The “Winner Tips & Tricks ” series covers practical workflows and techniques shared by winners of the “2022 Animation At Work Contest”. To let users see the full spectrum of the Cartoon Animator pipeline, we are introducing projects that received attention and credit from the community. Let’s now take a look at “Far From Home” to see how Jop Govers worked his magic with Reallusion Cartoon Animator (CTA).
About Jop Govers
Hello, I’m Jop Govers, a seventeen-year-old living in Eindhoven, Netherlands. I was always curious about the world around me and interested in learning new things. I was either asking questions or creating things from my imagination. Around age eleven, I discovered that producing music was something I could do myself. I watched videos on YouTube and found an online program (FL Studio) and just started to produce and compose my own music. Gradually, I refined my craft and even managed to get my first single record label deal at fourteen. I then taught myself to play the piano by watching YouTube videos and eventually with the help of a teacher who helped me further develop my piano skills.
Once something grabs my attention, as music did, I become really committed to pushing myself to learn as much as I can about it. I don’t overthink it, rather, I love the learning process; and the same has happened with animation. As a young kid, I used to watch a lot of cartoons — who doesn’t? — and I remember always wanting to understand how they did it and even trying to make the drawings myself. Having grown a bit older, I sort of forgot about making my own animations and just enjoyed watching them. This all changed when my nephew introduced me to Rick and Morty. Wow, was I hooked? Then on, I started watching all kinds of animated shows beyond the traditional children’s cartoons.
I figured if I could learn to produce and compose my own music, I can also learn to create my own characters and animate them. I researched in my free time on the internet, watched YouTube videos, and tried all kinds of different software and tools to make computer drawings and animations. One of my teachers knew I was diving into this topic and he showed me how he used Adobe After Effects and Photoshop for his graduation project, then I decided to give it a go.
The quantum leap forward occurred a few months later when I found Reallusion Cartoon Animator. I was amazed at how intuitive it was to learn and how fast you could create professional-looking animations. My childhood dream of making my own animations was finally within reach with the help of the Cartoon Animator.
Why I made “Far From Home”
I am a huge fan of Rick and Morty and actually everything on Adult Swim. Since my animation ambitions started with Rick and Morty, I wanted to create something that had the same look and feel, yet, I could still call mine.
Why I chose Cartoon Animator
Cartoon Animator allows me to create professional-quality animations faster than any other software I’ve used. Its easy-to-use interface allows me to tap into my creativity and “just do it”. I can create 360 heads in minutes instead of hours and characters run in seconds with premade motion files while rigging is a breeze with Reallusion templates. Therefore, I highly recommend Cartoon Animator regardless of your proficiency as an animator: from “new kids on the block” to those who’ve already experienced the magic of creating animations. Without a doubt, CTA will help you improve your skills and deliver your own magic.
How I did it with CTA
Step 1: Script and voice acting
I write all my scripts in Google Docs and I look for inspiration by watching and analyzing other shows and cartoons. For my voice acting, I use an amazing tool called Replica Studios which generates some of the best AI voice actings I’ve ever heard.
Step 2: Character Creation & Rigging
I draw all my characters in Photoshop using the default brush. In Photoshop, my characters are created in an 8K document to easily upscale if I wanted to. I rig my characters using a variety of templates which are, by default, available in Cartoon Animator.
If you find it difficult to come up with your own characters, just explore and study cartoon characters you love and list why they appeal to you. Search the internet for interesting shapes, funny, beautiful, or even ugly features. Mix and match all these ingredients — anything goes as long as it makes you smile. You can even do this on paper if you want. Try as many sketches as you need and don’t overthink it, let your creativity out and go with the flow. Once happy with your paper sketch, try to draw it on your computer.
Step 3: Character Customization & Animation
The one thing that no other animation software does like Cartoon Animator is Motion Clips. The results are mind-blowing and yet it is super easy to make your characters walk when rigged properly for lip sync. I just listen to the audio and apply the appropriate mouth sprites at the right time. .
Step 4: Scenes creation & composition & Camera setting
I drew all my backgrounds in Photoshop with stock brushes — nothing too special. Textured brushes were sometimes used in Rick and Morty to add details, so I decided to do the same as it adds so much more depth to the scenes, in my opinion.
Step 5: Composition in After Effects
I used a blur that was set to a lesser opacity with overlay as the blend mode. I also added some color correction using adjustment layers. This was applied to all the scenes and then everything was put together.
Easy to learn and intuitive to use with results that impress: that is the essence of why I love CTA, and why I recommend it to anyone who wants to experience the magic of creating your own animations. You don’t need to be a seasoned professional with years of experience. You also don’t need to be a computer whizz or have a professional animation studio, you only need the will to give it your best!
AccuRIG 1.1 updates with user-friendly features for free download
AccuRIG is the revolutionary auto-rigging technology recently released by Reallusion to the great fanfare within the 3D animation industry. In an effort to reduce production labor for 3D artists and modelers, AccuRIG is designed with fast and accurate character rigging in mind. AccuRIG makes it easy to turn static models into 3D animatable characters by following a few simple steps and have them ready for export to industry-leading platforms; from game engines like Unreal Engine and Unity to third-party 3D software like Blender, iClone, Omniverse, Maya, 3ds max, MotionBuilder, and Cinema 4D; it’s a solution for everyone.
What’s New with ActorCore AccuRIG 1.1 Update
Adopted by over 100,000 users, ActorCore’s free AccuRIG application has proven to be simple, yet powerful, for creating exceptional rigs. The v1.1 upgrade brings several user-friendly improvements as per the requests of professional modelers.
