Removing x-translation wobble when converting keyframes to aniBlocks

When you convert keyframes to an aniBlock, there’s a phenomenon that can happen in that the figure seems to sway left/right. It’s not something that is present in the keyframe animation, and I’m not entirely sure why this happens on conversion. The above shows how Darius 7 does his keyframe funny walk, while the bottom shows what happens after conversion to an aniBlock. In a word: terrible!

aniMate is a powerful tool, and in this article I’ll take a look on how to fix such shenanigans.

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How to apply Mixamo Animations to Genesis 3 and Genesis 8

If you’ve ever tried to upload a G3 or G8 character to Mixamo, you’ll have noticed that it’s a complete and utter nightmare. Seemingly nothing will work in the plethora of export options, and a ton of time has been wasted globally, leading to anger, depression, frustration and many other feelings we as creatives cannot afford to indulge in (for our wellbeing’s sake).

I’m here to tell you that there is in fact a workaround, but it requires us to “think differently” about how to accomplish our goal of applying Mixamo animations to Genesis 3 and 8 characters. I’ll show you what works for me at this moment in time – technology is fickle, so by the time you read this, the process might very well have stopped working. Let’s think positive and hope it hasn’t 😉

Sadly, as of May 2020, this method is no longer working 😭😭😭

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Using Non-Linear Animation (NLA Features) in Blender 2.8

Many animation apps have an exciting feature that lets us re-use a group of keyframes in a more convenient way to build larger and more complex animations. They’re commonly referred to as non-linear editing. A popular example includes setting up an action as keyframes once, and then looping it using an NLA bock of sorts (like a walk cycle). Better yet, animations can be combined and transitioned without interruptions or ugly pops. We can even overlay several actions, such as a walk cycle, an eye blink and a waving hand gesture.

Blender has these features, and while difficult to grasp at first, they’re surprisingly simple to use once you grasp the concept:

  • setup an animation using regular keyframes, or import it from a service like Mixamo
  • turn this group into an Action Strip (that’s what Blender calls an NLA block)
  • add this Action Strip onto an NLA track, repeat it or combine it with other strips
  • add transitions in between blocks to seamless motion
  • add tracks to combine animations

Here’s how it works for me. This might not be 100% accurate, but it’s good enough to build seriously cool animations with ease. I’m using Blender 2.82 for this example, and I’m expanding on principles I’ve briefly touched on in my previous article about looping walk animations.

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Switching between Cameras in Animations with Blender 2.8

If you have multiple cameras in your scene, chances are that you may want to cut to another one during the course of an animation. I’ve often wondered how to do that, but only finding outdated material on the internet, I decided to poke around myself. Half an hour later I had it sussed out – here’s how it works.

I have three cameras in my scene, named Cam 1, Cam 2 and Cam 3. Shorter names are preferred, as Blender will show these names at the bottom of the timeline. All we have to do now is to

  • select the camera we want to switch to
  • position our playhead in the timeline
  • and the hit CTRL + B at the bottom of our timeline.

This will create markers like these:

The trick is to find the spot at which to click. It’s not very intuitive as of Blender 2.82, but essentially the space marked dark grey in the screenshot above is where you need to hover your mouse while pressing CTRL + B. This will create a marker. When you now scrub through the timeline, you’ll see the cameras switch to your choice at the marks you’ve set.

To delete a Camera Marker, select it then press X as usual.

More about Markers

What we’ve setup here are special Camera Markers. Notice the little camera icon next to them. We can create regular markers too, just by hovering anywhere in the timeline and pressing M. Those do not have a camera icon, and we can rename them as we see fit (by selecting them, then hitting CTRL + M). The latter command also works on Camera Markers, but they cannot be renamed.

Regular Markers come in handy for notes and other special places we need to remember.

There’s a special Marker menu in the timeline, from which we can do all kinds of other things to those little gadgets, including jumping and duplicating. This works with both regular and Camera Markers. Sadly there’s no default shortcuts for marker navigation as far as I know.

Final Thoughts

I had always assumed that switching cameras in Blender was a bit of a nightmare, especially if you do a lot of cuts. While that may have been the truth in 2.79 and below, the current implementation couldn’t be easier to use. It’ll open up the door to easy multi-camera animations, as well as static scenes that need to be rendered from various angles.

If you think that setting a Camera Marker should be possible by hovering anywhere in the timeline, rather than only at the un-intuitive bottom 10%, you’re not the only one: it’s a known issue, and the folks are working on it. As of 2.82 this feature is not implemented.

How to render with the current Viewport Shading in Blender

Although I like Eevee, sometimes I’d like something even faster for animatic previews. Eevee still requires lights to be setup, whereas with the regular “material preview” setting in the viewport, we can see things just fine before we bring in our lights. It would be nice if there is a way to use the same shading style for real renders, be that for a quick still image, or a whole animation.

