It wasn't that long ago that Reallusion released its Unreal Engine tool LiveLink to indie devs for free and since that time I keep getting the question of how hard it is to use LiveLink and Unreal Engine if you have never opened Unreal before. And… they wanted to know, in relation to the learning curve, animator to animator… is the link/engine combo difficult? Time-consuming? Worth the time taken to learn instead of using that time to create content?
While I am a user of Unreal I am not an expert at it as I have more experience with Unity, but I can now answer this question with confidence in the fact that LiveLink reduces the learning curve to a minimum. If you know iClone then you can do the animating without having to know anything about Unreal other than basics like bringing in assets or deleting them, updating them and so forth.
Once you are past the very basics and particularly if you are purchasing pre-built scenes with lighting and atmosphere you will find yourself animating cinematics in Unreal that make you look like a pro filmmaker.
For those new to all this LiveLink is a professional studio production tool, expensive for the small budget when initially released, that Reallusion has now provided free to indie users. It creates just what it says… a live link between iClone and Unreal Engine that is powered by the iClone timeline. iClone and Livelink works with characters and their accessories. Props and other items are set up in Unreal Engine or provided in free or commercial asset packages from experienced users.
If you are familiar with 3D animation then chances are the Unreal Engine interface will be easy to adapt to. Like all 3D tools, you use only what you need so don't let all the bells and whistles bother you. Once you start navigating around comfortably, download a free scene from the Epic game launcher (and start a love/hate relationship with that interface) and load it into the editor.
The engine will start to compile shaders if it hasn't already. If the scene looks incomplete or strange that is because the shader for those items has not been compiled yet and you are seeing a placeholder till it does compile. These shaders can reach into the thousand but compile rather quickly considering their number. Prebuilt scenes can get you going and learning the basics of Unreal while quite possibly enjoying the experience.
The process at a glance:
- Load a prebuilt scene (map). There are free scenes available to get you started.
- Copy the necessary folders for Character Creator 3 and iClone plug-ins to Unreal project folder (all covered in a Reallusion tutorial).
- Prepare your iClone character for transfer such as attaching accessories and so forth. Some people transfer several versions of the same character with differing accessories so don't limit yourself until you learn more about importing and updating assets.
- Transfer the character to the scene (or a blank scene) to get the character in-engine then place that character and the provided iClone Origin into the scene.
- Click all the appropriate radio buttons for the items you wish to control.
- Open the LiveLink panel in Unreal Engine if it's not already open and select a source (i.e. LiveLink).
- Press the link button.
You are now live between the two applications which cause certain behaviors to change in Unreal such as not being able to move the character or change its pose. This is now done in iClone and directly reflected in the Unreal Engine when the link is live.
One great thing is the ability to create your cameras and camera moves in iClone with which we are more familiar, instead of having to do so in Unreal when you aren't an experienced user. After all… if we are here for cinematics then cameras are extremely important. Using an app you know makes for better camera control.
So, in summation, this author thinks it certainly worth the time to get your head around Unreal and use the free tool that Reallusion has worked so hard to develop. The learning curve for users is minimal and advantages are numerous.
If you already have iClone and 3DXchange Pipeline then the price for entry is free. Grab the tool, the engine then amaze us with your cinematic prowess.
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, musician and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website.