Force Symmetry: users can save time by having edits reflected on both sides of a perfectly symmetrical model.
Snap to Center Plane: precisely position the selected joints on the center plane.
6 Camera Angles with hotkeys to facilitate the joint placement process.
3 different Shading Options help users visualize the model and make it easy to place joints.
Wireframe views of 6 different colors.
Show Bones: bones are visible after a character is rigged.
Hierarchical Transformation: child joints can be moved in tandem with the selected finger joint.
Finger Count can be designated prior to the rigging process.
Auto-Rigging Technology Benefits All Users
Engineered to rig 3D characters with unparalleled competence, Character Creator (CC) AccuRIG comes with built-in critical functions that process multi-meshes, refine skin weights, and traverse levels of complexity with ease. On top of all that, AccuRIG is completely free of charge for ActorCore. Users can download the free program and visit Reallusion AccuRIG Technology to know how auto-rigging is designed.
Designed for Scan and Sculpt Poses; AccuRIG is made to handle both scanned and sculpted poses for any standard, size, style, and posture.
Accommodate pose variations with automatic axis correction and twist bone allocation.
Accurate bone placement for models with oversized heads, obscured shoulders, beast legs, and hand-held props.
Mimic professional riggers’ weight paint for the natural articulation of body joints for the head, shoulders, knees, elbows, and hands.
Segregates skin weights for rigid accessories by detecting individual surfaces and tracing back to their valid parent bones, instead of having weights indiscriminately permeate surrounding areas onto nearby meshes.
Correct finger rigging even when fingers lie close to one another or for creatures with less than five fingers.
Mask away unwanted joints for partial rigs on models with incomplete limbs and non-standard poses.
Users can download AccuRIG as a free tool from ActorCore, or access the advanced AccuRIG functions in Character Creator. For more information about AccuRIG technology and a detailed comparison between CC AccuRIG and ActorCore AccuRIG, visit Reallusion.
My name is Antony Evans and I work for Taiyaki studios and run Digital Puppets animation studio, where we specialize in digital avatar creation and animation. In this video I will be showing how I used 3Dconnexion SpaceMouse®, along with iClone 8’s new Device LIVE hot key triggers, and the Motion Trigger plugin, to create a real time animated character scene.
What is iClone 8’s Device LIVE?
Device LIVE is part of iClone 8’s new feature that offers the ability to use various hardware devices to control elements of your scene to improve efficiency and make your workflow easier. There are several different devices that can be used from, Xbox controllers, to MONOGRAM Creative Consoles, Elgato Stream Decks and more, which you can learn about here: https://www.reallusion.com/iclone/device-live.html
In this video I am working with the 3DConnexion SpaceMouse as this device gives you customizable buttons and a movement control they call the cap. The cap allows for smooth real time camera movement or can be used to move and rotate objects in your scene.
How I used the SpaceMouse
For this scene I wanted to create a real time setup that can be used for live streaming. I needed the ability to control everything in my scene easily, so I could also concentrate on other elements of running the live stream.
In the video you can see that the character is being animated using the Motion Trigger plugin. This is a great tool for adding keyboard triggers for your characters animations, allowing you to trigger gestures and movements in real time while also having the iClone LIVE FACE plugin with Motion LIVE to control my facial capture.
The SpaceMouse was then setup to control my camera movements and the lighting in the scene. With the new updated Hotkeys in iClone 8 I was able to set up buttons on the SpaceMouse to do exactly what I wanted, I also set the buttons in the places under my fingers so I could comfortably move the camera using the cap and press the buttons without to much movement from my hand, this makes it a lot easier to remember where the trigger buttons are.
What Hot Keys did I use and how I set them up
The hot keys that I used in this scene were, Change Camera, Look-at Camera and turn On/Off Collection.
One thing that really helps with engagement in a scene where the character is talking to the audience, is Eye Contact. In the custom hot key options, there is now a selection for look at camera, so when its triggered, the character will look in the direction of which ever camera is in use. The space mouse has some great options for creating custom buttons, and any button on the device can be customized.
I wanted the Look-at Camera hotkey to be triggered at the same time the camera changed. To do this I had to set up a macro in the space mouse custom settings. For example, I had the hotkey for change to camera 1 set to (shift + 1) and the look at camera key set to (Shift + 5) using the macros I set a single button on the space mouse to select (Shift + 1 Shift + 5) simultaneously, and did the same for the other cameras, so every time the camera changed the character was still looking at the audience.
The next hot key I used was the show/hide collections, anything you put in a collection can be triggered on or off, so you can setup completely different lighting for your scene and change them in real time. This could also be done for objects or scenery placed in those collections.
Similar setups can be achieved with the other available devices, you could use something like the MONOGRAM Creative Consoles, or the Elgato Stream Deck to control your camera or lighting or even the motion trigger animations. What I liked about the space mouse was the camera movement using the cap. Once you the camera was switched to the free camera, I was able to move around the scene with the smooth cap movement, giving a handheld feel to the camera.
Though this scene was setup with real time streaming in mind, it’s worth mentioning any camera movement or camera switching is recorded on the timeline. It also records the look at head movement on the constraints track, so any live recording you make will keep all the animation data on the timeline.
Reallusion’s iClone 8 with Device LIVE and the new hotkeys adds the ability for users to really customize the way they work. Having triggers at your fingertips helps you efficiently navigate your projects in a way that works best for you.
