Craft Animation’s Director Tools

Swedish company Craft Animations has come up with a series of tools that not only save time in rigging, but additional savings are gained because the rigs are meant to create not only procedural animation, but real-time, controllable animation. As they explain it on their site, ‘In the pre- Craft world everything is horse-and-carriage. Whole days can be spent working on only a few seconds of animation. With our realtime plug-ins, the work of animating is automated and improved. Not only can you do things faster, you can also do new things that weren’t possible before!’ This may sound a little abstract and vague, so let me go through the different sets.

Four-wheeled vehicles can be setup to react to the terrain they are riding over with shocks and gravity and momentum taken into account. The vehicle is controlled not by keyframes, but the motion is recorded in real-time with inputs from external devices like a joystick, mouse and whatnot (the steering, braking, acceleration). The rig is a pre-built chassis, which is then aligned to the master vehicle, inheriting the animation that was recorded. The same approach can be used with other Craft tools to add additional wheels or control two-wheeled vehicles or trailers.

Fixed wing and helicopter aircraft have their own tools where the animation is likewise recorded, and additional, secondary animations like aileron and rudder movement are taken into consideration. Also, more than one aircraft can be controlled by more than one animator.

These tools are all cool, but for my job, I’m much more interested in the camera controls from Craft. A series of seven camera tools add some of the same input controlled features as the one for vehicles, but adds some ‘passive’ features that respond to other animations in the scene rather than controlled by the animator.

The most robust camera is the ObserverCam, which does have controller inputs. In the case of someone with a brain, they could put together a Wheels systems like at Sony Pictures Imageworks that emulated the controls of Technocrane and really get some natural camera moves out of this system. Basically, you are controlling the camera in realtime, following the animation that has already been recorded’either in traditional ways, or with other Craft Animation tools. For more action- packed sequences, you can record in slow-motion for easier control.

The ZeroGCam allows the same control as the ObserverCam, but it simulates being in zero gravity (oddly enough), which makes it so translation and rotation momentum are not stopped. The camera takes its cue from the initial animation before the recording starts and doesn’t stop unless brakes are specifically applied. This animation can also be applied to other things like spaceships (maybe Apollo 13) or meteors.

My favorite is the HumanizerCam which is one of those passive tools. The idea is that you set up a normally animated camera for the shot, then you layer the HumanizerCam on top, which gives it a handheld life.

The SphereCam places the camera on a sphere of a set diameter, which is then attached to the animated object of interest. The animator uses the input device to control the position of the camera, but the focus remains on the object.

There is an AutoZoom camera which maintains the object of focus and adjusts the field of view of the lens to keep the object the same size in frame, no matter where the camera is placed. This would be able to give you the Vertigo effect or trombone zoom.

All of these cameras can be layered on top of one another to add complexity with each other or with the vehicles. For instance, you could mount an ObserverCam to a Helicopter, then record the scene for an aerial shot. Or mount an ObserverCam to one airplane, and shoot the animation of another airplane. This might cause jerky animation, when you attach a camera to an animated object. That’s why Craft has provided a SoftMotionCamera which cushions the motion. Overall, these clever tools open up quite a world of possibilities and allow animators to create complex animation quite quickly and can adjust things without much trouble.

Website: www.craftanimations.com

Prices: Range from $99-$495 per package