Camera and Lighting functions in iClone 7
Updated: Apr 18, 2021
Perhaps it means I'm a bad filmmaker, but for me, camera angles and lighting setups were always more of an experimental process for me and not an exact science. This translated into the way I tested out these same functions in the virtual space of iClone 7. There was a lot of playing around and a lot of experimenting to figure out how to best replicate a similar aesthetic to my reference footage in a 3D animation project.
First and foremost, I think the lighting functions in iClone 7 are quite interesting! I wouldn't call a lot of the lighting presets in the program hyper-realistic or "natural" (you can only achieve that by manipulating elements like strength, radius, shadows, angle and intensity. But, for someone like me who likes really stylized aesthetics (yes, even in the documentary) it was fun to play around with. There are two sets of lighting options in iClone 7 - you can choose from a list of pre-sets (i.e. atmospheres) or you can generate your own lighting set-ups using directional lights, spotlights, fill lights and more (not unlike live-action film production standards, and it's great the use the same language/terminology). If you're going for a more natural set-up, this is the route you want to employ as it is more customizable and you have far more control over the final product. I did this in order to capture some of the natural lighting in my reference footage (i.e. sunlight & shadows as the reference footage was filmed in front of a window). To be quite honest, my lighting set up took me only half an hour to complete, largely because of the help of this iClone 7 tutorial.
Real Illusion "iClone 7 Basics Tutorial - Intro to Lighting" (00:16:49)
Demonstration of Lighting Effects from iClone 7 Tutorial linked above
The other great thing to note is that manipulating your lighting in iClone 7 is very similar to set design in so far as you use the same hotkeys to move, rotate and scale your lighting as you do with objects, set pieces etc. This is part of the simplicity of iClone - every method of customization is done the same way, so you do learn a lot of transferable skills early on.
Demonstrating a few of the preset lighting atmospheres in iClone (unnatural) vs. manual key lighting functions (natural)
This is the final lighting set up I landed on to match the aesthetic of my reference footage
This is how it started
This is how it ended.
One of the most frustrating things about lighting, however, is the fact that iClone 7 automatically generates animations of your lighting if you don't start setting up your atmosphere at the beginning of your timeline. Many times over, I would watch my footage through, pause in the middle, and start to set up more lights to enhance the scene. When I played it back, I realized I was in fact keyframing my lighting unintentionally and it would jump all over the place based on when I paused and started playing around. So this did not bode well for someone like me who is very spontaneous when it comes to designing. I made this mistake time and time again. Obviously, this is a useful function if, for instance, you want to dim a light in the middle of your scene - but for me, it was just a nuance. I couldn't find a suitable workflow for this issue and kept having to go back to the beginning of my clip and starting from scratch. I don't know why EVERYTHING has to be animated in iClone 7 but alas.
For the camera functions, once again, the workflow is very similar to other forms of animation in iClone (same hotkeys, same interface, same animation timeline functions). The really great part of working with recording in iClone is that you can generate multiple cameras for various angles, movements and shots. For instance, in the clip below, I generate a camera dolly (not a zoom) and I can see what I'm recording via the mini viewport window to the left of my project. The dolly is completely manual and based on your keyframing you can dictate the direction, speed, rotation order, etc.
I accidentally recorded my sound so please enjoy the sweet sounds of my 3D animation playlist
Every camera you generate also has customizable virtual "lenses" for focal length, angles, and apertures. Again, using similar language to live-action film production is great for those who do traditional film and/or for newcomers who use iClone and may want to get into film in the future.
Playing around with different angles and focal lengths. I call this shot my "Trainspotting" output
And this one my "Requiem for a Dream" output
Another interesting feature of the camera functions is that you can fake depth of field (and/or a rack focus if you were animating it). I decided to use this asset even though my reference footage didn't call for it. However, I think it adds a level of realism and/or synchronicity with how traditional, interview setups appear in documentaries.
Playing around with depth of field and focal lengths with a side angle medium close up
Before I was ready to export my angles to cut together, my professor Finlay gave me a good tip to help with the "film" quality of my outputs. He suggested that I try to add more static noise to my scenes in order to give the image a more dynamic quality or movement. Though a lot filmmakers try their hardest to avoid noise or film grain when shooting live-action, it does give the image a more photographic quality - which is exactly what I'm going for. I have to be honest, it took some trial and error to figure out the right amount of noise to add, but in all transparency, I think the grainer versions look really cool! But I decided to find a happy medium nonetheless.
When it comes to splicing together your scenes (or angles), it is possible to do the entire workflow in iClone 7. There is a switching function where you can record based on multiple, camera set-ups (i.e. switching from CU camera to DOLLY MCU camera, etc.) However, I decided to go with a method I was more comfortable with- exporting all the angles individually and editing them in Premiere Pro. I used Premiere's multi-cam editing function to sync up all my outputs and cut between them like a switcher. If you don't know how to do that already I highly recommend this tutorial:
Premiere Gal "Multi-Camera Editing in Adobe Premiere Pro CC Tutorial" (00:08:18)
Adobe Premiere multi-cam editing with various angles of my scene
Now, the process of editing actually took me longer than expected, just because I had to go back and constantly refine my angles, camera movements and the level of film noise I applied to each output. It was only through editing that I figured out exactly what I needed. Some of my earlier outputs are decent but needed some fine-tuning. Also earlier on I think I went a bit wild with how many different angles I thought I could fit into a 20 second clip. The simpler, the better in my opinion. Ultimately, after 7 or 8 attempts I came to an output I was satisfied with.
Attempt 1: Awkward cuts, too many movements, too much film noise
Attempt 3: Not a bad output, but I cross the axis (right angle/left angle) which is always disorienting to watch. Better to stick to consistent angles.
Better output - less noise, fewer angles, subtle pans