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Squeezed in the past due to the attention placed on 3ds Max, Maya and now Mudbox, Autodesk’s real-time animation package MotionBuilder is finally coming back to the fore; thanks, in part, to better interoperability with those other products as well as Autodesk’s wider focus on games middleware. For example, the HumanIK animation engine, which underpins MotionBuilder, has been sold to the likes of EA and Ubisoft to extend the Autodesk brand through the game development process.
The company is also stressing the advantages of MotionBuilder in terms of the potential productivity gains that can be made using it. “As a real-time package, you don’t have to do a lot of preview renders, which makes it very quick to use and eliminates bottlenecks,” says Nick Jovic, Autodesk’s MotionBuilder specialist. “Its non-linear animation features and range of parametric controls means that you don’t have to be a technical animator to get great results either, which would be the case if you were animating with Maya or Max.”
Jovic highlighted the benefits of using MotionBuilder within the wider Autodesk pipeline too. “It’s great for retargetting so you can use Max or Maya to model, texture and set up your character’s joints and skinning and then export into MotionBuilder using the FBX file format.”
When it comes to new features in the 2009 package, out mid October, the focus is on improving the quality of character animation, enabling script-based customisation and better visualisation.
Perhaps the most significant addition is the rigid body system, which enables you to set up physically-modelled scenes within MotionBuilder between characters and objects using a full collision system. This combines with a new rag doll solver, which can be applied to the control rig to enable more realistic motion to be created in terms of the reaction between the character and scene objects.
Further control is provided for technical directors in terms of a smart Python script editor, which offers syntax checking and command highlighting, as well as flexible interface options such as tabbed workspaces, line numbering, and hotkey support. It’s possible to get deeper access to MotionBuilder’s functionality in terms of tweaking rendering code, FCurve percentage functions, control rigs, and the loading and/or merging of characters, and animation interoperability with 3ds Max’s Biped or Maya’s Full Body Inverse Kinematics rig is beefed up.
Indeed, Autodesk’s ongoing push to ensure its packages play well together is also seen in the work that’s been carried out in terms of MotionBuilder’s support for advance hardware shaders, including version 2.0 of the CgFX library. The normal mapping CG shader enables you to view existing normal maps created in Maya, 3ds Max or Mudbox in real-time in the viewport, while subtlety of real-time lighting is provided by the light attenuation CG shader. This lets you achieve greater levels of realism by providing more control over lighting attenuation and fall-off.
The final polish sees support extended for 64-bit Windows Vista OS, which allows you to address up to 128 GB of RAM when using Windows XP 64, making it easier to handle larger and more complex scenes, and improving all round performance.