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Product Review: Kaydara's Motionbuilder 4.0


November 15, 2002
 

The first version of Kaydara's Motionbuilder (4.0, that is) could be considered heir apparent to the popular Filmbox 3.5 package - but should it? Only FBI recruits, atomic scientists, and Navy SEALs require more training than Filmbox users. After taking Motionbuilder 4.0 for a small test run, it's safe to say that it is much more intuitive. The package's user interface, workflow, and feature set are all different from previous versions of Filmbox. In fact, Motionbuilder 4.0 incorporates drag-and-drop functionality that would have probably been anathema to Kaydara's earlier offerings.

What it is

Motionbuilder 4.0 is a real-time animation system that lets anyone create character animation quickly, without having to wait for rendering to see the results. The package contains dedicated tools for creating cameras, lights, shading, cel shading, textures, shadows, and various scene constraints. At its heart, though, Motionbuilder 4.0 is all about 3D animation: keyframing, organizing and preparing motion capture sequences, and blending animation sequences of various types together.

It features an intuitive drag-and-drop approach to content management and importers for many file formats. Leading 3D content creation packages have embraced Kaydara's own .FBX file standard, making it even easier to transport content and data from package to package.
For this reason, Motionbuilder is a viable choice for game developers who need a single package to accomplish all their 3D animation needs, both character and facial; using a single package will help improve and streamline pipeline issues.

Some of Motionbuilder 4.0's new features (and benefits over Filmbox 3.5) include floating windows, an asset browser, a navigator window, a scene browser, and new actor and character controls.


With new actor and character controls, Motionbuilder 4.0 offers animators a powerful program.

While floating windows are nothing new, they are new to Motionbuilder, increasing the package's functionality by making it more acceptable to a wider variety of users. There are four predefined layouts for creating, animating, editing, and previewing, but the user can customize the package to his or her own tastes or to conform to the requirements of a specific project.

The asset browser and scene browser are very powerful tools. The asset browser lets you select assets, such as lights and cameras, from a pool of templates or from your own added shortcuts. Assets display in a tree hierarchy, and you can use different layouts to view the content within the folders. The scene browser lists every asset in the scene, showing their composition and any ongoing relationships between them; it also enables the user to control display of assets by using filters.

The actor and character controls window displays options relative to a selected actor or character. Some features that were previously in the actor settings are now in the actor controls window, letting you manipulate and adjust your actor. The character controls window includes a new character animation system that lets you work with control rigs on characters. You can create your own character animation from scratch or modify your motion capture data using control rigs.

Working with Motion

Motionbuilder 4.0 begins with a relatively simple and recognizable interface: windows, listers, pull-down menus - nothing new or different. The overall look is reminiscent of various popular 3D packages, most strongly Lightwave, with a clean layout that allows users to work without too much clutter. The Motionbuilder menu bar lets you select commands to perform various operations, including File, Edit, Model, Animation, Media, Settings, Window, Layout, and Help. You can also use keyboard shortcuts instead of menu commands.

Because of the flexibility of the .FBX file standard and the package's new drag-and-drop functionality, workflow with Motionbuilder was relatively simple. I used Maya to create and bone a simple character. Using Motionbuilder's drag-and-drop menus, I imported the character into a scene and used the package's character-rigging tools to rig my character quickly. Soon I was animating with it, and I'm convinced this happened much more quickly than if I had stayed within Maya to do so. I was pleased, to say the least.

Unfortunately, I wasn't as universally happy with Motionbuilder's ability to import every animation without some flaws. While most of my scenes came through acceptably, there were a couple of occasions where some data was munged, as happened with a 3DS Max file from one of my previous games. The fault may lie with my own inexperience with Motionbuilder (and I've never known a 3D package that was completely accurate in importing and exporting to every other package - it's 3D animation's Achilles heel). In fact, Kaydara's engineers readily admitted that there might be times when the package's limitations here might need to be smoothed by a fix or workaround, especially when establishing the asset pipeline for a new project. Kaydara maintains a staff of problem solvers that stands by to assist development teams with similar problems (and even ones that might make my little glitches seem insignificant).

Motionbuilder 's flexible nature doesn't negate the need for various kinds of help. While the demonstration package evaluated for this review came without documentation, the online help system seemed extremely complete and relatively easy to understand and use. Also, the company provides complete release notes and valuable online tutorials from its web site, www.kaydara.com.

Bottom Line

Motionbuilder 4.0 is a terrific package, especially for users importing assets into the package and then marrying them up with animation data. It delivered everything I asked of it: importing characters, creating scenes with lights and cameras, automatic character rigging, motion blending, and retargeting animation data from one character to another. The functionality I tested leads me to believe Kaydara isn't trying to fudge the consumer in other areas. This includes facial animation, something that can be tough to get started with in other packages.

There's another, much smaller problem that Motionbuilder has, and it's not about performance but rather economics. Motionbuilder creates a requirement for animators who are skilled in its use, and $3,495 is steep for even established animators to fork out on their own. While this isn't the problem for Kaydara that Filmbox was - again, Motionbuilder is considerably more powerful and intuitive - it's a challenge that Kaydara is confronting with its new offering.

 


Motionbuilder

Kaydara
Montréal, Québec, Canada
514.842.8446

Price:
$3,495 (MSRP)

System Requirements: Intel Pentium processor with Windows 2000 SP2 or Windows XP, Red Hat Linux 7.2 or higher, Mac OS X 10.1 or higher;
256MB RAM: 300MB disk space: OpenGL graphics card (16MB RAM)

Pros:
1. Complete package lets users go as far as they want..
2. Widespread acceptance of Kaydara's .FBX file format.
3. Any Filmbox user on active maintenance gets free upgrade.

Cons:
1. Newbies may be overwhelmed by program's depth and complexity.
2. Occassional problems in importing data from other 3D packages.
3. Known release bugs (though workarounds are often provided)

 
 
 

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