• Featured Product: Auto Character Setup 4
    Leigh van der Byl, 18 February 2003
    However, luckily for users of NewTeks LightWave 3D®, there is now an easier route to getting your character jumping and jiving about, with less effort, and much quicker than ever before. This solution is Auto Character Setup 4. As the name suggests, this is the fourth version of this rigging script that has been released, and it is packed with more features and flexibility than ever before.

    Polish art student Lukasz Pazera, a LightWave® user since the days of Amiga, and the brains behind this breakthrough tool, was inspired to write this system simply because there was no other tool like it for LightWave, and he felt that it was something he really needed for himself, explaining “All the tools that I wrote were supposed to help me with my daily work. It all started from innocent playing around with LS Commander when LightWave® 7.0 was released.”

    Amusingly enough, the very original version of ACS was created while Lukasz was doing something that we animators are all well accustomed too, as he recalls:”I just scripted the creation process of my basic biped rig for fun and released it as Auto Character Setup one evening when I had some spare time waiting for a long render to finish.”
    The extremely positive reaction from the LightWave® community came as almost a surprise to the fledgling developer.
    ”I was completely unaware this script would be so successful. This encouraged me to release an enhanced ACS2 and ACS3 which still were LS Commander session files rather then regular scripts. The idea of ACS4 (Smartgons) came later when I had more experience in scripting. It started as an in-house tool for my own needs. I released a very early beta to the public just to see what people would think and again the reaction was very positive. I think I can say I became a developer partially by accident. I had no plans for developing any serious tools for LightWave® but as I already had programming experience (I was coding in assembler many years ago) my old love awakened and got me in fast. I enjoy programming as much as animating and after the initial success of ACS4 I'm really considering development as important job in my future life.”

    I was born in Krakow, Poland in 1978. I grew up in Tarnow, a smaller town near Krakow, on the south end of Poland. I came from an artistic family; my parents are painters so art has always been present in my life. However, my work with computers started from programming on Atari 12 years ago, and for quite some time I wanted to become a programmer. Sometime later I realized that there were guys much better in math then me, and at that time machines were strong enough that I could start creating my first animations (Lightwave 5.0 on Amiga) since this what I really enjoyed.

    Currently I'm finishing studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow (Graphics department, Animation faculty at prof. Jerzy Kucia's studio). I work as a freelancer doing rigging and character animation jobs. Recently I've dropped that work though, and to my surprise, I became a developer back with the ACS4 release. I'm not sure which way I'll go in the future but I'm sure it'll be exciting and give me satisfaction whatever I choose.

    My off work interests are mainly music, animation, motion pictures and martial arts which I enjoy to watch (and practice) very much.


    The mere mention of this word is enough to elicit a heavy groan from the majority of even the most seasoned animators. The idea that anyone could possibly want to spend hours setting up troublesome bone rigs and weight maps which cause your precious models polys to collapse or distort in ways you had never before thought possible seems pretty outlandish. Unfortunately, since it is an essential step of the animation process, you eventually have to bite the bullet and get those bones into action, like it or not.

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  • So, what type of advantages, apart from the obvious increase in speed, does ACS4 offers over the usual methods of rigging in LightWave to animators using the system?
    The answer is simple –”Mainly that they can be animators who wouldn't have to bother with rigging issues as much”, says Lukasz,”I've been using Smartgons and ACS constantly for almost a year now and honestly I can't imagine rigging in Lightwave today without those tools”.
    The Auto Character Setup system, in a nutshell, consists of a few setups of pre-made rigs, suited for different types of characters.
    All you have to do is nab the rig that takes your fancy, and apply it to your own model, leaving you to then customize it as you wish and use it to your own ends.
    ”You choose one of the rigs, copy the skeleton from that rig to your own character and adjust it to that character,” explains Lukasz, ”then you're basically done. You load the object with the skeleton into Layout, add the remainder of the rig and run the ACS Converter, which in turn will complete the entire job for you. ACS4 creates regular LW scenes so you're free to edit them in exactly the same way as you would usually do.”

