It has been over a decade since I have been making content with iClone. At first, I was skeptical about iClone... at first glance, it was a program full of hollow dancing videos and tech shorts, but it turned out to be so much more. Over a decade later, I am still at it with new projects on the horizon. I would like to share some valuable tips for making good iClone content from my years of experience of what will make you stand out from the rest.
Give Your Characters Life
This is a tough one, even I struggle with it myself, but I find a lot of shorts and animations have characters lacking in life. I'll give an example...
I like to call this bobbleheading. It's where the character is frozen still and you use the face puppet to move the head back and forth like a bobblehead doll. It doesn't look natural unless you're making a bobblehead doll. I also often see characters standing frozen still in conversation... it looks lifeless and robotic. There should be idle movement, maybe the body, neck, and head move a bit. Act the scene out yourself and see how would you perform. Do you make a gesture? Do you lean backward or forwards? Look at the example below and compare it to the bobblehead clip above.
Quite the difference I must say.
I would invest in a decent conversation pack like Mix Moves Communication Pack or one from Mocap Online. I come from the Movies game, where you would take scenes and make a movie out of them, so the same technique applies in some way. I would go through every motion and know how they move and animate. When I get to a talking scene, I would go through my list of animations and see what is initially best suited. The next step is that I would make adjustments, I find a lot of mocap conversation animations tend to be exaggerated, so I slow down the clip and make a lot of adjustments using the edit motion layer. I would often adjust the head, torso, and arms to match the conversation's tone. If I feel like a gesture needs to be made, I would animate it. I would go through multiple passes at a time to refine... by the end, my timeline would be cluttered with keys. We're not done yet though because the next step is the face.
I am incredibly happy that Reallusion had an update on lip-syncing and facial expressions because it is so vital for good animation. We normally pay attention to the eyes first in a character, we connect to them in that way, so easier eye animations make such a huge difference in your work. I often see the dead eyes look where characters are not exactly emoting... I used to have this issue until I started paying attention to it a bit more.
The eyes make a huge difference and the subtle change in expression does wonder. I often record myself or use a mirror to see how I would emote or I will use reference images to get an idea of what I am aiming for. Just adding these small details will make your work stand out amongst the rest. Other suggestions are learning the twelve principles of animation and watching great examples like the works of Miyazaki.