Review of Craft Director Tools
by Chad Warner
Craft Director Tools (http://www.craftanimations.com) is a suite of real-time animation tools useful for everything from making a car drive down the street to animating jitter in a camera. The set of tools is relatively easy to install, use, and animate and the results are very impressive with the amount of time that goes into the setup.
The tools are basically broken down into 3 types: Vehicles, Cameras, and Accessories. The creators of the Tools call their product “real time animations tools” because that’s what they are. Control of the vehicles and cameras are done through a chosen input device--keyboard, joystick, steering wheel, etc. As you move the input device, the camera or vehicle is controlled in real time and keyframed as you move it. Imagine driving a car or flying a plane in a video game and you get the idea. If you want to turn the car right, you hit the right arrow key (in the case of keyboard input) and the car moves right. Once you’re done driving the car, hit the “stop” button on the toolbar and you can watch the car drive in the exact path that you just input.
Installation and licensing with 3ds Max is very straightforward. The program installs to its own directory, and it adds a plugin to the plugin directory. To launch Craft Director Tools, you click on the “Start Director Tools” button that the install has added to the Utilities palette. One complaint I have here is how the program has you select which tool you want to use. The interface uses a scrolling window with icons that move based on the location of your mouse (the icons scroll faster the farther from the center of the window your mouse is.) It is quite difficult to choose a particular tool, and I think it would work out much better to simply have a scroll bar on the window. You can however type in the name of the tool and access it that way.
All of the tools share common configuration settings, namely input selection. You can use a keyboard, joystick, gaming pad, or other similar input devices. Having only a keyboard and mouse to work with on my computer, I could control the car objects and the camera objects without too much hassle. I think the airplane and helicopter tools require too much control than 10 fingers can handle at the same time, so a joystick would be necessary for these objects.
There are 5 basic vehicle types: 4 wheeler (car), 2 wheeler (motorcycle), Airplane, Helicopter, and Trailer. Each look and work just like the name implies, and there are “extended” versions of some of them that allow greater flexibility/manipulation, at a greater purchase price. When you create each vehicle, a series of objects and cameras are created with it. Depending on what type of vehicle is chosen, different helper objects are created (for example, the 4 wheeler has a body, wheels, and a “gravity direction mesh”) as well as several cameras that are linked to the vehicle. I’m using the 4 wheeler as my example, mainly because I think it’s the tool that’s most effective for archviz use.
Essentially you create the 4 wheeler object, link the helper objects to the corresponding hi-resolution mesh objects and hit go. If you have a road that is not on a flat terrain, you link the “gravity direction mesh” to the terrain, and the car follows the terrain. Believe me when I tell you that this one plugin is worth its weight in gold for doing vehicular animation. In less than 5 minutes, I had an animation of a detailed truck doing donuts and burnouts on a bumpy road. All of the physics of braking, acceleration, and suspension are built into the program (all of which are customizable from the “configure” menu—if you want a heavy truck, a sports car, or even a moon buggy you can choose any of those, along with several other types.) This means as the car comes to a screeching halt, the body of the car rolls forward. When you swing around a tight corner, the car rolls to the right or left.
Example of the 4Wheeler object attached to a detailed model
Up until now, all of the animation I have done with cars has involved extensive keyframing, linking, and lots of time. In the time it used to take to create one animated car, I could easily have a freeway’s worth of cars created with the 4 Wheeler tool.
The Airplane, Helicopter, 2 wheeler, and trailer tools are all variations on the same theme. They all behave just as their name implies. Using the airplane and helicopter tools is where the addition of a joystick would be very helpful. I had a hard time controlling the airplane and helicopter using the keyboard, mainly because of the amount of control that is offered. There are inputs for forward/backward, up/down, yaw, pitch, and spin.
The camera tools consist of two main types—either a real time animation camera or a camera add-on. Inside of the real time cameras are 4 types: HorrorCam, ObserverCam, SphereCam, and ZeroGCam.
The HorrorCam is a camera that creates a dolly zoom, or “Hitchcock Zoom” in which the camera dollies and zooms at the same time. The effect is most often used to keep the foreground subject at the same size while the background objects become bigger or smaller, all at the same time. Again, the animation of the effect is done in real-time, so as you control the camera with your input device, then animation is being keyframed for you.
OberverCam is a first-person based camera. Once the camera is created, you place it in the scene where you want it, hit the record button, and start looking around. As you move the camera, you can zoom in and out, walk forward and backward, and look all around. Just like with the vehicle tools, the program is recording all of these movements in real time. I was looking for this exact product about a year ago while trying to create the effect of a person looking through the viewfinder of a camera. I ended up using a passable workaround, but had I known about the OberverCam, it would have definitely made things a lot easier and more intuitive to create.
The last two camera types are the SphereCam and the ZeroGCam. The first of these works by centering the target of the camera on a helper object that is then used as the focal point of the camera. All of the manipulation of the camera is based on the center point of a sphere, and is recorded in real-time. The ZeroGCam is a camera that has the effect of being weightless.
The camera add-ons are separate cameras that are bound to existing cameras in order to enhance or diminish a certain effect. There are two types of cameras in this category: HumanizerCam and SteadyCam. The HumanizerCam works by adding a “natural” feel to an existing animated camera. A good example of this would be adding a slight shake to a camera to emulate the effect of a handheld camera. With the HumanizerCam the preset camera types even let you see the effect of an earthquake or a bomb explosion on the camera. The SteadyCam tool basically works in reverse of this process, eliminating small bumps and jitters that might be in a camera that was created with the 4 wheeler tool.
The last type of tool that the Craft Director Tools package includes is the accessories. There are three accessories: Direct Link Input, ExtraWheel, and Gyro. The Direct Link Input tool is essentially a rigging device that allows you to bind other objects to it, and control them independently of each other. The ExtraWheel tool allows you to add additional wheel objects to a previously created 4 wheeler. You’d use this tool if you needed to animate a semi-truck that has more than 4 wheels. The ExtraWheel tool allows for the correct rotation and suspension of the added wheels. The last accessory, Gyro, is a helper object that keeps whatever objects are linked to it level to a chosen axis. A good example for using this tool would be if you had a camera that followed an airplane, the airplane can do a barrel roll while the attached camera would follow it but remain perfectly level.
Each of the individual Craft Director Tools is priced and purchased separately, ranging from around $700 US on the high end to $100 US on the low end. The install contains trial versions of all of the plugins, and you activate each one individually once you purchase them.
All in all, I am very impressed with the Craft Director Tools Suite. After using the tools, I wished that I had them to use on previous projects where I was forced to use much more difficult workarounds. I also find myself brainstorming ways to incorporate the tools into upcoming projects. I would highly encourage people to download the demo versions and use them.
- Easy install and setup
- Amazingly quick results with little input
- Adds new level of detail to animation at a reasonable cost
- Individually priced so you only buy what you want
- Easily network render by adding plugin to plugins path
- Tool selection Interface a little “gimmicky”
- Controls can be confusing/difficult with no game controller
- No documentation on specific controls within each tool
- Not Compatible with Max 9 64 bit
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