Greetings my fellow 2D animation enthusiasts! My name’s Nathan and I’m a member of Studio Ghibletz. The moment we laid our eyes on spring bones we had a revolutionary idea. Most CTA users prefer a crisp art style, but Studio Ghibletz opted for something messy—something experimental. We developed a new animation design virtually indistinguishable from hand-drawn. We created a sprite character that squashes and stretches. This alone is revolutionary in the world of rigged cartoon character creation. Studio Ghibletz, however, wished to take this concept further. So, we created characters with scratchy line art.
The CTA5 Features that Enabled our Experiment
Stretch and Squash is a vital principle of animation, and it’s the crux of crafting an animated 2D character that looks hand drawn. Stretch and squash give 2D animation its charm, and it makes characters more expressive. This principle of animation, however, has long been unavailable to sprite-based characters. But not anymore. CTA5 allows you to apply this principle using FFD (free-form deformation) and spring bones. FFD enables a sprite character to stretch and squash, allowing you to emphasize their actions. It’s also useful for putting characters and props into perspective.
The morph tool—the precursor of FFD—was available in CTA4. However, it only worked with props. Now you’re able to morph entire characters. Next, we marveled at spring bones. We watched hats bounce, jello jiggle, and whiskers twitch. We then decided to push spring bones to their limits. We weren’t satisfied with funny noses and springy tails. Nay brethren! We wanted entire characters to bounce like Micky Mouse!
Using CTA5’s Tools to Develop New Techniques
I pitched a new style of animation design: a character with multiple sprites for each body part, each with slightly different line work. Then, when the character moves, we’d roll through the sprites like an animated prop. In my head, I imagined characters like Baloo from the Jungle Book or Madame Medusa from The Rescuers, characters with intentionally scratchy—almost messy—line work.
Easy, right? Wrong! Rick and I quickly discovered that only one sprite per slot would morph. This means if the character has three sprites, only the first will stretch and squash. This wouldn’t do. After hours of trial and error, we stumbled across a solution. We stacked three characters, each with different line art, then put them on a visibility loop. This held the stretch and squash and allowed for scratchy line work.
To recreate this style, animate the first character, then duplicate it twice. Next, replace the sprites in the duplicated characters. Finally, loop the visibility so that the characters flash through in quick succession. This style delights me. It combines frame-by-frame drawings with modern animation software.
Using Clever Camera Angles
Traditional hand-drawn animation presents the characters from multiple angles. Sometimes they’re shown from the back, sometimes they’re in profile. Traditional animation also uses insert and specialty shots. To achieve this look, Mouse Bros combines over 30 CTA files. Each file contained a specific angle or movement. It’s a huge amount of work, and you must compile the footage in Premiere Pro. This, however, is the price of creating a cartoon with a high production value.
Imagine Mouse Bros from one angle. They race across the screen in profile, jump the canyon like Mario, then converse in a single angle. Would that be interesting? Would it tell a story of hunger and betrayal? No! Failure to animate from diverse angles traps many CTA users (myself included before I was corrected). If you only tell a story from one angle, it’s flat and boring and the mark of a low budget.
Additionally, you can hide a lot in the cuts. For example, most animated 2D characters don’t turn well. In the past, we’ve created characters like Jowl, the grumpy bird that came with CTA4. This allows for smooth, natural turns. For larger, more complex characters, however, this doesn’t work. Instead, you can “turn” characters between cuts. Imagine two characters facing each other, and you want one of them to turn away. Cut to a different camera angle, then place the character in the desired direction. To the audience, it appears that the character “turned” during the cut.
Finally, use framing to toy with viewer expectations. As Kevin Keniry, one of our writers, explains, “In the establishing shot of Mouse Bros, we showed the mice holding the handlebars. This shot was the setup for the conflict of the episode, but this focus also allowed us to flip the viewer’s expectations. The handlebars were attached to pogo sticks rather than motorbikes.”
Snappy Dialogue and Tight Writing
To make the most of CTA5, you must tell a good story. As Cody Marcotte writes, we always want to elicit an “emotional response, from happiness to sadness and everything in between.” And in Mouse Bros, we decided to go Shakespearean.
We go to great lengths to perfect a character’s voice, and we have fun doing it. As Peter, the voice of Richard, facetiously writes, “I look the character in the eye and he begins to whisper. The character chooses the voice, and my body is but a vessel.” Phil, the voice of Duncan, shares a similar philosophy. He writes, “Being a great voice actor means that you’re able to fully immerse into the role, bring life to a character, and put on a believable performance as them; though to do so, it’s important to remember to research your character, practice your lines, and to be confident in your performance.”
To build toward the climax, we created an intense race sequence. We’d never before engaged in visual storytelling. Our stories are generally carried by dialogue. With Mouse Bros, however, we wanted to expand our horizons. For the dialogue, we drew inspiration from the Lion King. We wanted to recreate the intensity of Scar and Mufasa. This is why our mice bear the names of two Shakespearean favorites: Richard and Duncan.
Richard and Duncan: Cartoon Character Creation in CTA5
We opted for the traditional CTA pipeline: Photoshop—CTA5—After Effects. We brought the characters into CTA5 from Photoshop to create the bone structure. However, we exchanged the sprites in the additional characters (the ones needed for the line art loop) manually.
For our next project, we’ll make use of vector characters. We’ve never worked with vector-based sprites, and we were already using experimental techniques, so we decided to stick to what we knew by using raster images.
We animate in CTA5, then polish in After Effects and Premiere Pro. When we bring our work into After Effects, we add subtle, final touches to the animation. Fun fact: all of the shadows were done in CTA5 using the FFD tool. With FFD, you can effortlessly morph shadows. For example, the shadow beneath the mouse on the pogo stick deforms as the mouse jumps. This gives the characters additional weight and depth. We then finished editing in Premiere Pro. Mouse Bros combines over 30 unique shots and angles, compiled with Premiere Pro into a cohesive story.
