by Adolf Navarro (Antareus Ltd)
Adolf worked on computer programming and technical 3D modelling until six years ago, when he started writing graphic novels and creating 3D animations.
iClone stands out as being the most accessible and easy-to-learn 3D animation application — but that doesn’t mean it’s not professionally powerful. On the contrary, it’s filled with clever features that make complex animation hyper easy!
Also, iClone’s latest version has boosted the quality of its renders, including PBR materials, Image Based Lighting with HDR pictures, and Global Illumination, and because of this, it has motivated us to start creating models of vehicles for iClone, that not just look good, but that thanks to the improved render features, help people with their animations.
So I included features like emissive materials or parts that can be manipulated individually. Objects like the doors, the steering wheel, the gear level, and the pedals are all interactive sub-props that can be rotated or reached by the characters of a scene. Helping to create convincing driving animations.
In addition, the 4 Wheel structure provided by Reallusion’s Physics Toolbox, allows one to actually drive the vehicles over the iClone terrains while recording their motions in real-time. It facilitates the animation of the vehicles, as the spinning of the wheel are automatically synchronized with the motion of the car, depending on its speed, while it follows the slopes and irregularities of the terrain.
This is an overview tutorial of the pipeline I followed to create these models and how they can be easily animated in iClone.
Step 1- Making the 3D Model
The first obvious step is to model the 3D mesh using a modeling program like 3dsMax, Maya or Blender. The topology of the model has to be as neat as possible, keeping a reasonable number of polygons in order to make it suitable for real-time animation, but not too low, because the model can be used in close-up camera shots too where the details and smoothness of the shape matter. Little elements like bolts, nuts, and marks don’t need to be modeled as they can be added after with the texture normal maps.
Step 2- Choosing the Mobile Parts
The parts that are going to be interactive, have to be modeled as independent objects. So before we start, you have to know which elements of the vehicle are going to be mobile. For this vehicle, I chose the wheels, the doors, the steering wheel, the pedals, the gear level, the front seats and the windshield wipers. But it’s up to you on how many parts of the vehicle you wish to manipulate. Another advantage to having these objects detach is that parts like the wheels or the seats could be exchanged between vehicles once assembled in iClone.
Step 3- Creating the UV Maps
The UV Maps will determine how many texture maps are going to be used in the vehicle affecting the quality, size, and usability of the final prop so they have to be carefully planned. Not all the UV maps are going to make textures of the same size. For example; the chassis will need at least 2048 pixel resolution, while 512-pixel resolution would be enough for the brake pedal. It’s important to use independent UV maps for the mobile parts because if later, we use them with another vehicle, then they will not carry part of the texture of the previous vehicle.
Step 4- Assigning Basic Materials in the Modeling App
It’s interesting to assign basic materials to the modeled objects that are sharing the same UV map before exporting them to be painted. I used 3DCoat to paint the models, and this remarkable tool creates layers of UV maps, depending on the materials they have assigned when exported from the modeling App. In this way, I can paint several parts at the same time, like the bodywork and the doors, but they will generate independent texture maps respecting their own UV maps.
Step 5- Exporting the Objects to be Painted
Once the modeling was done, I exported the objects in OBJ format to be painted in 3DCoat. Some parts like the wheels can be exported and painted individually, while other parts like the chassis, the grill, and the mechanics can be exported and painted together. As they have different materials assigned in 3dsMax, 3DCoat will create a UV map layer for each one of these materials. Later, when creating the texture maps, each UV map will create its own group of texture maps.
Step 6- Importing the Models in 3DCoat
When importing the OBJ files, 3DCoat detects the materials applied and creates a UV map layer for each material, asking for their resolution. The texture maps that 3DCoat will generate later, will have these precise resolutions. I always use a higher resolution in 3DCoat, than the expected one in iClone. So if I intend to create 1024 pixel texture maps, I work with 2048 pixel maps in 3DCoat instead, and I reduce the texture maps later by using Photoshop. Although it seems unnecessary elaborate, at the end it creates much more detailed and optimized textures.
