because there are times when you can get them cheaper on Amazon that you could from the manufacturers' own websites. Poser will come with a lot of 3D models and has a site where you may purchase more content. You can check it all out at poser.smithmicro.com.

DAZ 3D is another great program for 3D animation and art. The company was started by some people who worked for Poser. Everyone has their preference and there is a bit of rivalry between Daz and Poser users. Personally, I prefer Daz Studio myself. Daz's interface is not as friendly as iClone's but it does have better quality rendering for 3D art. If you just want to create 3D art, Daz would be a great place to start. Currently, Daz can be downloaded for free but there are add-ons that, once you see them, you would definitely want to purchase and that's where they really make their money. They allow you to download the program for free in the hopes you get hooked on it and start to purchase the many add-ons and additional content they offer and let me tell you, they offer a lot. Many more than iClone has available. I have to admit that learning Daz Studio can be quite frustrating because they don't offer the kind of detailed documentaton iClone or Poser does but once I started to learn it and purchased some of the amazing add-ons they offer, I was hooked. Some of the content available for purchase will work in both Daz and Poser, which is a big plus.

I also believe that the quality of characters you can create in Daz are a bit better than what you are capable of creating in iClone. However, iClone is much easier to animate characters in. One way to get the best of both worlds is to create a character in Daz Studio and convert it to an iClone character to be animated in iClone. In order to do that, though, you would have to purchase iClone 3DXchange Pro. 3Dxchange Pro allows you to convert the Genesis series of characters from Daz Studio into iClone avatars. 3DXchange Pro also allows you to convert props from Daz Studio and industry standard obj files into iClone's iProps format. 3DXchange Pro is also under $200. All 3 programs together would cost you under $400 at this time. But, just to get started, you could download Daz Studio for free and maybe purchase iClone.

Reallusion offers 14 day free trials of iClone and 3DXchange. I would recommend that you try iClone first because unless you learn that first, 3DXchange will be of very little use to you. I got started by trying the 14 day trial of iClone and fell in love the program so I actually bought the full version before the trial even ran out. Then I did a search for other programs to see what other 3D programs I could get started with. That's how I found Daz Studio. Then I came upon two other programs offered on the Daz website. Bryce and Hexagon. Bryce is a 3D program that allows you to create landscapes and backgrounds that you can import into the other 3D programs. It was available for free download at the time, as was Hexagon. Hexagon is a program that allows you to create 3D objects from scratch. I would recommend you try the easier programs first, although Hexagon does offer a 900 page pdf manual, just as Bryce does. I just wish Daz Studio offered the same.

Reallusion offers great pdf documentation for iClone and 3DXchange around 800 or 900 pages or so. You can find instructional videos for all of the programs mentioned on YouTube as well. You may also find help in the forums too, which I was able to acquire quick responses on a couple of occasions that were very helpful.

Blender is a free open source 3D program that is not as user friendly as the rest and about as difficult to become proficient at as the high end programs like Maya and 3ds Max. There are a lot of instructional books available for it though and you can even find the Dummies version. You may also find instructional DVD's on its website, Blender.org.

There are sites like Renderosity.com and RuntimeDNA.com where you may purchase content for Poser and Daz Studio. Installation may be a bit tricky though. Sometimes you have to manually copy and paste the content into specific folders on your hard drive. If you copy them to the wrong folders they simply won't work. So you may want to just purchase your content or add-ons from the Daz and Poser sites at first, since they usually have automated installation programs for their content and should help you to avoid installation frustration. In Daz's case, you have to remember to install everything in the My Documents/Daz/3dStudio/My Library folder. Most of the time it will do that automatically but sometimes you are prompted to point to the installation directory. You may also need to run the installation programs in compatibility mode for Windows 7 if you are trying to install it on a Windows 8 system.

Many of these programs will use certain industry standard file formats which will allow you to import some items created in one program into another. For example, obj is one common file format. Some programs have their own proprietary file formats like iClone's iAvatar and iProps. When you start to work with these programs you will get a better understanding of which file formats are universal and which file formats are proprietary.

I could probably go one for quite a while but I think I've covered enough of the basics to help you get started. Just go to Reallusion.com, Daz3d.com, Poser.smithmicro.com, Blender.org and Autodesk.com for more information. You should also check out some of the online galleries to see the quality of work these programs are capable of. So check it all out and good luck.

Below is the first video I created in iClone:

Photo Credit: Image created by Bob Craypoe, also known as R. L. Crepeau

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