Elevate your CTA5 Content with Music
In addition to going full throttle with the animation, cartoon character creation, writing, and voice acting, Rick composed a symphony. Originally, Rick wrote a rock n’ roll soundtrack, but saw Mouse Bros’ intro and decided it needed an orchestra. Rick said he wanted to “modernize what Looney Tunes did.”
In Mouse Bros, each scene is synced with the music. This elevates the action and tells the audience what to feel. The violins duel as Richard and Duncan race, and the piano fizzles out when Richard realizes they’re racing for American cheese instead of cheddar. This isn’t feasible for many animators, especially those who work solo. However, you’ll find a wide variety of royalty-free music on YouTube. While this limits your ability to sync the music like in Mouse Bros, the right background track will still elevate your animation.
CTA5 Opens the Door to Professional-Grade Animation
CTA5 enabled Studio Ghibletz to pioneer a new animation technique. We pushed the limits of what’s possible with rigged characters, and Mouse Bros is only the beginning. Spring bones and FFD change everything. I believe Mouse Bros merely scratches the surface. My hope is that this animated short inspires other CTA users to experiment with spring bones and storytelling.
If you’re looking for animation software, CTA5 has all the tools you need. Roughly one year ago, I knew nothing about animation. This is CTA’s greatest strength. It puts professional-grade tools in a package accessible to beginners. In a year I went from stick figures to Mouse Bros. With CTA5, you can too.
The “Winner Tips & Tricks ” series covers practical workflows and techniques shared by winners from the “2022 Animation At Work Contest”. To let users see the full spectrum of the Cartoon Animator pipeline, we are introducing projects that received attention and credit from the community. Let’s now take a look at Raknum Animation’s: “Songrea Travels”, and see how he works his magic with Reallusion Cartoon Animator (CTA).
About Raknum Animation
Hi, I’m Onome Egba and I’m a writer and director. I have a background in psychology and have also spent some time working in advertising. I’ve worked on both corporate and personal projects in various capacities including as a producer, director, and animator on ads, music videos, and short films—one of which earned me an African Movie Academy Award (AMAA) nomination for best animation.
As founder and creative director at Raknum Animation Studios, I see the company as an outlet to enable me and my team to find interesting ways to engage with art and creativity. As a relatively young and evolving hybrid art form, I’ve loved the creative potential animation offers. It’s also been particularly exciting to find new ways to leverage innovations in software and technology to make processes simpler and more streamlined; because, though animation can be highly expressive and offer near-infinite possibilities, it can also get very tedious.
Why we made Songrea Travels and why chose Cartoon Animator
We were exploring new tools and solutions for 2D character rigging for a project—where speed and consistency were paramount—when we found Cartoon Animator and the Animation at Work contest. As an iClone user, I’ve always known about CTA but having only recently started to dabble in more 2D-centric workflows, I never really paid it much attention. The contest created an opportunity to force ourselves into putting Cartoon Animator to the test; see how fast we could learn it and more importantly how well it’ll integrate into our workflow. Also, finding out about the contest way past its announcement, meant we were left with only about seven weeks to execute the project, which seemed a good creative challenge for our small team. In the end, we lived up to our billing and we’re more than proud of what we pulled off.
Our workflow for this project was pretty straightforward. We like to work in a way that lets us perform concurrent tasks with multiple things going on at the same time. That way, the backgrounds can inspire the character art, music can inspire the writing, and everything just piggybacks off each other till we organically find a common ground everyone’s excited about. About this, the home vs vacation idea came pretty early on and the somber acoustic guitar tune soon became a guiding light for the project. That is until we started editing and got completely tired of the song. Hence, why this animation breakdown is in the most non-acoustic guitar-sounding tune we could find.
How I did it with CTA
Step 1: Ideation
Once we had the home and vacation theme, we started exploring some places that would be cool to explore visually. We fought between making it completely centered around the home or the vacation before deciding to combine them both. At this time, our art director, Funto Coker, was already exploring some background art styles and we were assessing locations that seemed to connect best. Soon we created a script and had a blueprint for everything else.
Step 2: World Building & Layout
Backgrounds were completed before the character because that’s what we started with. So we looked at the space, set up the shot, and then added the characters. Another thing we looked out for in the composition, background art, and camera layout, were opportunities to utilize the z-axis to add more depth and visual interest to the shot with a parallax effect. Parallax also helps the audience get a feel for the scale of the scene, which also serves as a story-telling element. For domestic scenes, we kept it intimate and flat and then pushed for more depth as we went outside.
Step 3: Character Rigging & Animation
Once the characters were done, we brought them into CTA 4. With the limbs separated from the PSD file, simple drag-and-drops connected the bones, and in a few minutes, we had a character ready for animation. I also personally liked being able to have a custom GUI for each character—it just added personality to the animation process. Furthermore, the animation was mostly done using the Motion Key Editor. Using key-frames and transition curves, we were able to complete the animation in no time, which was great because, by this time, we were fast approaching the final days of the contest.
Step 4: Clean up & Post Production
We finally get to the most fun part of the process as the heavy lifting has already been done. We have an animation that’s working cohesively and telling a comprehensive story. At this point, we’re focused on supplementing that story by amplifying the background art and further integrating the character animation into the background so they blend as one. We also do some basic relighting to add a bit more contrast and depth. We were also concerned about directing the viewer’s eyes, which entails darkening and slightly blurring out elements that seem to distract the audience from where they are supposed to be focusing. The scene over the temples of Myanmar was especially exciting, it’s a perfect example of an already beautiful scene being further enhanced through compositing.