Step 7- Painting the Model in 3DCoat
3DCoat supports photorealistic PBR textures and uses a layer structure similar to that in Photoshop. This is very useful to create variations in the model painting, applying different materials in separate layers that can be hidden or showed at our convenience before to create the different versions of the material maps, while other common layers can be visible all the time. Also, little details can be added to the model without increasing the number of polygons. Bolts, stitches, buttons, upholstery wrinkles… as 3DCoat will include the depth of these elements in their normal maps, giving a 3D appearance to what is just a flat surface.
Step 8- Creating the Texture Maps
Once the model has been painted, 3DCoat will create the texture maps that are going to be applied to the model in iClone. In order to create a proper PBR texture, you are going to need the colour or diffuse map, the normal map, the metallic map and the roughness map. The ambient occlusion map is also recommended as it increases the visual quality of the model. I always save the maps created by 3DCoat in PNG format in order to have a source map without degradation, so the final JPG maps used in the iClone model are always the first generation of compression.
Step 9- Resizing the Texture Maps
As I mentioned, the texture maps I create with 3DCoat are bigger than the ones I use in iClone because when reducing them using Photoshop, I get more details and better compression than generating them directly from 3DCoat. Also, not all the maps have to have the same size. So while the colour and normal maps should be very detailed, the metallic and roughness maps can be half the size without affecting the quality of the texture. I also reduce the ambient occlusion maps, applying a Gaussian blur filter to them in order to avoid cartoonish effects in the object edges.
Step 10- Loading the Models to 3DXchange
Once the textures of the vehicle have been created, it’s time to import the model to iClone, using Reallusion 3DXchange, a tool that allows you to convert any 3DS, OBJ, FBX or SketchUp file in the native iProp format of iClone. I exported the whole car in one single OBJ file from 3dsMax. As 3DXchange respects the model’s hierarchy I could select the parts that must be mobile and using the “Make Sub-Prop” button of 3Dxchange, make them independent elements from the root object before to create the iProp file.
Step 11- Loading the iProp in iClone
You just have to drag and drop the created iProp file into iClone’s working area and the model is going to be loaded. In the object list of iClone, you can see the sub-props that have been imported attached to the main body. All these objects can be manipulated individually and even detached from the car if necessary, becoming independent props. At this moment the model still has the textures created in 3dsMax, so it’s time to load the textures created with 3DCoat.
Step 12- Applying the PBR Textures
One by one, the materials of all the elements that make up the vehicle have to be assigned to the iClone Material Editor. After selecting the element, I set the shaded type to PBR and I simply dragged the texture maps previously optimized in Photoshop, dropping them in their respective area. NOTE: The material colour imported from 3dsMax has to be changed to white because if not, the dropped colour map will have the tonality of the colour assigned in 3dsMax. Also, I always set the textures as “2-Sided” to force the rendering of planes despite their location and orientation.
Step 13- Setting the Pivot Points
Once all the materials have been assigned, it’s time to set the local pivot points of all the mobile elements, in order to ensure their proper behavior when being manipulated. As usual, iClone makes this task easy, allowing to move and rotate the local axis of each element just using their gizmos so we can define exactly how the objects will move and rotate when working with their local axis.
Step 14- Loading the 4 Wheel Structure
Reallusion released a long time ago an interesting pack called Physics Toolbox, that contains a wide variety of structures that can be animated in real-time using their embedded LUA script controllers. To facilitate the animation of the vehicle, I used the 4 Wheel physics structure contained in the pack, again just dragging and dropping the object from the content list to the working area.
Step 15- Attaching the Car to the Structure
The structure elements can be resized and placed along with the vehicle. While the structure body does not have to match completely with the car body, the diameter of the structure wheels has to be as close as possible to the car wheel’s diameter, and they have to be perfectly aligned. The wheel steer elements also have to be aligned with their respective front structure wheels. Finally, the car wheels have to be attached to the wheels of the structure while the car body will be attached to the body of the structure.
Step 16- The Driving Controls
The structure has an embedded control panel that allows one to drive the vehicle like in a video game, controlling the speed and direction of the structure steer wheels. The rotation speed of the wheels is automatically synchronized with the movements of the car while it goes over iClone’s terrains, following their slopes and unevenness. All the motions are recorded in real-time creating an animation clip that can be played later without having to recalculate the physic’s interactions.
