Tuesday, June 30th, 2015 Posted by Jim Thacker

Sneak peek: next-gen animation tool Akeytsu

Originally posted on 20 February 2015. Scroll down for updates.

Nukeygara has posted a 25-minute sneak peek of Akeytsu, its intriguing next-gen rigging and animation system, showing off some of its unusual workflow tools in detail for the first time.

First previewed last year, the new standalone application aims to reinvent character setup for “creatives, not engineers”, with an interface designed “for animators, by animators”.

Unusual design, interesting UI controls
The first thing you notice in the video is that interface, which is very definitely non-standard. (One comment on The Foundry’s forums describes the design style as “Fisher Price”.)

But love or loathe the aesthetics, there are interesting tools in there. The first is the large circular Spinner, which provides quick access to standard move, scale and rotate operations.

Dragging on the red, green and blue sectors lets a user manipulate the joint selected in each of the co-ordinate axes independently, without having to reset the camera to do so.

Rather than needing to set up rig controls, manipulation is performed directly on the joint.

Replicating the traditional animation exposure sheet
Another interesting feature is the Stacker. Designed to be used in conjunction with the timeline, it provides an intuitive way to adjust the timing of keys and the intervals between keys.

In design, it mimics the format of a traditional animation exposure sheet, complete with conventions like ringing keys to indicate extreme poses, and underlining them to indicate breakdowns.

Separate Stacker views are created for individual animation layers.

In-viewport curve editor, automatic animation cycle creation
Another interesting touch is the curve editor, which is displayed directly in the background of the viewport, freeing up screen real estate. Curves can be manipulated directly by clicking and dragging on the viewport.

There also a dedicated Cyclemaker control, which enables users to keyframe half of an animation cycle, then convert it automatically into an infinite loop.

More standard UI elements include the Mixer (an animation layer editor), a Picker for selecting individual joints, and the Animation Bank, which enables users to browse shots and different versions of a shot.

Straightforward rigging workflow
Akeytsu uses a true FK-IK skeleton, with a single click switching between FK and IK operations. Setting up the skeleton looks to be a straightforward process.

Skinning also looks intuitive: in the video, a character is skinned from scratch to a reasonable finish in around five minutes. Weights can be adjusted by group selecting vertices, or by direct painting.

Morph targets, advanced IK and audio in development
In its present state, Akeytsu is a pure keyframe skeletal animation tool: blendshape support is in development, as are clothing and secondary animation systems.

According to the feature list, other upcoming features include extra IK/FK controls (reverse foot setup, stretch options, an IK spine solver), and audio support.

Pricing and availability
Nukeygara hasn’t announced a release date for Akeytsu yet. The software will be Windows-only on launch. Workflow is based around FBX import and export, so it should slot into most pipelines.

Updated 17 June: Nukeygara has just announced that Akeytsu will be available in beta on 30 June 2015. The pricing – originally proposed as a rental-only deal – has been changed to a perpetual licence model, too.

On release, an Indie licence of the software, available to any artist or studio making under $200,000/year, will cost $129; a full Pro licence will cost $559. Anyone buying during the beta period gets a 50% discount.

Updated 30 June: The beta version of Akeytsu is now available. You can download it here.

Watch video demos of Akeytsu’s key features on Nukeygara’s website