In the end, it was a fun exercise and we’re glad we took it on. Given the sheer volume of inspiring work submitted to the contest, we feel very honored to have been awarded first prize in the “Business and Commercial” category. I hope this overview helped; We look forward to the amazing things being created by everyone in this community.
The Vambies are an avatar collection developed by Vambie Inc. and Taiyaki Studios. A quirky cast of vampire/zombie hybrids, they are being released into the world on the Reallusion marketplace and are appearing throughout social media.
To celebrate the launch, Reallusion and Taiyaki Studios will be running a competition: who can create the best video using a Vambie?
Make your own social media inspired Vambie video, post it to your channel and make sure to Tag #vambies to be part of the competitions. To make sure your video is not missed, also email or post us your video on our discord channel https://discord.gg/taiyaki
Reallusion will be offering one free iClone license to the winner of the competition!
The winner will be announced of the 2nd of January2023.
The Vambie story
Taiyaki Studios mascot and metaverse tour guide ‘Mr Yaki’ travels to meet Dan, the creator of the Vambies, who explains to him the origins of the Vambies:
This video was created using Reallusion’s iClone and the Unreal Engine. For a behind the scenes look at how Taiyaki Studios uses Reallusion software to produce its videos, check out their latest ‘making of’ video:
Who are they for?
The Vambies are a community-driven animated show living on social media. Anyone interested in character animation and creating fun content is welcome to download a Vambie and begin producing videos: https://marketplace.reallusion.com/iclone/search/vambies with more Vambies to come soon! Creators can use Vambies for free and monetize their creations with no royalties.
We have a dedicated team of experts ready to help in our discord channel https://discord.gg/mWWS84gS and it’s also a place to share your work and ideas and even collaborate with other Vambie creators.
About Vambie Inc.
Dan was born a vampire but accidentally bit a zombie and found himself turned into a hybrid. Shunned by both the vampire and zombie communities, he founded Vambie Inc. to manufacture clones of himself – the Vambies – and spread them into the world.
About Taiyaki Studios
Taiyaki Studios builds avatars for vtubers and virtual influencers. The future of media is social-first, powered by virtual characters, and supercharged by fan-generated content. We’re here for it.
Kay John Yim is a Chartered Architect at Spink Partners based in London. He has worked on a wide range of projects across the UK, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, including property development and landscape design. His work has been featured on Maxon, Artstation, CG Record and 80.LV.
Yim’s growing passion for crafting unbuilt architecture with technology has gradually driven himself to taking on the role of a CGI artist, delivering visuals that not only serve as client presentations but also as means of communication among the design and construction team. Since the 2021 COVID lockdown, he challenged himself to take courses in CG disciplines beyond architecture, and has since won more than a dozen CG competitions.
Part I. ARTWORK
Q : Hi John, welcome to our Feature Story series. First of all, congratulations on all the art and architectural visualization awards you’ve won and on being elected into the Hall of Fame on CG Boost and VWArtclub in 2022!
Could you share with us the art concepts behind ‘Kagura’ and ‘Ballerina’ ? What are their similarities and what kind of message would you like to convey with ‘Kagura’?
Thank you so much for having me, it is such an honor to be featured again in Reallusion Magazine!
Both projects ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Kagura’ are representations of myself; they are metaphors for the inner conflicts and struggles in my artistic pursuit. As both an architect and a CGI artist, I am constantly struggling between creating art for mass appeal as opposed to simply creating a well-composed image that I love. In ‘Ballerina‘ I combined ballet with Baroque architecture, knowing full well that glamorous ballet poses and architectural style would draw the most attention.
Ballet, an art form widely known to have stringent standards of beauty and highly susceptible to public and self-criticism, is the metaphor of my artistic practice, particularly in gaining online traction through social media. No matter how proficient I become in my skills, the struggle never fades away as I feel like I am always competing against every other artist for attention.
‘Kagura‘, on the other hand, embodied my enthusiasm for Japanese culture and aesthetics. The project concept is a fantasized version of a Shinto ritual ceremonial dance in Japan. Traditionally, the dancer herself turns into a god during the performance – here depicted as the dancer’s ballerina tutu dress transforming into a hakama as she dances on the floating stage, purifying spirits of nature. The transformation sequence is a literal “reveal” of my inner conflict, as I have come to terms with it and accepted the fact that creating art could simply be an act of self-indulgence.
Q : Thank you for sharing such an uneasy yet beautiful struggle with us. The transformational moment really caught my eye—such a magic moment as the ballerina finally meets her true self!
Can you share more about the process of creating such a moment? Did you confront any difficulties during the process?
The animation can be broken down into three parts: the character, the cloth simulation, and the transformation. The character animation was based on one mocap data found on Reallusion Marketplace, which I modified in iClone to get the specific gestures and slow-motion look that I envisioned.
For the cloth simulation, I used a combination of Marvelous Designer(MD) and iClone/Character Creator. MD gave very realistic results but it was very fiddly and time-consuming for simulating multi-layered clothing; iClone and CC cloth physics was essentially real-time but lacked realism for complex clothes. For these reasons I prepared two sets of garments in MD (tutu dress & hakama) and grouped them into two categories: skin-tight garments and loose garments. The skin-tight garments (tutu dress leotard & hakama inner layer) required less detail and were animated in iClone; the loose garments (tutu dress skirt & rest of the hakama) were simulated in MD for maximum detail. The transformation of the tutu dress into hakama was primarily driven by “PolyFX” within Cinema4D.
