Animation:Master review – Page 2

Ted appears in the A:M manual.

Because it is spline based modelling only a few tools are needed to create any shape you can imagine. There is a lathe tool to turn a profile spline into a regular 3D shape. The other method of building a character is to add extra splines. I often start with a lathed shape and add extra splines. A spline is a line with a control point at each end, it can be curved or straight. The curve of a spline can be controlled to the finest degree.

It is usual to create a complex character in parts and assemble it in another module called Character. When building a figure you might start with the hips and add the chest, then the upper arm, lower arm, hand and so on until the figure is complete. Each time you add a part a joint is created between the two rather like a multi-directional hinge. Each hinge can have the limits of its movement defined: if you take an elbow joint as an example it will bend forward but not backwards. You can set these limits in Character so when you come to animate the figure it will only move in the way you choose. If this sounds complicated do not worry because the program is supplied with ready- made figures for you to practice on.

Ted showing a method of producing lip-sync dialogue.

The surface of the character can be treated in various ways, the simplest being to select a colour and texture. More complex surfaces can be created by adding a material or adding a 2D picture called a decal. Various materials such as wood grain are supplied, and others can be created by changing attributes such as roughness, mirror and transparency. A decal is a picture created in a paint program or copied with a scanner. This picture is wrapped around the character rather like a rubber sheet. If the character stretches, the picture stretches with it. A recent example of this is the flying carpet in Disney’s Aladdin, the pattern was added with a single complex painting which moved and stretched with the carpet. As far as I know Disney did not use the A:M software to produce this effect but it is well within the capabilities of the program.

A:M can skin over the joints in a character. Often 3D characters are built like robots with the joints clearly visible. In A:M the skin on one part joins to the skin of the other. For example where the upper arm meets the lower arm the skin can be continuous, when the elbow joint moves the skin stretches across the gap giving the appearance of a continuous limb.

When you are ready to begin, simply select one of the ready-made figures. On the other hand if you have constructed your own character and added surface colour and detail it is time to make it move. You have control over every frame of the animation but you can use the power of the program to produce your in-between movements. There are three different types of motion available: Skeletal motion offers the ability to move, rotate, and scale entire segments easily and quickly; Muscle motion lets you move the individual control points of an object; Spine motion lets you easily move control points via a flexible spine.

Skeletal motion will raise an arm or swing a leg in a walk action. Muscle motion may be used to create a smile or lift an eyebrow. Spine motion can be used to make a tongue wag or a neck bend. With a combination of these tools your character can perform any action you can imagine. When you have created a movement it can be stored and used whenever a similar movement is required. You could have a figure walking with one set of movements whilst talking with another set of movements. Since the action can be viewed at any angle and any distance the same movement will seem fresh each time it is repeated.

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