Unlike other 3D packages that focus on rendering spectacular images and effects, Kaydara's MotionBuilder 5 is uniquely suited to creating great animation of biped and quadruped characters - a task at which it succeeds admirably.
MotionBuilder can render animations, but most animators will base their work on models they've built and skinned in another application, such as Alias Maya or Maxon Cinema 4D. Then they'll end up exporting their work back into that application for final production - for rendering or for use in real-time 3D media such as video games.
While other 3D programs have decent character controls, and Maya, for example, allows extremely sophisticated (but slow) character rigging and effects for film-quality animation, no 3D program can match MotionBuilder's prowess when it comes to setting up and animating characters for game, broadcast, or multimedia applications.
Part of MotionBuilder's greatness is its superb performance. The software offers excellent interactive feedback as you manipulate characters and play animations. Most characters can be animated with real-time playback, using the latest-generation OpenGL technology (we tested on a dual-800MHz Power Mac G4 with 1GB of RAM).
MotionBuilder also permits quick set-up of characters for animating - usually one of the most technically demanding and time-consuming aspects of animation. Its Characterize command, for example, lets you apply a control rig to a character with a mouse click, and the resulting rigs are easy to manipulate, even for technically unsophisticated animators. MotionBuilder's smooth blending of inverse- and forward-kinematic animation, and its intuitive handling of joint pinning and other common animation tasks, will make the program popular with many animators.
Although MotionBuilder is excellent for creating character animation from scratch, it's the best Mac-compatible animation application for working with motion-capture data, whether that data is gathered from professional radio, optical or magnetic motion-capture systems, or simple inputs, such as a mouse or joystick. (A major disappointment is that the Mac version lacks the Windows version's ability to generate keyframe animation based on phonemes from a voice track.)
Much of MotionBuilder's interface is similar to that of other 3D applications, but one innovative feature unique to the program is the Story tool. This nonlinear editor looks like those in many video-editing programs, but it can be used to quickly blend multiple action sequences, cameras, storyboards, audio, and other scene elements in a way that will seem immediately intuitive to a video editor. While some other 3D applications offer a nonlinear editor of one kind or another, MotionBuilder's is the most intuitive and obviously functional one we've seen.
MotionBuilder 5 shouldn't be your only 3D application, especially if you have to create elaborate models, scenery, or fantastic or realistic renderings. However, as a tool for creating real-time 3D character animation, it's unbeatable - and an excellent complement to most major 3D packages.