Even though the animation was fairly simple—technically speaking—it was extremely challenging to reach a rhythm and an aesthetic that flowed naturally with the character’s movement. I ended up spending over two months just iterating over the ten seconds of animation.
Q : Is the final result close to what you envisaged? What could be done better next time?
The final result is quite close to what I envisaged, although I initially planned to include a zoom-in shot very early on but ultimately had to give up due to PC spec constraints. The model got extremely heavy early on and I spent a lot of time simply waiting for viewport feedback—in retrospect, I could have optimized the model a lot more and kept the model as simple as possible until the final render.
Part II. CHARACTER CREATION
Q : As mentioned in many interviews, you’re heavily influenced by Japanese culture, like the scene of ‘Kagura’ is set at a Japanese ryokan that inspired the high-grossing anime film “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba” in 2020. Interestingly enough, the characters you have designed are more leaning toward realistic digital humans.
I wonder if you’ve ever considered creating more Japanese anime-like characters, or game characters such as “Final Fantasy XIII”, which also are hyper-realistic yet in anime style.
What are the pros and cons of using Character Creator to produce your characters ?
I have considered creating Japanese anime-like characters—in fact, Final Fantasy XIII inspired me to learn 3D. However, as architecture has become an inseparable part of my life throughout the past decade, I came to appreciate the beauty in subtle proportions, lighting, materials, and details found in photorealistic CGI, which ultimately led me to the path I have chosen.
Character Creator empowered architects like me to create CG characters without the professional knowledge of a character artist. As characters convey the scale and purpose of a space, Character Creator allows me to add narrative to my architectural renders, making them more relatable to the viewers.
Q : In terms of stylized characters, I’m quite curious about your thoughts on Disney-style characters such as the Toy Story tetralogy. Has this type of cartoon-style aesthetics ever influenced your character creations?
Like many other artists, I am also inspired by Disney animations, particularly the lighting and the color combinations, but to a lesser extent Disney-style characters. I find partially stylized characters in 3D—notably the combination of realistic materials and exaggerated proportions—not as immersive as fully stylized characters like those found in the recent Netflix series Arcane.
The unique combination of painterly textures and 3D models in Arcane looks nothing like every other Disney or stylized character I have ever seen. I am sure it will be a lot of fun and a challenge to design a fully stylized character myself, but there is still so much to explore in the world of photorealism I have no plans on publishing any stylized artwork yet.
Part III. COMPOSITION
Q : Wabi-sabi aesthetics is the core philosophy permeating Japanese art and lifestyle, which emphasizes asymmetry, simplicity, and modesty. However, John’s pieces always reveal a glamorous world where the exquisite characters situate in splendid surroundings.
I can’t help but wonder how this worldview influences you when you start creating something new.
I was heavily exposed to Japanese culture growing up in Hong Kong, and although I appreciate wabi-sabi aesthetics I see it more as a philosophy and a work ideal—in every artwork I create, I aim to bring out a sense of serene melancholy from the viewers, longing for more.
Take ‘Forfeited Souls: The Unfinished Chapels of Batalha‘ as an example, every element within the composition was doused with mystery—the giant cat appearing from the sky, the large standing statues, and the glowing flowers—everything was woven together into an incomplete narrative. Although I did have a story in mind while creating ‘Forfeited Souls’, I never described it explicitly and left it to the viewers’ imagination.
Q : Since you’re familiar with Cinema4D and Redshift to build up environments, could you elaborate on the artistic concept behind the winning entry ‘Ark Muse’ which eventually got featured in Maxon Redshift’s new 2022 official demo reel ?
How do you create such a convincing fantasy by combining C4D with Redshift and Character Creator? Did Wabi-sabi aesthetics inspire you in any way?
‘Ark Muse‘ was created under a very tight deadline for a Clint Jones’ INFINITE JOURNEYS Challenge; the project concept is one’s desire of going back in time ultimately manifested while asleep (note the clock on the table). Unlike a lot of my other works, ‘Ark Muse‘ depicts a fantasy land, where elements of different eras collide. The CG character is the essential ingredient in creating a “suspension of disbelief”—an important role that anchors the viewers in a chaotic dreamy world.
I used Character Creator in combination with Marvelous Designer to create the character and placed her in the foreground of the composition. Character Creator allowed me to iterate on various character poses very quickly, and thus allowed me to make design decisions a lot quicker. The skin texture maps created using Character Creator’s Skingen plugin used in combination with Redshift added a lot of subtle detail and made the composition much more tangible.
Similar to ‘Forfeited Souls‘, nothing in ‘Ark Muse‘ was explicitly implied; it invites the viewers to ponder and question the fantasy land, leaving the viewers longing for more.
Part IV. ARCHITECT, ARCHVIZ & CG ART
Q : In the Renderbus CG Webinar, you shared four tips to CG enthusiasts from your industry background as a RIBA chartered architect.
I wonder how these personal CG arts projects have influenced your architectural career in the past two-plus years, whether positively or negatively?
My personal projects have definitely helped me progress with my career as an architect, especially in upping my work efficiency and making design decisions, and I stand by the four tips that I give to all CG enthusiasts.
Four tips from Renderbus CG Webinar 24: ▪ Iterate objectively. ▪ CG is not a lab experiment. ▪ Don’t reinvent the wheel. ▪ Meeting deadline.
The one piece of advice that I have been pondering a lot lately is “not reinventing the wheel”. I have built up a library of 3D assets that I could reuse to realize ideas much more quickly. This spared me a lot of repetitive modeling time that I could then spend elsewhere, for instance, learning character animation.
