Character Studio 4
Issue: Volume: 26 Issue: 5 (May 2003)

Character Studio 4

By Doug King

Character Studio is a popular character animation package from Discreet, maker of 3ds max modeling and animation software. The latest iteration, Character Studio Version 4, comes with powerful enhancements including Quaternion function curves.

Users familiar with Character Studio will notice that the biped figure in Version 4 has a new look. The block-headed stick boy is gone; now the biped looks like a skeleton with a smooth, rounded head and appendages. Of course, traditionalists can select the old biped if they prefer.

There have been a few additions and improvements within the biped skeleton as well. You have a choice between two pelvis configurations, which can help with skinning. More important is the addition of forearm segmentations for more accurate arm rotation and skinning.

These helpful improvements can be considered mostly cosmetic, however, in relation to the most important enhancements in Version 4—Quaternion function curves and the Motion Mixer.

The Quaternion function curves work internally within the Workbench, essentially a motion analysis and visualization track bar. Within the Workbench you can view higher-order motion properties such as acceleration and speed and jerk, as well as the function curves for animation layers, and sub-frame animation data.

The new Motion Mixer feature in Character Studio Version 4 enables animators to blend motion-capture and keyframe animation.

By using Quaternion function curves you are no longer limited by the Gimbal lock, and you can work more freely with intuitive and accurate function curves. All rotations are order-independent, while interpolation is "geodesic" and free of extraneous swing motion artifacts.

Setting up animation within the Workbench is simple. You can cut and paste animation from one bone to another and add a number of controllers to your character animations. This takes advantage of the powerful controller subsystems within max, which were unavailable to Character Studio in previous versions.

The Motion Mixer allows users to load several pre-made .bip animation clips into a track view, then create smooth transitions between them. Within the mixer you can group tracks to special body parts, which allows you to assign separate .bip clips to the head, spine, arms, and legs. This gives animators amazing detail control over their animation. Motion Mixer's true benefit is that it makes the most of existing motion libraries and gives you the ability to blend motion-capture and keyframe animation.

It is important to remember that the animation created within the Motion Mixer will be only as good as the animation you put into it. Some .bip files work better than others, and one tip in preparing clips for transition in the Motion Mixer is to make sure there is some degree of motion throughout the entire clip, rather than defined starts and stops. The Motion Mixer will be a great time saver to users animating extensive scenes—as long as they have a good supply of key-framed .bip clips.

While you can cut and paste animation clips between the track groups, the Paste Tracks Opposite function produces accurate results only when used on arms, not on legs. Also, Clear Tracks does not work on leg tracks with footstep animation. Neither of these are major concerns, but they can be minor annoyances.

Other noteworthy features are biped props and head targets. Biped props are parametric objects included as part of the biped skeleton that can be saved with the biped in the same file. This includes any motion-capture data that accompanies the prop. While there are three prop objects included, biped supports only two motion-capture props when importing motion-capture data.

The new Head Target object works much the same as a Dummy helper and gives the head a weighted target to look at during an animation. This means the biped can be told to seek out an object over the course of an animation and even look away from it. This simple feature can free you from keyframing where your character is supposed to be looking so you can focus more on the acting.

Overall, Character Studio Version 4 is a powerful character animation tool with new features that will give animators greater control over the animation process. The program has once again advanced itself in the industry.

Doug King is a contributing editor based in Dallas, Texas. He is currently developing animated projects for his company, Day III Productions.


Price: $995
Minimum System Requirements: Intel or AMD-based 300mhz processor, 256mb of RAM, and 300mb of swap space