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iClone MasterClass #4 – Developing Dynamic Atmosphere with Lightning & Physics in Real-time


Experienced Video Director/Animator – Benny Dee shares a detailed tutorial on how to develop dynamic atmosphere with lightening and physics in real-time in  iClone 7.

Hello. In this iClone tutorial, I will show you how to develop a dynamic atmosphere with lightning and physics in real-time. This is part of the iClone Master Class series to help iClone users improve and level up their skills.

To begin, we have our scene opened in iClone and we see that the shadows are dark. (Fig 1.0) That is because I deactivated the atmosphere features. Therefore, we are going to turn them on to brighten up the project.

So let’s go ahead and give the scene a better atmosphere by going to Visuals, and then to Global Illumination (GI), which I have covered before in my previous tutorials, as this is a one of the basic features you should use in iClone.

Fig 1.0

Once we turn it on, we can see that the scene looks a little bit brighter. (Fig 2.0)

Fig 2.0

Under Global Illumination, we also have the Ambient Light color which we can use if we require a different color palette, but in this particular scene I’m not making use of it. (Fig 3.0)

Fig 3.0

If in case you want to use it, what you are going to do is, click on the color option to choose a lighter color like lighter grey, yellow, blue, or red. Any color of your choice is going to have an effect in the scene.

Where we are going to focus on now is the Bounce Strength. I have already set my bounce strength to 6.2 to make my scene a little bit brighter. (Fig 4.0)

Fig 4.0

Remember that when you increase the Bounce Strength it is going to make the shadows in the scene lighter, so use it with caution.

Next is, the Shadow Detail. Shadow detail just has to do with making the shadow more detailed or less detailed. The higher the values the more the shadows are thicker and vivid. You can see how we bounce the light around the entire scene, and how we adjust the shadows to what looks good. (Fig 5.0)

Fig 5.0

Before moving on, there is something in Global Illumination that you need to consider and that is the GI range. To make use of this, go to Scene/Light/ Global Illumination and select Global Illumination (Fig. 6.0)

Fig 6.0

Then go to the Modify panel on the right of iClone, and find the tab for GI range.  (Fig 7.0)

Fig 7.0

The GI range is the anchor settings that will have an effect on the scene. You make use of the slider, or just type in a value. (Fig 7.1)

Fig 7.1

If you have a small scene like mine, then you will have everything in the scene clustered in a particular area.  Because of this, I am working with a GI Range of 120, but you can increase the value if your scene is bigger. Take note that the bigger the scene and lighting required for it, then more resources your computer will require. (Fig 8.0)

Fig 8.0

Naturally, if I increase the range, then the area at which the Global Illumination is going to affect will be more. So play around with the value until you get the visuals you need. (Fig 9.0)

Fig 9.0

The highest value here is 5000 but since my scene is not too large then I will stick to 120, which should cover the entire project. I will zoom out a bit so that you can see everything. (Fig 10.0)

Fig 10.0

The next thing to consider in having a very nice scene like this is your HDR effect under Visuals. (Fig 11.0)

Fig 11.0

The HDR effect will give you that nice glow and depth in the scene, as it really contributes to the way the project is going to feel. My project has a dusty outdoor feel to it, so a Bloom effect will definitely give it more volume and atmosphere. I’ll switch it on, so that you can see what I mean. (Fig 12.0)

Fig 12.0

Wow! Now this is what I am talking about! As soon as I turn it ON, you can see the bright bloom in the lower sky behind. (Fig 13.0)

Fig 13.0

The HDR effect is now filling up the scene, which was previously looking a bit flat. This feature is very important when working on an outdoor scene. Depending on the style you want, you have to work as though you are mimicking a real life scenario. We can also increate the bloom scale to test how things look. (Fig 14.0)

Fig 14.0

The Bloom comes from the brightest spot in the sky, or any shiny object that has a glow map in it. You can scale it up or down until you get that perfect effect. You can also go to the Advanced Bloom Settings. (Fig 15.0)

Fig 15.0

This will open another set of settings you can play with including; Base Area Strength, Smallest Spread Strength, and others.But in this case I just work with the Extra-large Spread Strength or the Largest Spread Strength because that’s where I am focusing on. All I want is for the bloom to spread out into a wider area because this is an outdoor scene. (Fig 16.0)

