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 Di-O-Matic.com > Press > Reviews > Morph-O-Matic

 
MOMíS
THE WORD

CGI MAGAZINE - August 2001

  

 


The Morpher modifier might not have seen any enhancement in the latest release of max, but as Darren Brooker discovers, a new plug-in called Morph-O-Matic brings improvements that will be welcomed by serious users of this feature.
 
The Morpher modifier has always been a favourite of character animators, particularly those working with facial animation, such as myself. Despite sweeping changes to the core character tools in the new version of max that everyone greeted with great enthusiasm, the Morpher modifier remained essentially unchanged. However, a new plug-in from Digimation takes the core morpher in max 4 and transforms it into a way more powerful tool. Morph-O-Matic, or MOM as its developers refer to it, adds the considerable benefit of progressive morphing to max, which brings much smoother more controllable results.
 
Maxís out-of-the-box Morpher modifier animates between the morph targets by adjusting the percentage of blending between the targets. With a progressive morphing system such as MOM, you can go from one channel to another and force the animation to go through multiple animation targets. This has a net result of enabling you to add many morph targets to each channel and create much smoother animation.
 
For those of you who have used the Morpher modifier before the concept of this new plug-in will not be difficult to comprehend: imagine the targets within the current modifier replaced by channels which could themselves be broken down into targets. Now when the animation morphs from the original object to the target, instead of working on a percentage blend between the two, it steps through each one of the targets that makes up the channel, one by one, in the order they have been organized, thus ensuring this transition is as controlled and smooth as it can be.
 
Setting up the MOM modifier works in much the same way as when working with maxís Morpher, with the base object created first, and the range of morph targets subsequently made from copies of this. Working in this manner ensures that all the morph targets have the exact same vertex count, which, as with the standard Morpher, is a rule that must be adhered to. Another similar consideration is that the morph targets must have the same vertex ordering as well, as some parametric modifiers do not change the vertex count, but may change the ordering.
 
Once these targets have been created, the Morph-O-Matic modifier is applied to the original base object. The list of channels associated with this object then appears topmost in the modifier panel. Selecting one of these, a couple of rollouts below is the Channel Parameters section, which is where the targets you want are selected in the order in which they will be progressively morphed through. It is worth noting that you can select the same target multiple times and assign different amounts to each version of the morph target.
 
Now for each channel you have a list of targets, each of which has a Progressive value associated with it. This spinner defines the percentage value in the associated channel at which each target will be used. Giving each of the targets listed in for an individual channel now defines the order in which the plug-in will step through this list. Above this area is a section where limits can be defined in terms of the minimum and maximum values of the spinners in each channel. In addition a Weight value allows one to differ how much effect a channel has on the final result.
 
The result of all this is perhaps greater set-up times in terms of creating the increased number of targets, but this is not too difficult a job, and the benefit of having a far more controllable morphing process and much better results more than justifies this extra effort. In terms of the number of channels and targets per channel that MOM allows, the developers claim an unlimited amount. In reality this is not quite true, as the number is restricted by your systemís capabilities, but you are not restricted by the 100 in maxís standard toolkit, and you certainly have the flexibility to easily create as many as your model needs.
 
If you are used to working with complex models that require lots of morph targets, then it is not just the smooth quality of output that will appeal. The fact that you can also create groups between the morph channels means that youíre only creating keys for the groups, rather than for the whole model. This can be a time saver as well as helping to keep the size of the animation down, as youíre only creating keys for the groups, rather than for the whole model.
 
Additionally, the fact that animation keys can be cut, copied and pasted around at will from within the modifier makes for a streamlined workflow. Indeed, the fact that the Keyframing rollout and channel list alone can be invoked as a floating menu makes for very efficient animation once the channel and target set up has taken place. Furthermore, once the morph targets have all been loaded into the modifier, their actual geometry can be deleted from the scene, again keeping the scene as compact as possible, as this geometrical information is actually stored within the base object. These targets can however, still be extracted at any point, should the targets need modification. They can then simply be reloaded back into the modifier and deleted again without the whole set up process having to be done again.
 
Since MOM is a modifier, it can work on an entire object or just a selection of the object if you pass a Sub-Object selection up the stack to it, and this works with Soft Selection too. This is, as far as I know, the only Morpher plug-in for max that can operate with soft selections. Indeed, this is the only plug-in that calculates its morphs can be set to use a cubic spline interpolation method, rather than in a simple linear fashion, which again makes for smoother results.
 
Like maxís own Morpher, MOM supports material morphing, the simplest way of working with this being to simply apply different materials to each target, hit a button in the modifier panel, and have the software compile everything.
 
One last particularly unique and clever thing that the software can do is view-dependent morphing, which allows you to cheat deformations based on the angle of any cameras. This means that you can set channels to be view-dependent, specify which camera this is dependent upon, and set up the targets within these channels to vary by angle from the camera, with copies of targets placed in the correct looking posture as regards the camera. MOM then analyses when the morphed object is coming to the set angle from the camera and morphs towards the copies that look correct from the camera view.
 
Whilst fairly difficult to explain, this is just one small piece of a very clever piece of software, which brings to max incredible morphing, an area of the software that was not one of the most pressing areas for development. However, with the core character animation tools of max now so very advanced, this plug-in is a fitting improvement to morphing, that brings it bang up to speed with the rest of maxís incredible character toolset.
 
Written by Darren Brooker, CGI Magazine, August 2001 Issue

 

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