Q : ArchViz is a relatively new field in the AEC industry. As an “Architect by day, CGI Artist by night”, how do you see the development of ArchViz and Architecture industries for indie artists and pro studios in the next five years?
With the rapid advancement in real-time rendering and AI software, ArchViz has a much lower entry barrier than before.
Real-time rendering software like Unreal Engine 5 and D5 Render are very promising in delivering Archviz of decent quality, their instant visual feedback means much quicker turnarounds. On the other hand, AI software like Midjourney and Disco Diffusion are capable of generating images with lighting and composition pleasing to the eye—both of which used to take a lot of time for ArchViz artists to iterate. Though the aforementioned programs are still lacking in features to be reliably used on a daily basis, I can definitely see architects, including myself, being able to produce decent renders much quicker and hence communicate with clients much more efficiently in the next five years.
Q : So far, instead of using 3D characters, architecture firms tend to use 2D characters to decorate their architecture mocap.
In your opinion, how will 3D character animation be applied to the ArchViz and architectural industries in the near future ?
I think the majority of ArchViz always feel very distant from the general public due to the lack of convincing CG people and crowds. With realistic CG characters more readily available through software like Character Creator 4 and iClone, this will definitely help bridge the communication gap between architects and clients.
Part V. PIPELINE
Q : Being a self-taught and diligent artist, John has been learning more than thirty-plus software to create CG artwork.
Can you elaborate on your experiences of not fixating on one or two software? Instead, you seem to be trying new ones all the time. Isn’t that time-consuming or has it opened up new possibilities in your CG art?
Learning new software obviously takes time, but with software advancing so quickly in recent years, one is more likely to lose time, in the long run, fixating on outdated software and workflows.
Learning Houdini for instance, allowed me to look at 3D from a completely different perspective; I have since transitioned to a procedural workflow as opposed to a destructive workflow, which eliminated a lot of repetitive tasks that I used to do on a daily basis. I could not imagine completing projects ‘Ballerina’ or ‘Kagura’ without Houdini’s procedural workflow, particularly in cleaning up cloth simulations.
Q : ‘Kagura’ is probably your first work using Character Creator 4 (CC4) and iClone 8 (iC8). How did the transition between the software upgrades impact your work?
Did you confront any hindrances? If so, how did you solve them? Finally, what are your favorite features of CC4 and iC8?
The transition from CC3 to CC4 and iC7 to iC8 is relatively smooth; I appreciate the lack of GUI overhaul which makes transitioning much easier. My favorite features of CC4 are the timeline integration and the ability to mirror poses by body parts. The timeline integration eliminated the need to export CC Characters to iClone for previewing animations, and the mirroring function gave me more flexibility while posing my characters.
My favorite feature of iClone 8 is the integration of 3DXChange, which streamlined my workflow of importing non-CC charactersand mocap animations for use within iClone.
Part VI. ADVICE
Q : Architecture is a demanding profession, how do you gather new ideas beyond the daily routine, especially something not related to architecture?
For example, your piece ‘The Magician: Golden Gallery’ recently was highlighted in the ArtStation Fashion week.
A lot of the time my inspiration outside of architecture comes from movies. ‘The Magician: Golden Gallery‘ was indirectly inspired by the Disney movie “Cruella”. The elaborate costume designs really caught my eye and sparked my interest in fashion design. It motivated me to learn garment creation in Marvelous Designer, which I did so by studying sewing patterns and reading fashion magazines.
Q : As you addressed in the webinar, the best way to learn is to pick up one subject that interests you most and then dive in.
Could you describe your experiences of learning 3D modeling, rendering, and creating clothes in Marvelous Designer? Who are your role models for learning each topic?
Similar to learning Marvelous Designer, I think the best way to learn modeling and rendering is just to work on personal projects one is interested in and search for solutions online when encountering a hurdle.
I do not have a particular role model in CG, but I picked up advice from a mentor and a senior architect that I greatly respect, which is to work consistently as opposed to cramming for deadlines. I took the advice to heart and learned something new every day, consistently over the past two years.
Q : For people who are interested in the ArchViz industry, from your point of view, what are the best three learning resources to start with ?
I think official (software) documentation is the most underrated resource for learning any sort of 3D software; I personally learned to use Redshift render mostly from reading its official documentation.
Apart from official learning resources, I always recommend Ian Hubert’s Patreon and Hugo Guerra’s Youtube Channel for anyone interested in ArchViz or simply creating beautiful renders in general. Both of the aforementioned channels teach 3D and compositing in a software-agnostic manner that applies to any toolset.
Q : Please share with us one quote that influenced you a lot to this today.
‘Kagura’ is by far the most challenging personal project I have ever done since I had little to no experience in motion graphics or character animation half a year ago. I learned along the way as I worked on projects ‘Kagura’ and ‘Ballerina’ all through trial and error, rendering out iteration after iteration throughout the past 6 months.
With Reallusion and Fox Renderfarm’s support, I eventually brought ‘Kagura’ to life, and this has been the most rewarding project since I began my CGI journey. For any self-taught CG artist out there like myself, who is constantly struggling to up their quality and skill set, I would like to share a quote by American novelist Anne Lamott—the quote originally refers to writing but it deeply resonated with me as an artist:
Creating art is like driving a car at night. “You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you.
Greetings, my name is Peter Alexander and I specialize in Character Creator related workflows. In this video, I’m going to detail the process of adding physics to an article of clothing on my Piccolo character, specifically, his cape. I’ll also show you a few other tricks along the way. This feature tutorial leverages the CC4 Blender Pipeline Tool (Installed in CC4) and CC/iC Blender Tools(Installed in Blender) for Character Character and Blender.
