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Rumba : will this new tool launch a revolution in animation ?

Unveiled as early as 2018 during the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, Rumba is a new 3D animation software by Mercenaries Engineering, the makers of Guerilla Render. The software will be launched in a couple of days.

Their goal : to provide a solution dedicated to 3D animation, with a “real-time creative experience that reduces time-consuming tasks to let the animators focus on their artistic expression”.

In order to know more about this new solution, we interviewed the Rumba team, located in France. Pricing, tools, workflow, launch strategy, roadmap : we asked them the questions you probably have on Rumba.

3DVF : Mercenaries Engineering is launching its own 3D animation solution. What are the main features, and what is your philosophy regarding animation ?

Mercenaries Engineering : Rumba is a dedicated 3D animation solution that provides animators a fluid, straightforward and intuitive experience. The experience of the animators is at the heart of the product : they must be able to focus on their artistic expression, without worrying about the technical details.

Rumba features real-time playback whatever the size of the scene, there is therefore no need for the users to launch an export to view the result of their work. They can work on a vision as close as possible to the end result ; for example, they can get rid of the controllers to get a more accurate feeling of the animation while creating it. Of course, you can still use complex rigs, and it still provides a user-friendly workflow.

All these features make for a fast animation process, and help the animators find back the pleasure of animation.

“Real-time playback, whatever the size of the scene”

3DVF : Who are you targeting with this new product ?

As a first stage, Rumba is aimed at animation studios, whether they are working on series or movies, as well as VFX companies or any other production that needs keyframe animation. In a second phase, motion capture and videogames. Right now we don’t support motion capture data, but this is planned on our roadmap.

3DVF: What are the main advantages of Rumba, compared to existing solutions? In other words: if I am a Maya, 3ds Max of Blender user, why should I switch to Rumba?

Rumba is a tool dedicated to 3D animation production. This focus allows optimal performance in terms of the rig’s responsiveness as well as real-time animation playback. It also allows us to profide a workflow that is entirely focused on animation, without the constraints from other parts of the pipeline. Lastly, this independence allows us to innovate and shake the world of animation, by introducing new tools such as manipulators, without making the creation process heavier.

The creation of a dedicated software is also a good opportunity to provide tools such as temporal edition for animation: you can edit the animation at different keys (ghosts) simultaneously.

3DVF: On the one hand, Rumba must provide real improvements so that studios are willing to use it. On the other hand, an animation workflow too different from what the artists are used to might make them reluctant to switch to Rumba… Did you have to limit yourselves and avoid features that would have been too “exotic”?

Every innovation we wish to provide in Rumba comes from a close relationship with known entities from the animation industry. We confronted our ideas and their experience, while keeping in mind the goal of keeping things intuitive.

“a very fast learning curve”

Our tools have passed several development and testing rounds, which allowed us to find a good balance between familiarity and new features. The tests and validations have been very diverse, from studios to schools. MOOCs have even been created, focusing on people who had never done any animation in their life. As a consequence, Rumba has a very fast learning curve, whether you are a long-time Maya user or a complete newcomer in the animation world.

3DVF: How does Rumba fit in a typical animation workflow?

With Rumba 1.0, the rig is created in Maya, then exported to Rumba using a plugin we provide, mtorba. The various rigs and Alembic files for the props and the background are then imported within Rumba. The animation is then done in Rumba, and the user can create playblasts if needed. When the animation is finished, it can be exported either as an Alembic cache or as animation curves in a FBX file.

From Maya to Rumba : a video tutorial on how you can use both Maya and Rumba in your workflow

We are also working on some huge features for the upcoming releases : the current limitations (regarding Maya rigs, Alembic import, export) will soon be lifted.

3DVF: What about motion capture? Will we be able to use Rumba as a MotionBuilder alternative, for example?

Importing and using motion capture data is part of our roadmap. By the way, several studios looking to find a Motion Builder alternative have contacted us. The animation layer system provided by Rumba is perfect for Motion Capture, we just need to find the right time to launch ourselves on this market.

3DVF : Can you give us the names of some studios that have already used Rumba ?

Unfortunately we have non-disclosure agreements. The only thing we can share is that many studios approached us, from all over the world. Small and big studios from the animation, VFX and gaming industries.

3DVF : What are the main limitations of this first publicly available version? And can you share your roadmap with us?

The main limitation of this first version of Rumba is the fact that the rigs you animate must have been created within Maya beforehand. We support rigs created using widely used auto-rig tools (The Setup MachinemGearAdvanced Skeleton) and we have exported with success each and every rig studios gave us access to. An innovative rigging process that will allow Rumba users to get rid of Maya is already in development, and will be available in an upcoming release.

For all the other objects of the 3D scene, you can use Alembic files. Rigs, when they are imported, can be manipulated using click and drag directly on the geometry of the prepared objects, which allows the users to quickly jump from one movement to the next on various elements, without being hindered by the gizmo used for the current transformation. Furethermore, full USD support is being validated right now.

It should also be noted that our animation layer system allow anyone to organize their animation workflow while making the retouching process easier. We also provide a set of tools for advanced animation, such as temporal editing (you can edit the animation before or after the current frame, and watch the resulting impact on the rest of the animation), motion trails, constraint layers. We also provide an animation library and a curve editor.

A showcase of Rumba 1.0, published in June 2020.

Last, but not least, on the development side we provide an extensive SDK, with documentation and in Python and C++. There are also examples to help TDs. Of course, you can write and test Python scripts directly in our interface. Rumba is therefore easily expandable using you own plugins.

In the future, several releases will quickly answer the feedback received while testing the software. Within these new features are a picking editor for characters, USD support (with Hydra support in the viewports), tools for fixing animated geometry, video import to get VFX plates and references for animation, and Python 3.7.

Rumba – Roadmap

  1. Version 1.0 – Unmatched Animation Experience
    Availability : end of october 2020 (subscribe to receive the download links !) 

    • Fast and easy posing;
    • Manipulation without IF/FK switch;
    • Real-time animation;
    • Innovative animation layers;
    • Animation library;
    • Fast and efficient animation copy/paste;
    • Classic and editable Onion skin;
    • Maya rigs import;
  2. Rumba 1.1: adjustments to better fit the needs of production use
    Private version available in December 2020

    • Image plane : animation and VFX reference;
    • Import and edit cameras animated using FBX;
    • Geometry fixing within Rumba;
    • geo-caches visualization (based on USD);
    • More tools to improve the animation experience : Piker, Switch IK/FK, Mirror, Snap…
  3. Rumba 1.2: a better experience
    Availability: 2021

    • Motion trails editing (translation, rotation);
    • Advanced layers: layer groups, auto-layers…
  4. Version 2.0 : the future
    Availability : please wait !

    • Improved rigging for any kind of production;
    • Improved performance and efficiency of Rumba to better fit the needs of Previs and Layout;
    • Rumba handles motion capture.

In the wake of these improvements, Rumba will be completed by a revolutionary rigging tool : artists using Rumba won’t need Maya anymore.

“A non-commercial use version will be available for free”

3DVF : What is your business model ?

A free educational licence will be provided to schools. We may also provide them with a free and tailor-made support, at no cost. Many schools are planning to use Rumba as a teaching tools, some have already started.

A free, non-commercial-use version will also be available. You will only need to subscribe to the download list in order to get it. Indie artists will also be able to use this version for commercial use, at a low cost.

Several choices are then available, from the annual subscription to lifetime licences alongside support and maintainance (pricing available on demand).

Next page : the second part of our interview. Princing, development history, animation software market, Mercenaries Engineering.

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