Having now graduated from university with my BA (Hons), I am now working on an ambitious animation project.
This will be a pilot episode of an animation about a Green Pea, I am making it as an entire self-contained work, but depending on its reception I may then be able to produce other stories wound round the same characters.
This is just the first incarnation of "Green Pea", I want to do more work on his mouth, - actually completely modeling it, instead of as here relying on textures.
Corel PaintShopProPhoto X2 Adobe PhotoShopCS4 The GIMP
I have chosen to review these 2D software packages, because I own them and they cover the range of abilities and costs that you would expect from amateur to hobbyist to professional status.
Okay, as a student or other financially handicapped individual The GIMP is the best place to start as it is totally free and is said to be customisable to echo PhotoShop - we'll see.
Corel's PaintShop Pro Photo
Corel's PaintShop Pro Photo, recently bought by Corel from Jasc software, is an impressive piece of software at a very reasonable price - in fact when I bought it - a year or so ago - I got it in a package deal with Ulead Video Studio at less than the then price of PaintShop alone. It - like PhotoShop - has an automatic tiling feature, various filters including red-eye removal, backlighting, fill flash and depth of field. It also has the normal functions like brightness and contrast, levels, negative, hue and saturation, noise, blur etc etc, plus something called Picture Tubes, which I don't think PhotoShop can quite emulate, the closest that gets is being able to save and create your own brushes, so it would probably be possible.
One thing I have found to be much easier in PaintShop than in PhotoShop is the ease with which you can save an image - either from the web or from an open image in PaintShop - you just use Ctrl+Shift+V. This was easier in Paintshop Pro 7 and 8 - it was just Ctrl+V - in PhotoX2 that is now to paste into a new layer in the current open and active image. (as it was in PhotoX1, too)
This particular action is miles harder in PhotoShop as you first need to create a new empty image - of either the correct size or larger - which is a heck of a palaver even if it's your own image on your own hard drive... When I had a total hard drive melt-down a while back, and some of my images were only still existing on my website, I had a heck of a job to save them from the web - or would have done if I only had PhotoShop, and not PaintShop too. .......................................................................
Adobe PhotoShop CS4
PhotoShop CS4 has problems that CS 2 did not have, it's all to do with the new Open GL Drawing facility. On my machine - which unfortunately is running Windows XP Media Centre (my fault: I thought it was a step up from XP Professional, and not as it turns out a step backwards.) and Adobe has said that they do not support Media Centre - this new open GL facility seldom works. However, the last time I had an open GL problem it was solved by an update to the NVIDIA drivers, and as a new update for it came out in April this year, as soon as all my rendering is over I will be updating that - it may help.
The PhotoShop Seamless Tiling filter is much better than the same feature in PaintShop, in that is more controlable by the artist, although with some practice a similar job can be accomplished in PaintShop, it is easier in PhotoShop, or I find it so.
The single big difference seems to be a fancy feature called 3D, which is fun to use and could be useful in creating titles, or simple banners. I will have to search for a tutorial on this to see just how flexible it can be.
Ulead Video Studio Windows Movie Maker Adobe After Effects Adobe Premiere Pro
Ulead Video Studio
Ulead Video Studio is fairly simple to use, although not very intuitive, and even after using it many times it is often hard to find the import facility. Exporting is not so hard, and this software can export as wmv and import avi's that Bryce produces - something that Adobe's Premiere Pro cannot do. There are other features in this software like a really amazing choice of effects for transitioning from one clip to another, and all fairly simply sorted into categories making them easy to find. You can also add clips as overlays, and there are 2 video tracks - video and overlay - and 2 sound tracks - voice and music, plus a track for titles, and if you export with sound attached you can then import that video with sound and the soundtrack appears with the images/clips on the first video track, leaving you still with 2 sound tracks, so that you can keep on adding more and more sounds.
This is an advantage over Windows Media Maker which only has the single audio track. Plus Windows Media Maker crashes more often than Ulead Video Studio does - on my PC at least. ......................................................................................
Windows Media Maker
However Windows Media Maker does also have some interesting effects, like sepia, adding film grain, turning the video upside down, sideways, mirroring it vertically and horizontally, pixelating it, adding a watercolour effect, fading in and out to black or white, various pans and zooms and even an effect to cycle through a spectrum of colour changes. For the amateur or hobbyist or for quick operations both of these are excellent and Windows Media Maker is free.