This character’s outfit consists of several layers of clothing, and proper layering is important when utilizing various functions in Character Creator, such as the Conform and Auto Hide Mesh features. However, physics is currently not impacted by these layers.
By default, if you have no clothing items, your first imported clothing item will start at the layer one slot, then after that, it’s two, three, and so on (the clothing layer menu allows you to rearrange these layers). Originally the layers were limited to twenty or so, now the limit is 252, so there’s plenty of room for adding clothes — the exceptions being the Gloves and Footwear slots, which are still limited to two layers.
I created some of these items in ZBrush, and by default, the same material name is applied to all items imported through GoZ. However, Blender is strict in not allowing materials or items to share the same name ; For this reason, you must change the names of the materials before importing them into Blender.
Cape Weight Mapping
For the most part, I’ve weighted the cape to the Spine02 bone, which is just below the neck. I find this works best for capes, but your settings may vary. I would probably not weight the cape heavily to the legs or arms, as these bones move too often in a way that wouldn’t affect an actual cape.
Since we are using physics, I want the cape to move and follow the character, but not be impacted by a lot of movement beyond the torso.
Using the edit and sculpting tools, I will fix the various clipping issues that are apparent upon import. Note that the cape is not draped, as that can be handled by physics. Also, note there are no normal maps on this cape; In my experience, clothing folds faked with normal maps tend to look odd when actual physics are applied; So, I avoid applying cloth-fold normal maps for an item such as a cape.
Mesh Smoothing and Normals
For whatever reason, I find most imported items need to have Smooth Shading applied. After this, in Edit mode, you can recalculate the normals by average. This is not entirely necessary, but it saves from having to deal with miscalculated normals in Character Creator.
Adding and Painting a Physics Weight Map
A clothing weight map can be applied through the Cloth Settings area of the addon. When Add Weight Map is initiated, you can paint the map as you would a regular texture. Remember that White adds physics, and Black negates physics. A black weight map will have no physics, but adding black in areas can serve to pin your garment.
I found that using the Gradient tool was the best method of painting a weight map for a cape, though getting the right area to initiate the gradient can take some trial and error. When you are done weight painting, click on Done Weight Painting and save your map.
Exporting & Reimporting into Character Creator
Export the character through the CC/iC Blender Tools(Installed in Blender), and import it into Character. Hidden mesh settings will be lost in this process, so they must be set up again.
After the character has been reimported, you can see that the weight map has been automatically loaded. If you want to adjust the weight map further, you can play with the brightness and contrast settings.
Using the Animation Player, I can see that I needed to add some collision shapes to the main character to prevent clipping with the cape. Collision shapes, based on my understanding, lessen the resources necessary to calculate physics. If you were to calculate between meshes with a high polygon density, many systems would stutter.
Adding Collision Objects
There’s currently no physics on the rest of the clothing, therefore, I’m setting up these colliders so that the cape will also not clip with those items.
Colliders can be scaled on the X-, Y-, and Z-axis, rotated, repositioned, as well as changed from capsule to sphere shape.
With the colliders set up, I’m going to try another physics test. The new Animation Player in Character Creator 4is very helpful in troubleshooting physics before a character gets sent over to iClone for more detailed animation.
If you’re still having trouble at this stage, I would play with the physics settings a bit and be patient with the results. I found that the cape shrank a bit during some simulations, so I adjusted the Tether Limit. Also, adjusting the Dampening setting can add or decrease air resistance. There is a breakdown of these properties listed in the iClone online manual.
While this demo covered some relatively common knowledge, I hope there were some tips along the way that were beneficial to your workflow. The CC4 Blender Pipeline Tool (Installed in CC4) and CC/iC Blender Tools(Installed in Blender) add-onsmake the process much more streamlined, permitting an easier path for optimizing clothing and physics settings.
The ability to export and import content from Character Creator to Blender has never been easier and more accessible to the average user, and it’s getting better with each update to these wonderful tools.
I finished architecture and urban design in 2002. While I was still studying, back in 1998 I was invited by the university to start aiding teachers with their classes. Ever since I have been working part-time and freelancing in the archviz industry.
In 2004, I opened my studio FX Animation Studios, catering to the local market doing TV Ads and PSA’s. It’s what we’ve doing to this day. Our studio very is small, it’s mostly me and my wife plus a third member to handle all the administrative work a company requires. I’m the one behind most of the stories and all the 3D animation, editing, and more. My wife handles mostly modelling, story, sound and starting to get into 2D animation.
In 2011, “Os Pestinhas” aka the troublemakers were born. It’s a project comprising of shorts, comic book stories and also a feature film project. Over the years we were able to make (all self-funded) 2 award winning shorts, over 15 PSA’s and a few comic book stories under the same name. “Os Pestinhas” is a group of 3 kids who aim to educate and learn from their surroundings and adventures.
Our dream is to make the very first 3D Animated feature film and that’s why “Kibwe” was born, and after almost 8 years of working in the feature film project on and off, we are excited to have the support of Reallusion and Epic Games and also our partners at Ekaya Productions who will handle the sound for the film.
In the making of the film “Os Pestinhas” we are heavily utilizing the power of real-time creation and animation tools like Character Creator, iClone, Blender and Unreal Engine to get this project over the finish line.
“The Reallusion set of tools – iClone 8 and Character Creator 4, have allowed me to really tell my stories faster, and the way I want them to be told!”