My name is Oliver Manuel and I'm a 3D Graphics Artist for the Novonics Corporation in Orlando, Florida. Our company's primary focus is in the areas of simulation-based training, network test and evaluation,information management, and training architectures. Our customers include the US Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Department of Justice (DoJ). Using various 3D software applications and game-engine developing kits, I provide the modeling and animation for the development of training products and simulation. This would include creating 3D character models, environments, textures, animating, storyboarding, etc.
Before I started in computer animation, I taught art at the primary and secondary level after receiving a BS degree in Art Education from The Florida State University and later went on to learn a Computer Animation from Full Sail University. From there I worked as a 3D animator on a local kid's show using mostly Maya software and transitioned to where I am now, doing 3D development for the DoD and US Navy. I've always had a love for the traditional arts, particularly drawing, painting, and clay-sculpture. I can remember as far back as 2nd grade when I drew my first dinosaur that I wanted to be an artist.
This passion definitely helped me learn to create in 3D with a computer which I didn't get into after college and 5 years of teaching but I'm happy with the paths it took to get me here.
The Most Inspiring and Ingenious iClone User
Q: What first got you interested in Reallusion software? How do you know iClone?
Our company wanted to use game-engine Software Developing Kits to develop a trainer for teaching critical thinking skills to junior Navy officers by presenting instructional scenarios in machinima captured environments. I started using the Half-life SDK to develop a prototype which we were successful with for creating all the models, environments, and animation. There were some drawbacks though, they included expensive end user licensing, limited customization, and a strong learning curve. I thought the work pipeline was tedious and time consuming to import customized 3D models and animation. We wanted to research other animation software that would address these issues and be cost effective as well. That's when we came across Reallusion. At the time I was introduced to iClone 2 and CrazyTalk and found out that there wasn't an issue of end user licensing. If we bought the software, whatever we created was ours to use which was perfect, however I wasn't totally sold on the 3D capabilities. It just so happened iClone 3 came out before our next project proposal and I was very impressed with the improvements and upgrades from version 2. We decided to try Reallusion's bundle pack, bought a bunch of extras, and it has been working great for our needs ever since.
Inspiring Use Case: Distance Learning with iClone Avatar
Q: How do you get the idea to create the website about distance learning?
The distant learning website was designed by our Instructional Systems Architect, Dr. Anya Andrews. Her expertise in applied research, e-learning, and simulation & training made it possible for the Defense Acquisition University (DAU) project to be designed. The training system would mimic the typical office environment for Program Management team members, complete with all the tools necessary to complete their tasks on a typical day. After the project was laid out, I started creating all the 3D assets and textures needed for the machinima videos and started animating with iClone and CrazyTalk. The functionality of the interface was created by Alice Hayden, our Systems Programmer, who made the simulated telephone, e-mails, conferences, and the voice-over IP to make the iClone-created avatars to move when the user spoke in their microphone headset. I must also give mention to our other graphics artist, Lissandra Clark, who created the 2D interface as well as other assets. I've been fortunate to work with a very talented team at Novonics. It was great to see the project come together and have it acknowledged in the "Inspiring & Ingenious Use Case" showcase, so many thanks to the Reallusion team as well.
Q: What¡¦s the benefit of iClone to you when you work with the distance learning project?
Having previously worked in a production studio making 3D animation with a team of artists using high-end 3D software package (i.e. Maya, 3ds Max), it would be difficult or down right impossible to create all the 3D characters, environments, textures, lighting, rigging, lip-synching, animation, and rendering that would be involved for the quick turn-around my current company needed. Budget was a big concern not only because of short deadlines but to prove we could create simulations that were cheaper than trainers being filmed using live-actors. The expense would be extremely cheaper and much easier to alter a shot in machinima than with video and real actors, whether it's a line in the dialogue or updating the camoflauge pattern on a soldier . Being the only 3D artist currently on the Novonics team, I needed software that had characters, props, environments, and animated gestures at my disposal so I didn't have to worry about rigging, UV laying out of the textures, or animating realistic movement because of the quick-turn around. I also didn't want to be limited by how these assets could be customized and hoped I could jump right into learning new software. Using iClone was a benefit to me because it was like rolling team of 3D artists that were at my command to create my videos. I had modeled, textured, rigged, and animated characters all ready to go, they just needed my direction...I thought that was pretty cool.
Q: What will you suggest to the new beginners in iClone?
I would say that iClone is a great tool to learn if you are just getting into 3D and want to see more than what other real-time animation software has to offer. You can get a small taste of all the effort and the people it takes to create those big budget 3D movies but the ability to create some your own with relative ease at a lower cost. If you already have a strong 3D background, I say explore iClone's capabilities and see what can you can experiment, create, and just have fun with it. After participating in the Reallusion forums, I see a constant development of content from other artists and an appetite for new features in iClone which I see pushing the tool farther than just creating machinima generated videos. Last suggestion: Think outside the box.
Q: What ingenious idea you will suggest other uses try with iClone?
Keep pushing the tool everyday so the users/artists have no bounds! I would eventually like to keyframe and animate models in the interface itself as you would with higher-end motion editors. Maybe even see iClone be used in conjunction with motion sensing capabilities. Face capturing or Wiimote controllers to animate characters in iClone. It could happen.
We currently use iClone to create machinima captured scenarios as well as talking avatars to help users along the way in our training simulation programs. We use these programs for military, government, and law enforcement projects. With the release of WidgetCast PRO we could create avatars to have a more immersive impact for the trainee and maybe even be more entertaining along the way. Since it is a Flash authoring tool we can apply it to our distant learning efforts so it is important to have the user be engaged completely. I can see WidgetCast expanding our toolbox to create powerful, more effective avatars in our projects.