Thankfully there is! Let me show you how to use it.

Rather than picking a render engine as usual in the Rendering Properties tab on the right, head over to the top of your regular 3D Viewport and select View – Viewport Render Image.

This will render an image with image size specified in Render Properties, but it’ll use whatever is currently selected as a shading mode in your viewport. It’s genius really, albeit perhaps not very intuitive (like the rest of Blender).

The same principle can be used for animations, and keyframes of an animation (i.e. you’ll get a single frame at each camera keyframe). It’ll take a fraction of the render time, and more importantly, you’ll get to see how something works before you’ve setup any lights.

Note that all overlays will be present. It’s exactly like what you see in the viewport right now, just at a higher (or lower) resolution. To disable those, use the little dual-circle icon at the top right of your viewport (it says “Show Overlays” when you hover over it).

Rendering with Transparency in Blender

I’ve encountered a small puzzle recently in regards to rendering the alpha channel of PNG images with transparency. I didn’t quite understand the complex setups I’ve read about, nor could I reproduce the results. Thanks to some hive-mind thinking, we could figure it out on my Discord Server.

Here’s how to do it, both for Eevee and Cycles.

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How to tweak automatic exposure control in Unreal Engine

There’s a feature in most game engines that adjust the exposure automatically as we walk through a scene. When we look at the sky it makes sure the highlights aren’t clipped, and when we walk into a dark cavern it brightens up the shadows for us dynamically.

In Unreal Engine, this object is called the Post Process Volume. It comes up as a Visual Effect in the Modes Panel. Some demo scenes have enabled already, in which case take a peek in the World Outliner.

To adjust how much this exposure adjustment takes place, select the object in your scene and take a look at its Lens properties.

The Min and Max Brightness values let you pick how much compensation should be applied, while the Speed Up and Down let you adjust how fast either compensation should happen.

Further Reading

Animating Synty Characters in Unreal Engine

I’ve been intrigued by how easy it is to render a scene from Synty Studios in Unreal Engine. It’s as easy as opening the project and selecting the demo map. This allows us to explore the scene with the default Unreal Mannequin.

I wanted to find out how to use a Synty character in its place, and it looks like I’ve found out how to do this. These are my case notes, based on a video by BeefaloBart. He’s using the Heist Pack, while I’m going to try my luck with the Polygon City scene and condensed his instructions.

Let’s do this!

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How to loop Walk Animations with Blender’s NLA Editor

In my previous article I’ve explained how to import Synty characters into Blender, and how to apply animations from Mixamo. Now that we have an animation in there, we may want to play it more than once. In a walk cycle, we’d have to play the walk loop multiple times to create the illusion of walking. I’ll cover how to do that in this article before I forget again.

PS: These are just notes, not exactly a tutorial. I’ve only just discovered the basics of the NLA Editor, so if I’m mis-describing anything and you know better, or something isn’t working, please leave a comment so I can correct this article.

Here’s what we’ll do:

  • if necessary, remove the forward motion from the current animation
  • turn the keyframe animation into an Action Strip (that’s an NLA Block)
  • add the Action Strip to an NLA Track (that’s a special timeline)
  • modify the Action Strip to repeat
  • apply forward motion with two keyframes

The concept of the NLA Editor is similar to aniBlocks in DAZ Studio, or the NLA blocks in Carrara. We start with regular keyframes, turn them into a block (or Action Strip as Blender calls them), and then we mix and match them on a special timeline called the NLA Editor. If you’re curious, NLA stands for Non Linear Animation. Action strips can be mixed and matched to blend in, so there’s no popping when one animation ends and one begins.

The NLA Editor can be used in conjunction with regular keyframes. For walk cycles, it is common to exclude the forward motion from the Action Strip and instead replace it with a linear motion. If the forward motion is included in the Action Strip, the character would reset to the beginning rather than continuously move forward. Hence I’ll use a combination of the two.

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Using Synty Characters with Mixamo and Blender

I’ve just worked out how to import Synty characters into Blender via Mixamo. It’s a somewhat complex process with a few pitfalls, and while it’s all fresh in my mind, I thought I’d best write it down somewhere. The workflow is similar for both the SimplePeople and the Polygon City characters, and I would imagine other Synty characters will probably work with these instructions just as well.

Note that I’m only using Blender and Mixamo, no other plugins or game engines. I’ll also explain how to add textures while we’re in the process, because that’s not exactly intuitive. Here’s the step-by-step outline:

  • import Synty character into Blender (as FBX)
  • correct pose and apply texture
  • export as FBX (see settings below)
  • import into Mixamo
  • apply desired animation and export (as FBX)
  • import into Blender and see the animation
Continue reading Using Synty Characters with Mixamo and Blender