Ulead Video Studio's main disadvantage for me is that when attempting to play back video to check the sound syncing, the video plays as a dark and dirty red - almost black - making it very hard to see, but this may be a fault with my hardware, and not Ulead. ....................................................................
Moving on to more complex programs:
Adobe After Effects - CS4
I bought the Adobe Production Suite just last year and if I'd known just how buggy it would turn out to be I would have asked for CS2, which I know from using the University one - works. CS4 crashes - it seems - at the slightest opportunity, usually while you are desperately trying to render. I recently tried to render an 11 second clip, but the new (and never to be sufficiently vilified) media encoder that you are now forced to use when rendering would not allow me to render more than 6 seconds on one occasion but more often 2 to 3 seconds or less. This made that particular project a total nightmare. I have thus avoided using it since. I have heard around the net that people with CS3 have many similar crashing problems, so this sounds as if the last stable release was CS2. If it could be made to work, there are any number of amazing things that you could do with After Effects, but as it is, they are pointless. Or at least, hard to use.
Before discovering the crashing ability, I was quite pleased with the mesh warp feature. After Effects also has a particle system but this needs in depth study to find out how to use it, so when attempting to create a fog effect I found that the use of photos of cottonwool balls artfully teased apart and arranged on matt black board, imported into After Effects, then manipulated with the mesh warp tool - worked fairly well. I would have preferred a more responsive and random effect but for what it was, it was fun to do.
It is also possible to add lights and different cameras to After Effects, and the space can be treated as a 3D space - but 3D with cardboard cut-outs in the form of 2D planes, a sort of 2D in 3D space. You can also still use the program for purely 2D effects, such as masking with colours and shapes that can be distorted over time and synced with sound. But sound is hard to sync in After Effects as you cannot scrub back and forth in the timeline and hear the sound so as to thus match it to the video. For that I usually switch to Premiere Pro... ...................................................................................
Adobe Premiere Pro - CS4
Adobe Premiere Pro is easy to use if you stick to standard sequence settings - however I recently had a project requiring non standard pixel widths, and Premiere consistently persisted in squishing the image. There must be a way around this but I have not found it yet. However it is very simple to use this software to sync sound to video as you can hear the sounds as you scrub back and forth, making placement of specific sounds at precise places fairly simple. Rendering from Premiere does not crash as often as After Effects does, so if you can avoid the squishing, you're fine. There are also a number of Audio transition effects as well as Video transition effects which are quite useful if used sparingly. A rather nice video transition that I remember from when I used CS2 is the ripple effect, this works particularly well with music videos.
More to come on Premiere and After Effects as I delve deeper over the summer.
A review of various software a) from a beginner's stand point and b) from a more professional stand point.
List of software under discussion:
Bryce 5.5 and Bryce6 Maya Cinema4D Wings3D Blender Hexagon
(This review is based on personal experience and thus may change with time and usage.)
As a beginner I used Bryce for many years right from when Bryce was Bryce4. Bryce was initially marketed as landscape creation software and is often mistakenly dismissed as such without taking into account its in-built model making abilities which include the wonderful world of Boolean operations. i.e. take a sphere, make it negative, take a cube and make it positive, make sure the sphere impinges on the cube, group the 2 elements, and the sphere gouges a concave area out of the cube – wonderful stuff!
Bryce6 now includes IBL lighting abilities and an upgrade on its animation abilities; – it was said to have an upgrade on the speed of its renderer but in practice as this was a matter of a minute or two here or there, it has actually made no appreciable difference. Bryce6 has had no further updates from the owners (Daz3D) for the last two years. Bryce is not just a hobbyists tool as some amazing things have been done with it in the past and are being done now. Its biggest advantage is its ease of use and very user friendly interface. Its biggest disadvantage is its immensely slow ray tracer renderer. .........................................................
Wings3D is open source software that has been continually updated and improved, so much so that there is currently a Beta version of Wings1, it having gone through many previous incarnations to the last prior to version 1, which was version 0.99.60 Wings3D does not have boolean operations – yet. It is what is termed a "Box Modeller" but it also has the great advantage of a) price and b) ease of use, it is incredibly easy to begin using Wings3D and it has one of the few manuals that includes tutorials that help a new user get to grips with the programs abilities. This manual is now a little out of date, but still applicable. ..............................................................
