After my latest film, UA3 (work it out for yourselves... lol), I wanted to try something different. A different Engine/software, actually. I considered delving into LightWave, which I'd been given as part of my Expo Prize from 2011, but what caught my eye was Muvizu instead.
For those that don't know it, Muvizu is a 3D animation tool, based on the Unreal engine. It has a particular "cartoony" style to it, which is cute, though it does kind of restrict the types of films you might want to make with it. I must admit their latest updates with various Superhero characters look really cool, reminding me of Pixar's The Incredibles (one of my favourite animated films).
I installed it on my PC, which actually took a while as the download is huge (or just slow from their servers, possibly) but as easy as any software can be to install. And when you start it up, you can load in some pre-built Sets from a small collection that comes with the software (and I later found you can also grab some other ones directly online, which expands the content considerably).
I fiddled with it a bit, but honestly didn't know what to do with it, nor how to use it. Luckily for me, Muvizu has quite a collection of video Tutorials on their site, which explain in sufficient detail many of the functions and capabilities of the software. So I sat down and watched a couple of the intro ones that explain the basics. They are very well presented and extremely helpful. The accent of the presenter is a little thick, so for people whose first language isn't English, they may have trouble understanding him (but I could be wrong.)
Still, I had no plans for what I wanted to use the software for. Then a blindingly obvious idea came to me: do another Empire Uncut scene! (I've already done two in iClone.) With that little epiphany, I went and grabbed a suitably easy scene (#17) that I could use to check out the software (and help complete the Empire Uncut project - which, for those in the dark, is the second such project where they take a Star Wars film, cut it into 15 second pieces, and crowd source the reconstruction of the entire film in a patchwork quilt kind of remake. It's fun!)
So, I had my scene and thus a goal to achieve with Muvizu. First thing I did was pick a Set. Easily done as they supplied a nice little mad scientist lab that I thought looked appropriate for my needs. Next was creating the characters (in this case, Han Solo and Princess Leia.) I think this was my favourite part of the process. It's very easy, and fun. The options are pretty good, though not extensive. I managed to come up with a couple of appropriate cartoon avatars that I then plopped down in the set.
Now I needed the characters to move. Back to the tutorials I went! The movement system is interesting, but clunky. Pretty much everything in this software is "puppet" based, meaning I have to puppeteer the actions in some way (in real time). I don't mind doing that for some things, but with others it's a pain. In particular, making a character turn left at a certain point was very frustrating as I had to get the timing just right, clicking on the turn gadget and hoping I hit the right one. I could alter things in the timeline a bit, but I felt it was awkward.
The scene called for dialogue between Han and Leia, and looking at the menus in Muvizu, I couldn't work out how to properly apply that dialogue (which I had pre-recorded and altered the pitch to match the cartoon appearance of the scene - hat tip to Scott Hather for the inspiration for the voices!)
I quickly watched the tutorials on lip synching, and it became obvious that the system wasn't particularly friendly. It appears you can have only one audio file that you can lip synch a character to, so if you have multiple lines, you have to have them all in one file, and spaced appropriately to match your scene. Not a good idea, not at all. Makes it a pain to get timing right in the scene. (And if I'm wrong on the process, please correct me!)
Lastly, I had to animate some props (in this case, sliding doors.) I chose some door props and plopped them down in the Set and again floundered when it came to working out how to animate them on my own. (Back to the tutorials I went!) This is another poorly executed function (in my opinion) where you have to puppeteer the movement of objects. For simple sideways movement like this, a keyframe system would have been 100 times easier. After much frakking around, and lots of earth-based swear words, I had the doors moving appropriately.
Exporting/Rendering was easy. The options are pretty limited, but that's not a problem as they had what I wanted (720p, uncompressed avi.) With my shots complete, I went to my editor (Sony Vegas) and did all the other fun stuff to finish off the scene. The end result is below.
One last thing before I finish this (longer-than-expected) blog entry. Muvizu was rather demanding on my system, and it crashed (and hung) quite a few times during this 2-3 day production. The timeline seemed to be something that caused the most issues, as it (temporarily) hung Muvizu when I tried to "scrub?" back many many times (thankfully, it didn't entirely crash, otherwise I would likely have abandoned the project altogether.)
I'm not sure I'll venture into Muvizu again. It wasn't as easy as I expected it to be, nor as intuitive. It also has that "cartoony" look that pretty much limits it to comedies alone. Maybe as the software is developed and matures, I'll revisit it.
Never say never!