Fig 16.0

Additionally, you can increase more values depending on the fill you want to give your scene.  Under the Visual tab, you can use the Fogsettings to give some haze. (Fig 17.0)

Fig 17.0

Fog helps give the scene richness. It gives it that realistic atmospheric feel. You can play with the values and even adjust the Fog Color. (Fig 18.0)

Fig 18.0

The start distance in this case is 100 and the end distance is 20,000. Now I don’t really touch anything much, besides the color which I went for a lighter one. (Fig 19.0)

Fig 19.0

Again, it depends on what you want to achieve. For me, I really love iClone because it gives you the chance to see what is happening in real-time as you play with the color and just keep adjusting it.

In this case, I’m using a light blueish-gray color but you can experiment with other options. (Fig 20.0)

Fig 20.0

Another thing we are going to work on is the Image Based Lighting (IBL), which you can find right under HDR. (Fig 21.0)

Fig 21.0

IBL helps give the scene a nice reflection, especially on surfaces that reflect like metal. If ou look at what she’s wearing you can see that it’s showing a little reflection and it’s blending with the scene. IBL is image based lighting that is getting light from the sky. It is very important that your props, characters and everything else in the scene interact with the environment. Remember that it does not look professional when each element looks flat and independent from each other. You are not doing a 2D scene — this is 3D project, so the more effort you put in the details and features the better it will look. Pro animators will always notice and judge your details! Remember that.

The next thing I am going to work on is Depth of Field (DOF). I will switch to the camera that has the depth of field.  (Fig 22.0)

Fig 22.0

For those that do not know, Depth of field is just a way of blurring the background or the elements that our eyes are not focused on. Just like in real life.

Be aware that it is not every shot that needs depth of field, especially when you want to use a very wide-angle shot. I mean that’s the reason why you are using wide shot – because you want everything to be in focus, as you want to reveal everything in the scene. Depth of field is good to separate the character, prop or object from the background while giving depth. Again it gives it that professional look.

Once you have clicked on which camera you want to apply DOF to, then you go down to the Modify column on the right to activate it. (Fig23.0)

Fig 23.0

In the options, we also have the Focus Distance, Perfect Focus Range, Near Transition Region and the Near Blur Strength. If you want to get a very accurate range for your depth of field then go to view the DOF (depth of field) region. (Fig 24.0)

Fig 24.0

Once you switch it ON, it shows you different ranges of depth of field. You will see that the more red the more focused it is. Red is strong focus. Green, orange and blue are blurred. So let’s start with Near Blur Strength. (Fig 25.0)

Fig 25.0

Near Blur Strength blurs the depth of field that is near from the object, character or prop is in focus. When you increase the Near Blur Strength, you see that it is out of focus. You might not notice it because I am using this DOF region view, but once we are done you will see the difference. Once you look at the elephant and you are playing with the Near Blur Strength, you can see that the blur gets stronger, deeper. (Fig 26.0)

Fig 26.0

Next is the Near Transition Region. Let us see how it totally covers the elephant. (Fig 27.0)

Fig 27.0

When the near transition region is at 1000, the elephant is fairly focused. At least the head, trunk and tusk look more focused. So once you take the value down you will see that the elephant is blurred. A little part of the tusk is sharp and that’s not what we want. So we are just going to leave it at 1000 because we want it to be Progressive. (Fig 28.0)

Fig 28.0

We want different ranges. Like the farther it goes the more blurred it becomes. That’s what we want to maintain here.

Next is Perfect Focus Range. Let us see what happens when we move it. (Fig 29.0)

Fig 29.0

Okay! Perfect focus acts almost like the Near Transition range. It blurs any other thing that is not close to the character. But that’s not what we want here so we’re just going to leave it like this.Focusdistance is the next step. Actually this just shows where you want the depth of field to affect the distance. You can see the rock here is in focus and the character is blurred and every other thing behind. It’s almost like a reverse. Everything way in the back is in focus. (Fig 30.0)

Fig 30.0

Now we will talk about the PickTarget, which is found in the DOF settings. (Fig 31.0)

Fig 31.0

Once you click on Pick Target, then you click on the character to pick it. This will make sure to put that particular character or prop in focus.  (Fig 32.0)

Fig 32.0

There is one more thing I want to talk about regarding Depth of Field. You notice that as I play the video the camera keeps moving back. If you want the character to be in focus while the camera is moving, then what you will need to do is pick target again, and again as you key frame or move the camera. (Fig 33.0)

Fig 33.0

As a side note, I got this particular clothing from the Reallusion Content Store. They have a lot of nice clothing for characters that work well with physics.

If you want to modify the soft cloth physics, then you click on the clothing, and then go to right-side column to Modify/PhysX and click on Soft cloth. (Fig 34.0)

Fig 34.0

You can go to Weightmap, which is a way of controlling the areas that will be affected by different strengths and degrees. Inside you can edit the Weight Map, with an Opacity map. (Fig 35.0)

Fig 35.0

You can also go lower below, to the ClothPresets that have instant templates for different types of fabric strengths. These are extremely helpful as they do all the work for you, depending on the materials your characters are wearing. (Fig 36.0)

Fig 36.0

There you will find options for different cloth types including; Fleece, leather, linen, denim, etc. You can also go to the Wind option to further edit the interaction between weather elements if you wish.

Once your physics simulations are active then this flag becomes Green. (Fig 37.0)

Fig 37.0

Now I will cover Baking. Baking is useful for when you wish to create an accurate simulation every single time. With most real-time simulations, the engine keeps calculating collisions and movements of the cloth. So if you don’t want to task your system so much and you want a particular movement of the cloth, then you can use Baking. To do this, go to Edit / Project Settings. (Fig 38.0)

Fig 38.0

Once you are in project setting, scroll down to Soft Cloth, and make sure to enable it and Bake animation with Soft Collision. This bakes and saves that particular movement of the cloth. After it’s activated you can play it, and allow it to run to the end. You can now deactivate your soft cloth simulation. Now as you play it again the cloth will continue moving. (Fig 39.0)

Fig 39.0

Another thing is the Spring Effect. Where do you see spring effect here? Well, it is on the breast of the female character As she is moving, the breast are also naturally moving. Now the Spring effect is actually in the character already. (Fig 40.0)

Fig 40.0

All iClone female characters, and other good characters from other software should have Spring physics in them already. But you have to make sure sometimes that they are switched ON. (Fig 41.0)

Fig 41.0

How do you switch them on? Once you click on the character, go to the Modify column and scroll down. At the bottom, you will see it – make sure it is activated. There are two things affected by the spring; the right rib twist and the left rib twist, which in my case are both ON. (Fig 42.0)

Fig 42.0

You can adjust more settings with the Mass, the Strength and the Bounciness. (Fig 43.0)

Fig 43.0

The last items here are the bushes, as you can see they are moving and responding to the wind. (Fig 44.0)

Fig 44.0

These particular trees and bushes come with iClone as default, and they have physics. I can easily drag and drop them into my scene by going to Content/Set/Template/Tree and then just dropping them where I want. (Fig 45.0) (Fig. 46.0)

Fig 45.0
Fig 46.0

When you select the Tree (or bush), you can even go to the Modify panel on the right, under Tree and use the Start Gardening to add as many plant as you want. (Fig 47.0)

Fig 47.0

Once the plants are in place, then you can add weather physics to them via the Wind settings found in the same Modify column. You can set the Strength and the Range of the wind and the Gust Frequency. (Fig 48.0)

Fig 48.0

Alright, so that is how I created a dynamic atmosphere through lighting and physics in real-time inside iClone 7. These techniques are great for sprucing up any scene, making it look nice and professional with an atmospheric feel to it.

I am happy to have shared my experience with iClone, as it is an amazing tool that can deliver wonderful results when users take care of the details. Please remember that its easy to end up with a flat and dull looking project if we don’t take the time to apply these features. So always, consider Global Illumination, HDR Dffect, Fog and IBL along with soft cloth physics when applicable.

In addition, if your computer needs to optimize resource then you can work with Bake Animation so that you do not have to always simulate in real-time. Also, remember your Depth of Field to give your projects a nice cinematic feeling, along with separating characters, objects and props from the background during different camera switches.

Thank you for watching this tutorial!

The Author

Benjamin Sokomba Dazhi (Benny Dee)

Animator, Video Director, Editor, Cinematographer from Nigeria

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