The only other software in a similar vein is Blender, this software has a great many more capabilities, however it also has an enormously big disadvantage. It is extremely user UNfriendly, and as it was created with the emphasis on keyboard shortcuts to the detriment of menu use – it remains very difficult to use, also the viewport is counter intuitive to use and hard to navigate in. It is however, like Wings3D – free to download and use, with no limitations. ...................................................................
Maya. Since Maya was taken over by AutoDesk the free Personal Learning Edition with its crippled render sizing and logo displayed over the renders but unlimited time, has been discontinued. They are back to 30 day limited versions, - but still with limitations. So unless you have a vast fortune to buy the program – it is possibly one of the highest costing programs in the industry – or a slightly smaller fortune to afford lots of lessons/tutorials in the program – or both, then forget it. .................................................................
Similar in its abilities is Cinema4D – this is not cheap, but an education license makes it just about affordable – at a pinch. The Professional Core program of C4D costs more than the educational license for the studio bundle, which includes, the core, Net render, Advanced Render, Thinking Particles, Pyrocluster, MOCCA, and with release 10 BodyPaint is now included. I do not have the remaining modules which are: Sketch and Toon, Hair and MoGraph.
Cinema4D is an easy to use program, the modelling is fairly easy, and at least it is menu driven so eventually you can find things. It has excellent animation abilities - keyframing is easy and you can even add sound in the program - something that Bryce cannot do as yet. Cinema4D also has Thinking Particles which I have recently plunged into for my current animation and thanks to the collection of Presets for Thinking Particles there was a much less steep learning curve than I anticipated, thanks also to the members of C4DCafe, Renderosity's Cinema4D forums in particular. I have had some help from CGTalk forums in the past as well, but they are mostly professionals there so it takes some days, even weeks sometimes to get any response there. Understandable in a busy professional life.
XPresso is the coders way to use Thinking Particles and quickly gets impossible to understand.
I hope soon to be investigating MOCCA which is Cinema4D's rigging and boning facility, but first I must do more work on my character – especially his hands, so that I have something to bone and rig. .....................................................
The last program I wish to mention, of which I have some experience, is Hexagon. I'm afraid that I think this program is a lost opportunity, like Bryce it is owned by Daz3D, unfortunately it feels like Carrara – another Daz3D buy-in. Like Bryce it has had its bugs and not a great deal of care (updates etc), unlike Bryce it does not have its ease of use, and occasionally it crashes... well to be honest I found it crashed more than it worked. Its UI is not very intuitive, and its ease of use is.... hard to find. Like Bryce it has been neglected, but unlike Bryce does not seem to have so loyal and vocal a user base. ..................................................
I also have Carrara - but as I have not had time to open the program much, I do not feel I can say anything of substance about it – yet.
So at the moment I tend to think that for professional use the way to go is Cinema4D – there are rumours of an imminent new release for Bryce – but this has been going on for at least two years now, so unless something happens soon, I feel I will become one of those with fond memories of Bryce but I will be using Cinema4D professionally.
I will deal with the 2D/editing based software another time.
I am in my 2nd year at University here in Newport, Gwent, and studying for a BA (Hons) Animation. I am enjoying it a lot, especially the research into the depth behind animation as a subject and certain animations in particular.
I am thinking about doing an MA, if that's possible.
I also want to make feature length animations or at least shorts.
I have some years experience as a modeler in 3D but not much animation prior to attending university, that has changed a good deal in the last 2 years giving me a varied look into many different types of animation, from hand-drawn animations, through stop-motion claymation, to flash manipulation of drawn animation, to full 3d animation using 3d models.
I create art using many different things, and in many different medias. I especially love using textures in my art. And often do pieces in Mixed Media, with polymer clay, tinfoil, foam, modelling paste, chain, metal pieces, and many other things and I do all this sometimes as a piece of jewellery, sometimes to decorate a small chest of drawers, a picture frame, or just on canvas or a wood panel, or even maybe a card. I also love to make videos showing my methods, these I post on my YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/FranOnTheEdgeCrafts
I love modeling, creating a model in 3d space or in clay is immensely satisfying. I also enjoy photography; scenery or textures depending on the mood or on what I see.
If you want to contact me, please use the form here: