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Speed and Power: Blender Artist Creates Incredible Business Commercials on Tight Deadline with iClone

This story is featured in CG Society.
See the article:

Animator Chuck DeGroot explains how he created a compelling web commercial with the use of Blender and the Reallusion assets and mocap pipeline while under a strict deadline.

With little time, and numerous other projects, Chuck utilizes Reallusion’s suite of assets and its intuitive connection with other programs to create a stunning CG commercial.

A long-time lover of 3D character animation, Chuck DeGroot has been a prominent freelance animator since 2009. Having been inspired like many of us by the works of Pixar and Dreamworks, Chuck has been working extensively with commercial animations since his graduation from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. And with an emphasis on 3D character animation in his recent works, Chuck gives us insight into his use of Reallusion’s tools to complete a commercial project on a tight schedule.

Project Overview 

Approached by Clum Creative, a creative agency based in Cleveland, OH, the goal was to complete a promo video for Guardian Angel’s “Elite” line of safety lights. This project was a little tricky because it entailed creating a highway accident scene, which would make it inherently expensive and complicated to shut down a highway section for real-life filming. For this, he had to choose CG animation to simulate the scene. Additionally, the deadline was tight, just under a month while juggling multiple other projects, but with the power of Reallusion’s tools, Chuck was able to deliver the 60-second promo, featuring 4 unique characters while displaying a real functioning device, on time and on-budget.

Check out Guardian Angel Devices – “Brighter + Safer” project:

Hitting the Ground Running with Content Store Assets

With the script in hand, the project kicked off in Character Creator 3 (CC3) where I generated the character models and textured them with the amazing SkinGen plugin. Given the limited production time, I was lucky enough to be able to purchase many stock assets from the Reallusion store in order to accelerate the character design process (Professional OutfitsPoliceman Uniforms & GearsAmbulances & Paramedic). It allowed me to purchase a diverse set of clothing assets that worked for each of the characters’ roles.

The CC3 characters were then exported via FBX to Blender, where I could set up the texture/shader nodes, and fine-tune weights and deformations, making render-ready character rigs. The CC3 Tools add-on automates texture and shader setup, and includes many other extremely useful tools.

Quick and Effective Mocap Animation Workflow

Besides character and scene build, I simultaneously sent the characters from CC3 to iClone for animation. I was able to automatically generate a high-quality control rig in Blender using Autorig Pro Quick Rig (this would allow me the option to further customize my character animations later in the process).

Mocap animation data was then recorded and cleaned up in Rokoko Studio, and applied to the iClone characters via 3DXchange. At this point, I was able to fine-tune and customize the recorded Mocap data in iClone, as well as add subtle facial animation using iClone LIVE FACE profile and my iPhone. 

With the motion editing tools in iClone, I was able to customize, combine and fine-tune the Rokoko Mocap data in extremely flexible ways. The iClone LIVE FACE iPhone facial mocap system also gave me an easy way to add subtle facial animation to the characters, which transferred effortlessly to Blender via shape keys in the FBX export files. When the animations were finished in iClone, I exported them via FBX to Blender, where I transferred the actions (both bone animation and facial shape key data) to the final render-ready character model. The scenes were rendered with Eevee, and finished with color grading and post FX in After Effects.

The flexibility of Reallusion’s import/export options in CC3, iClone and 3DXchange allowed me to painlessly move data between those applications, and ultimately get it all into Blender, where the environments were built, the scenes were lit, and the shots were rendered. Pulling off a 3D character animation of this scope in a few weeks as a freelancer would have been nearly impossible just a few short years ago. Reallusion’s tools not only allowed me to pull it off, but they made the whole production process straightforward and FUN!

The Key to the Project

As a freelancer, Reallusion’s tools have become invaluable to me when tackling 3D character animation. With Character Creator 3, iClone and 3DXchange, a great deal of the process is streamlined and simplified. This allows me to work quickly, and forget a lot of the technical hurdles inherent to character animation, and instead focus on the more artistic aspects. Reallusion has done a fantastic job of creating software that makes it possible for solo freelancers like me to produce quality 3D character animation quickly, and I’m excited to see how the tools continue to evolve from here.

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