    Click the image above to view the ninja above in action, utilizing ACS 4 in openGL mode (310KB)

    Of course, as with most specialized tools, there are certain limitations to keep in mind. Although the system will work with basically any model you apply it to, some models will require more work than others.
    As Lukasz explains,”I tried to make ACS4 rigs as universal as possible, but the more that the model differs from the basic rig shape, the more likely it is that it will require corrections. Generic human characters should rig fine without any preparations when you use the No Weights version of rig.”
    So what kind of characters will cause complications? ”For example if a character wears a coat or is very fat, you'll probably need to paint weight maps for it and/or add more bones to the rig.”
    ”The Joseph and Anonymous Man characters are simple humans which were rigged successfully without any adjustments, the raw mesh was enough.
    Comic Girl and Soldier on the other hand required some work. For Comic Girl I added a bunch of bones for her hair control and painted several weight maps.
    Soldier was definitely more demanding with all the stuff he wears. Apart from more bones and weight maps I also added automation for front and back covers on his uniform so they react correctly to his leg motions, so you won't have to deal with that during animation. Note that after all those modifications rigs are still 100% convertible and reusable.”

  • Customization of the rigs is quite simple. The animator can easily add extra bones and sliders without limitation as they see fit.
    Lukasz goes on further to explain that, “In fact, ACS4 can store over 30 options in the rig (like colors, IK settings, rotation limits, etc.) as well as all Motion Modifiers, Displacements, Custom Objects and Master plugins that you might want to add to the scene. You can successfully "save" the Spreadsheet or the Keytrak (which I use a lot!) settings with rig.” Do you need to make a character walk, but don’t have much time, or the patience to set it up? ACS4 has a special Auto Walk function for those of us who don’t want to fiddle with settings for hours just to get our characters to take one small step.
    This caters well for all your basic walking, creeping, running and lurching needs!
    ”Auto Walk basically makes the spine motion dependent on the hips and makes the spine counter-rotate the hips. Yes, it'll work fine with motions mentioned above and all other motions that require a perfect harmony of hips and spine movement. With Auto Walk active you control the entire trunk simply by rotating the hips. Auto Walk, as well as other slider functions in ACS4, are blendable and can be turned on/off at will. You're always free to create the animation manually, but in many cases automatic finger bending, for example, is enough and faster to set up.”
    Quad rig will allow You to rig animals and other quadruped characters. This rig will be relesed some time in future for free to all users who purchase ACS4 before.
    Image: Ninja rig is an advanced rig, utilizing many features in ACS 4
    As pictured here, there are a couple of very specialized rigs that accompany ACS4, which an animator can use depending on what sort of movement he wishes to have his character doing.
    One of these is the Ninja rig. With such an exciting sounding name, I was eager to ask about this rig first.
    ”You can view a beta version of the Ninja rig on videos that has just been released. The Ninja rig is designed to give the animator full control over the character. It is more complex then basic ACS4 rigs and lacks all the auto options like Auto Walk but is way more flexible when it comes to posing. Moreover - it works faster than basic rigs.
    The most important features of the Ninja rig are perfectly steady feet and hands - for instance if you put a foot on the ground it will not move at all, unless you animate the foot control, there's also a Squash and Stretch ability and the dynamic parenting for IK goals, which can be independent from the body's motion or move with the hips.”
    These features of the rig give it a sense of intelligence, as Lukasz explains,”This allows for comfortably animating a very wide range of motions. The Ninja rig also features dynamic controls which mean that only the controls that are needed are visible. For example rotating the foot around the heel or foot tip is accessible only when a foot is on the ground (character is walking) - this happens when the IK Goal is independent from the body motion. But when you blend parenting to body (most likely the leg is off the ground rather than raised in the air like during kicking for example) these controls disappear as they aren't simply needed anymore and the new controls for rotating the leg and ankle appears.”
  • The main technology behind ACS4 is a special kind of tool called Smartgons. Originally designed as a separate product to be released before ACS4 itself, Lukasz realized that this tool actually needed a lot more development and refining in order to make it comfortable and easy to use.
    ”Smartgons allow you to build and store an entire rig within a single object file,” he explains, ”It is a type of enhanced object format - apart from regular mesh data, all rig settings are stored there too. It's still a regular .lwo file however - special data is visible to Smartgons only. ACS4 is not a predefined rig. It is able to convert any rig created with Smartgons; it is a kind of Smartgons "Lite", the same technology and rig format but with a simplified interface.” For ease of use, especially in teamwork, the ACS4 rigs are also designed in such a way as so to enable users to use the rigs that they have set up using ACS4, this is mainly for computers that do not have the software installed.
    ”The only thing that is needed is the ACS4 Shape Custom Object plug-in (free version is included with ACS4) but If you replace it with the standard Item Shape even that one is not absolutely necessary.”


