Animation:Master is a 3D computer animation program that works on the PC, Mac and Silicon Graphics platforms. David Jefferson reviews the PC version.
Animation:Master is a development of Playmation from Hash Inc., USA. It has very powerful features and is capable of producing film resolution animation with the appropriate hardware.
It is a rendering program which means it is capable of photo-realistic results. The first stage of the animation is produced in a wire frame form which enables any movement to be previewed quite quickly, final rendering can take many hours, depending on the resolution set and the number of frames. It is usual to leave the computer to render over night.
Animation is produced by creating a character as a 3D model and then moving the character in a series of key frame positions. The program will fill in the inbetweens to the number of frames specified by the animator. Animation is created in two stages: firstly each character is animated with movements described as skeletal, muscle and spine motion. This gives a comprehensive range of possibilities such as walking, talking, size changing and most other things you can think of. Once the action is determined the direction’ section is entered where the camera moves, lighting and choreography are determined. Taking a simple example, a character’s ‘walk-cycle’ may be repeated in any direction thus enabling the character to walk around the 3D set as required. The program is supplied with a video which has numerous examples of animation plus a tutorial to get you started with the program. There is an impressive animation made for the Children’s Television Workshop by the Will Vinton Studio. This features carpentry tools dancing around to music. The Will Vinton studio is well known for its claymation productions and its California Raisins advertisement. At one stage the program was marketed as Will Vinton’s Playmation.
The learning curve on all 3D computer animation programs is steep. To get the best from it you must be prepared to spend many hours of practice. However, the results are very rewarding and I believe it is the best reason for owning a computer. When I was at the Annecy Animation Festival in France I went to a special exhibition of computer animation demonstrating the state of the art developments. As a newcomer to the world of computer graphics I believed this degree of sophistication would be beyond the pocket of an amateur, because of the high cost of equipment involved. You can imagine my delight when I discovered Playmation would produce all the effects of these multi-thousand pound packages on my humble desktop PC. I believe that programs like this will do for computer animation what desktop publishing has done for the preparation of magazines.
The PC version of A:M runs under Windows so anyone familiar with the Windows concept will find it easy to get started. Most operations can be achieved with the mouse although keyboard equivalents exist. A number of example characters are supplied with the program so you can use these to try your hand at animation right away. They also demonstrate the correct way to ‘build’ characters or you can even modify existing characters to make them your own.
The user manual starts with a tutorial which takes you through the basics of the program. The first stage is Sculpture where the character is built. The Sculpture screen is divided into three sections: the Control panel along the top and the left and right view windows below. You are encouraged to learn-by-doing by creating a vase in several easy stages. Once built, you see it first as a wire-frame structure. It is a spline based program which produces characters with smooth flowing curves, unlike some modellers that make up the character with triangular patches. You can get a better idea of how the finished character will look by clicking the Quick Render button. The vase is shaded in grey tones very quickly. The three-dimensional vase can be viewed from any angle by clicking various buttons, you can even go inside by using the zoom control.