By Alex Lindsay
Issue: March 1, 2004



PRODUCT: Kaydara Motionbuilder 5.0

PRICING: $995 (standard); $4,195 (pro)


· ability to mix and match animations with simple crossfades

· extensive clip art library

· four-legged character tools

Kaydara's Motionbuilder 5.0 is another step forward for this character animation system. While the interface still creates a heavy initial learning curve, the overall efficiency is astounding and the compatibility with other applications makes it the natural choice for those doing character work, whether they are using motion capture or keyframed animation. Along with new features, Motionbuilder 5.0 is now available in a standard and professional version, which brings many of its features to a much wider audience.


Motionbuilder is not what we think of as a "mainstream application" like Softimage|XSI or Alias Maya. In short, it's a motion capture editor (the pro version), a character animation tool (that works well with motion capture) and a previsualization tool.

In a previous life, Motionbuilder was known as "Filmbox" and began as a motion capture manipulation tool. You brought in raw data, you cleaned it up, applied it to characters and then exported it out to the handful of programs that could read the data. In many ways, you could think of this like Adobe Photoshop for 3D motion. In Photoshop, most of us rarely actually draw something from scratch. Instead, we bring photos in and manipulate them. This is a fairly similar process for Motionbuilder, but the photos were of people's motion.

While some character animation tools were integrated into Filmbox, the shift to what we now call Motionbuilder brought a much improved interface and far more character animation tools that did not assume you were working with motion capture data. This would be like adding more artistic tools to Photoshop. The result was a very refined character animation system that seamlessly mixes with mocap data.

With 5.0, Motionbuilder has continued an evolution toward previsualization. With the Story Timeline, you can very quickly use off-the-shelf walk cycles and other captures to hack together basic animations that are very convincing. This can save a lot of time (and money) when you are building a collection of shots for full CG environments or live action.


It's not where you will finish your work. Other than some toons rendering, there isn't what most would consider a final render option. Motionbuilder is part of a pipeline, not the whole thing. You will need to send your work to another application for rendering. This is fairly easy if they have an FBX reader (like Maya, XSI, 3D Studio, LightWave and Cinema 4D).

It's not a "full-featured" 3D application in the sense that it doesn't have a modeler or many of the texturing tools that you would expect. It also doesn't have complex particle systems, dynamics and other extras that are in other 3D apps. It is primarily a character tool.


The most important new feature in Motionbuilder is the Story Timeline. This is like having a fully featured nonlinear editor for your 3D motion. You can mix and match animations, cut multiple cameras and blend motions, all with simple crossfades.

You also have four-legged character tools (past versions supported only bipeds), you have hand-floor constraints (so your character's hands will stick to the floor, if necessary), you have new controls for fingers and toes and a variety of improvements to the F-curve editor.

Finally, you get a fairly extensive clip art library of characters and motions that you can use for previz or to just to get going quickly. Obviously, most people who get the standard version of Motionbuilder probably don't have their own motion capture system, which makes this feature important.


It offers non-destructive mixing of motion capture and keyframed data. In a recent project, one of our teams needed to extend a motion-captured kick to the head to make full contact. They were able to simply add a layer of keyframed information to augment the motion at the end of the kick. They didn't have to replace the motion capture and they didn't even have to permanently change it. They just added a delta position as an F-curve to make the subtle change. This process gives you the best of both worlds. You get the fine detail of motion capture along with the artistic control of keyframed information. Creating Character Rigs (the skeletons that control the motion of a 3D model) is no minor project. It can take weeks to create a fully-optimized rig in a 3D application.

Motionbuilder has base rigs already built for you. You still may need to skin your model in a base 3D application (define how the body deforms) but you don't have to add all the finer controls to the system. The ability to mix and match motions, add multiple cameras, watch it all in realtime and then seamlessly export the data to other applications (you can actually export FBX scenes to be viewed in QuickTime) makes Kaydara Motionbuilder a powerful 3D tool for previz.


At some point in time, Kaydara will need to overhaul the entire interface to widen its market. It needs to be layered so that you see only what you need to see. Right now, it can be very confusing for beginners. I think this would double the impact of many of their otherwise well-designed introductory offers. This is compounded by very rough documentation and an unstable and cumbersome hardware key system.