Step 17- Adding a Terrain
The vehicles need a terrain where to drive over. iClone provides a dummy prop called the “Infinite Plain” that acts as flat terrain, and the Large Height map terrains of iClone can be used too. For this tutorial, I used the one called “Hill” that comes with iClone. I used the modify panel of the terrain to reduce its height and smooth a little the slopes, placing the car in a flat area facing the driving direction. (I also added a blue sky just for artistic purposes).
Step 18- Recording the Motion
After hiding the structure meshes, leaving only visible the car parts. (At this point, the car could be saved to be used in future projects), the PhysX engine has to be switched to the Bullet engine and the playing mode has to be set to “By Frame” to ensure that iClone will have enough time to make the necessary calculations between frame and frame. The “Soft Cloth” physics can be switched off too, as it has no use in Bullet mode. Then, we can start driving the car over the terrain using its control panel.
Step 19- Checking the Motion
If the recording is not satisfactory, then you can start driving again from the beginning and the new recording will automatically overwrite the previous one. Once you consider that the recording is OK, then you must switch again to the PhysX engine and the car’s motion will remain unaltered even if you include other physics simulations on the scene. Change the playing mode to “Real Time” to see the real speed of the vehicle, but always after you have switched to the PhysX engine.
Step 20- Adding the Driver
Adding characters to the animation is very simple with iClone. Thanks to the inverse kinematic, it can be placed in any pose with few manipulations. The mirror function and special controllers for the hands speed up, even more, the process. They let you close fists or change the finger’s position with just a single mouse motion. The character can be linked to the car so they will move together, and we can also simulate his driving movements very easily.
Step 21- Using the Reach Effect to Drive (1)
iClone controls several reach effectors in the characters to force the position of hands, feet, and parts of the torso. When activating the reach function of the hands in their effectors, the hands get stuck in these dummies and will only react to their motions. Linking the effectors to the steering wheel will cause that, when rotating the wheel, the effectors will rotate as well, and the hands will follow the effectors, obtaining a very natural driving motion in the character with just a few clicks.
Step 22- Using the Reach Effect to Drive (2)
The effectors can be used in all the mobile parts of the vehicle. Linked to the gear lever they can simulate the character selecting the appropriate gear, or using the feet effectors, they can simulate the feet pressing the pedals, when in fact, is the gear level or the pedals the objects that are moved to drag the effectors with them, and therefore the character limbs.
Step 23- Other Uses of the Reach
But the effectors can go further and not be used just for driving. For example, they can also be linked to the doors in order to create convincing movements of the character opening or closing the doors, taking advantage of the efficient inverse kinematics of iClone. They can be unlinked from the object at the moment that the character’s pose starts looking too extreme, creating a key in the character’s timeline, and releasing the reach feature from that point.
Step 24- Emissive Materials
Any material of iClone can become light emissive. As the lights and displays of the vehicles have their own material maps, they can become emissive while the rest of the vehicle remains no emissive. By activating the Global Illumination in iClone, you can simulate nocturnal scenes illuminated just by the light emitted by the headlights of the cars. The dashboards and displays can be illuminated as well, creating interesting light effects in the interior of the vehicles.
Well, that is it for this iClone vehicle pipeline tutorial. I hope that some of these steps provide useful for all lovers of iClone, which have discovered an amazingly powerful 3D animation tool that every professional 3D animators should have!
If you would like to learn more about Antareus Productions, our iClone content packs, and our work, then please feel free to visit http://www.antareus.com/
http://bit.ly/2uqs1Hc – iClone 7 – iClone is the fastest and most cost-effective 3D-animation software in the industry, helping you easily produce professional animations in a very short time for films, previz, animation, video games, content development, education and art. Integrated with the latest real-time technologies, iClone 7 simplifies animation with powerful plug-ins for face and body motion capture, special effect particles, key frame animation and more!
http://bit.ly/2mmx2My – 3DXchange Pipeline is the all-in-one conversion tool for iClone, to import and export all types of 3D assets including static objects, animated props, skin-bone rigged characters, and motion files. With 3DXchange you can also repurpose these assets with output options tailored for Unity, Unreal, Maya, Blender, Cinema 4D or Daz Studio. This makes iClone a universally essential tool for both game design and CG workflow.