    Users who are familiar with Motion Mixer (MM) will be happy to know that ACS4 interacts fully with it as well, as Lukasz explains,”I was working a lot to make ACS4 rigs 100% compatible with Motion Mixer. It's not easy as there are things that do not work with MM. Fortunately, this doesn't concern ACS4 rigs. MM motions applied to characters with respect to their setup pose doesn't always result in the same motion, they can look different on different characters according to their geometric structure.”

    So, knowing all this, is Auto Character Setup suited for your needs? Many programs like this have a limited appeal, aimed particularly at beginners who invariably struggle with complex tasks like rigging and character animation.
    I asked Lukasz who he had aimed this application towards.
    ”I think for beginners mostly, seasoned professionals have their own tricks and habits, I doubt they will find it comfortable to work with any rigs that are not built specifically for them.”
    However, he does also aim for a slightly broader appeal; as he goes on further to explain:
    ”The Ninja rig can be an exception to the rule here, as it's being designed with seasoned animators in mind, but I'd be naive if I assumed that any universal rig can fulfill all expectations. In demanding projects, rigs can be built on a shot basis - depending on what the character is going to do in a shot, the rig is modified/adjusted to fit the requirements best.

  • For obvious reasons, an all-in-one solution will always loose in this situation. However I have a lot of plans on expanding the Smartgons technology. I want it to be a very flexible and scalable tool, easy to use for beginners but giving professionals full access to under-the-hood treats in a convenient way so they can tweak rigs in any way they require.

    Smartgons expose all options to users right now but honestly, it's more like an internal tool now and not as user friendly. I don't expect many people to use it at this point and that's why I plan to release them as free upgrades for ACS4 users (beta only). Furthermore I see a lot of possibilities for further ACS/Smartgons development that would make those tools perfect for both beginners and seasoned riggers/animators. As ACS4 seems to be very successful so far and I hope I'll be able to invest enough time to make my plans reality. I believe we all can benefit from that.”

    Click the image above to view "Kalla" in action, utilizing ACS 4 in shaded mode (128 KB)

    All in all, Auto Character Setup is the ideal solution for those wishing to get their feet wet in rigging and animation, without the immense chore of painstakingly setting it up, as well as those more experienced users who just don’t want to fuss with all the ins and outs of the process. If you have an animation that you are just dying to do, but don’t want have the patience to sit for hours tweaking values before seeing your ideas in motion, then ACS4 is the right tool for you.

    ACS4 introductory price is $90. The package includes ACS4 plug-ins, ACS4 Contents (rigs, sample objects and scenes), very detailed (over 130 pictures) .html manual and some bonus tools helpful in rigging/animating process.
    ACS4 can be bought through Pawel Olas's online store.

    From the Editor - Leigh van der Byl
    Many thanks to Lukasz Pazara for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer my many questions! And also supplying us with the great images and clips used in this article, which. I am sure you will find very informative. I wish him the best of luck with his future work!

    Auto Character Setup 4 (Official website)
    Pawel Olas's online store

    Discuss the ACS 4 review on CG Talk - Digital Effects Professionals

    Back to 3D Festival

    Credits for models pictured here:
    Final Edit: Tito A. Belgrave

    Ninja model by William Vaughan,
    Hulky and Soldier Models by Christophe Desse,
    Kalla model by Piotr Rusnarczyk,
    Runner pictures by Robert Sommer,
    Peepe&Co pictures by Marco Pacifici & Pierre Soppelsa (peppe_fico@yahoo.fr),
    Joseph picture by Radek Nowakowski,
    ACS4 Character Picker by Jacobo Barreiro,
    Ninja, Kalla, Soldier, Joseph rigging/animation by Lukasz Pazera.


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