Personal Shopper: 3D Animation Tools
By Liz Garone

If Jay Leno could be animated in 3D on the Web, then why not Alice in Wonderland? That was the challenge before Manny Marquez, a 3D animator at EA.com, the online arm of Electronic Arts. EA.com is getting set to launch American McGee's Alice, a sinister-looking, creepy video game based on the main characters from Alice in Wonderland. So what better way to preview the game on the Web than to put a knife-wielding, 3D Alice on the Web a la virtual Jay?

The job of building the 3D Alice character, which "greets" visitors to the American McGee's Alice site, was outsourced to the animators at Pulse Entertainment, who received a full model and scan from Rogue Entertainment, the developer of the game.

The original skeleton for Alice was created in 3D Studio Max, the de facto standard for 3D modeling. Animators from Pulse, using Web animation tool Pulse Creator, were able to make Alice do a realistic lip synch. Marquez helped write the script that lets Alice perform specific actions, such as twirling around and welcoming visitors to the EA.com site.

In March, Discreet (3D Studio Max's parent company) and Pulse Entertainment announced a partnership under which animators like Marquez can continue to work in Max, the environment with which they're most familiar, while using Creator to develop complex 3D characters for the Web. "I was hyped on Pulse being integrated into Max," says Marquez. "I immediately started picking up the tools. Basically, I found out that I could take all the animation I could do in MaxŠto Pulse directly."

The import-export business

Three major 3D Web animation technologies support 3D Studio Max, and each brings its own strengths to the Web. Pulse has the edge in character animation, Metastream dominates in product presentation, and Cult3D is the favorite for adding intelligence and behaviors to objects.

Torturing the technology

Marquez is now at work on an interactive toy he built from scratch using 3D Studio Max and Pulse Creator. It's set to debut on the site in a couple of weeks, so neither Marquez nor Eiso Kawamoto, an EA senior Web producer, were at liberty to say much about it. What Kawamoto would say is that the main character "looks really cool" and that "you actually get to torture it." He also said that it was the first time any company had pushed Pulse Creator so far in terms of Web animation and abilities.

"We're going to be one of the first companies to take it to the next level and bring the interactive experience to characters and environments," says Kawamoto. "When the people from Pulse came over, they couldn't believe all the stuff we've done with their technology." <<

< Back