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  3. Furniture – Animated Nodes (Blender)
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  3. Furniture – Animated Nodes (Blender)

Furniture – Animated Nodes (Blender)

Animated Furniture (nodes)

When wanting to add animation to furniture it’s best to design the item with this in mind so the process is not necessarily complicated by having to make retroactive adjustments so items properly accommodate what’s required. At their most basic this might mean adding another node or bone to the items underlying skeleton to specifically control the parts that need to move. Or more nodes/bones for more complex actions. The result can then be exported and assembled in IMVU to create an animated furniture item.

IMPORTANT

Furniture made using either/or/both node or bone based skeletal structures can be animated.

Furniture item with animated sequences in the Action Editor
Action Editor

A small roundabout furniture that spins with node based skeleton and animated sequence displayed in the Action Editor (below the main 3D View).

Furniture skeleton

The key to animating furniture is the skeletons set up. It needs to be structured in a way that accommodates both animated and non-animated elements of the visible mesh, and components of associated skeleton. A typical non-animated (static) furniture item for example has a skeleton similar to the following;

Root
» Mesh

With seating, this becomes;

Root
» Mesh
» Handle01
» seat01.Sitting
» Catcher01.Sitting
» Pitcher01.Sitting

In other words everything is parented or linked to Root, the master node of the furniture item. To then accommodate animation this structure changes with the addition of an extra node, ‘spinny‘ in this example, to which the mesh may or may not be parented depending on how its to respond to being animated;

Root
» spinny
» » Mesh
» Handle01
» seat01.Sitting
» Catcher01.Sitting
» Pitcher01.Sitting

In this situation spinny controls the mesh which has been parented to it, when the node moves so too does the mesh. The seating however, being parented to Root, remains static. To change this so it moves with the animation, the avatar spins with the mesh, the order needs to change;

Root
» spinny
» » Mesh
» » Handle01
» » seat01.Sitting
» » Catcher01.Sitting
» » Pitcher01.Sitting

Understand these differences in structure is key to animating furniture; first, how is the mesh to animated, second, what controls it, and third, setting up the skeleton and mesh relationships so everything works properly.

For more information on parenting mesh to skeleton click here.

IMPORTANT

The differences outlined above apply equally to bones when using Armatures as they do nodes.

Different parts of a node based furniture skeleton ready for animation
Different Elements

The different elements of a furniture items skeleton (pink & blue – seats, green – root, orange – spinny), the control node, ‘spinny’, being the one that is to be animated (a simple 360° rotation set up so it repeats).

Create a New Action

Once the skeleton is in place it can be animated. If an Action is not available or none has been assigned, to create a new one clicking the Create new action button (+ New).

Click +New to create a new Action (if no object is selected)

An entry will appear in the ID field. This can be edited to make better sense – double-click and type.

New Action instance (called 'Action' by default if no object is selected)

If the Action is not associated with a particular object in the 3D View, select one then click the Browse Action to be linked button selecting an entry from the list. Once this is done animation can begin.

IMPORTANT

If an Action already exists and is assigned to a selected object the ‘+ New‘ button is replaced by a small ‘+‘ button to the right of the ID text field. Clicking this instead will duplicate the current Action, which will be made unique with the appending of a incremental number.

Elements of an Action in Blender
New Action

With the node selected that is to be animated (spinny) an Action can be created in the Action Editor ready for keyframes to be marked/placed.

Inserting keyframes

With an Action available and depending on the animations complexity, the first thing to do is mark the initial keyframe into the timeline. Left-click at, or drag the green scrubber to, frame 1;

Move the timeline slider/scrubber to frame 1

Position the object to be animated at its start point and from the Object menu select Animation » Insert Keyframe…. In the Insert Keyframe Menu that appears click LocRot;

Inserting LocRot (Location & Rotation 'pose' data) to the timeline

An orange marked will be placed in the Action Editor timeline. Click another frame in the timeline, i.e. frame 30, pose or position the object in the 3D View, for example rotating it 90° clockwise, and insert another frame into the timeline – Object » Animation » Insert Keyframe…. Repeat until the motion required is complete, a roundabout spins about the vertical axis for example.

IMPORTANT

It’s not necessary to mark every frame in a sequence, rather insert key, or important, frames (hence the name ‘keyframe’). This allows Blender/IMVU to interpolate between frames, a process called Tweening ([in be]Tween).

Inserting a keyframe into the Action Editor timeline
Inserting Keyframes

The node being animated is positioned and then marked to the Action Editor timeline using Insert to drop in a keyframe at the selected frame (1).

Export furniture to FBX

With an animation available the furniture can be exported. In the 3D View select the furniture mesh and skeletal nodes then click File » Export » FBX (.fbx). In the File Browser set the save location, amend the file a name as needed, then in Export FBX settings bottom-left use the following;

• Main select Selected Objects.
 • Geometries select Apply Modifiers.
 • Armatures deselect Add Leaf Bones.
 • Animation deselect NLA Strips and optionally Force Start/End Keying.

Once done click Export FBX top-right to export an FBX file (*.fbx) that’s then ready for import into IMVU.

IMPORTANT

When exporting animations so long as the animated node is selected as part of the export group Blender will automatically include the Action and associated data.

FBX export settings
Export FBX

Export settings for generating an FBX file that includes a functional animation, in particular disable NLA Strips and Force Start/End Keying in Animation properties.

Furniture Import

Once an FBX has been exported from Blender it can be imported into an IMVU project Editor and assembled. In Create mode derive the default furniture item (chair) and click the fbx import tab to load in the FBX file. Make sure Apply scale is set to 0.01 and the Mesh ID is 0 then import.

For more details on importing FBX files click here.

IMPORTANT

When importing furniture items the FBX file is loaded directly into the importer whereas other animated items may present the Select Skeletal Root dialogue, avatars in particular.

FBX settings to import the animated furniture item
Import settings

Hmmm, settings… the settings needed to import the FBX file exported for Blender – ensure Apply scale is set to 0.01 otherwise the objects will by extremely large and unusable.

Furniture Assembly

Assembling animated furniture is the same as for any other item except for the addition of an Action. Once the items basics are put together, skeleton, mesh and materials, access the actions tab. If the item is to play automatically when loaded, in Action Parameters set Trigger to be stance.Idle else enter a word or phrase Users can type to activate the animation, e.g. roundabout. If the item is to loop infinitely # ensembles played should be 0 (zero) else use a numerical value to limit the number of times the action plays, e.g. 10.

IMPORTANT

It’s not specifically necessary to set Type: (Room/Avatar) or After Playing: when the action loops infinitely.

Settings that govern the overall Action (which may include several animated sequences)

Next, in the Skeletal Animation section select the XAF file converted from the imported FBX, i.e. spinnyAction-spinny.xaf, and then depending on the sequence, set # loops: to 0 (zero) and Loop start: and end: to values that allow the animation to repeat, for example loop start: 30 and end: 150 for the roundabout shown.

Settings specifically related to the XAF animation sequence

Once the setting and options are established, in this instance clicking Apply Changes will automatically activate the animation so the mesh spins forever.

IMPORTANT

The xaf file is shown during import, multiple sequences being brought in at the same time.

Action settings that enable the mesh to animate using the imported/converted XAF
IMVU Action

The settings needed to automatically trigger an animation when furniture loads, primarily that # ensembles played be set to 0 (infinate loop) and an appropriate frame range is set for the XAF.

Updated on September 24, 2018

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