In the course of looking for references and ideas for the iDOLM@STER picture that I am currently working on, I somehow found myself on Niconico Douga watching a video featuring iM@S music but with different characters dancing to the music. With the tag “Dance×Mixer” as a guide I did some research and found out that it is a program just released a month ago used to choreograph 3D characters and make videos. Being a huge fan of otaku music I had no choice but live out my idol-coordinating fantasies by giving it a try. Of course I ended up wasting half of yesterday just playing around with it instead of drawing like I had planned.
Dance×Mixer is divided into three modes: Character, Dress and Dance. The first two modes are for character customization while last one is of course for planning out dance routines. Under character mode the player has the ability to customize a character’s body, face and hair. Unfortunately the body option only allows for the character’s chest size to be changed which is pretty disappointing. I would have liked the ability to alter height and waist and hip sizes at the very least. I know it is possible in some fashion judging by some user-uploaded videos though I have no clue how that is done so I’ll have to look for updates and mods later. Fortunately the face and hair options fair much better and make up for the lack of body customization. Eye shape and color, brow shape and color and mouth shape can all be changed allowing for a good deal of variety though it would have been nice to be able to alter face shape and facial feature positioning as well. In particular I was impressed by the hair customization options; instead of having predetermined hair styles the player dictates it by choosing individual independent parts to create a whole hair style. These parts include the front, back, side and even ahoge all of which can be given different colors.
Dress mode features a similar level of customization as character mode. Yet again dress mode is subdivided into three categories called inner, outer and accessory. Inner of course refers to underwear while outer refers to outerwear of which there is a decent number of garments to play with. There are a load of accessories to choose from including funny hats and drills and multiple items from the same subcategory can be equipped simultaneously assuming that they do not interfere with each other. Most of the clothing and accessories come in multiple color presets but it would have been nice to also have complete control over clothing color in the same vain as hair color.
Of course the actual meat of Dance×Mixer is the dance mode. Anyone familiar with video editing software such as Adobe Premiere should feel at home with the Dance×Mixer GUI which features preview and options windows and a time line. By default up to three individuals can be loaded in at once with each having their own separate time lines allowing for independent action. Each character option can perform 3 things at once corresponding to dance routine, facial expression and lip synchronization which can be assigned via the options window. The dance tab features dozens of different dance moves ranging from still poses to much more complicated routines. Under the face tab are a mere 6 different facial expressions to assign to your virtual idols but you can make your own custom expressions making this option very useful for getting the perfect look. Within the lip tab are 6 different syncing options corresponding to “a,” “i,” “u,” “e,” “o” and “n” which in Japanese is all you really need.
Dance×Mixer comes with a decent number of nice stages to perform on and all stages can be set to day, evening and night lighting with additional effects such as snow and confetti. Speaking of which in addition to the persistent stage effects as mentioned, there are numerous temporary effects that can be used while arranging performances for that extra wow factor like fireworks, fog and spotlights. Interestingly enough Dance×Mixer has a text overlay feature which is sure to please karaoke fans as well as people such as myself who want to imitate iM@S videos. Lastly is the option to coordinate the camera in numerous ways from basic still shoots to dynamic sweeping actions. All this together means that it is possible for an amateur with enough patience to create beautiful performances.
I spent quite a bit of time experimenting with the program. I used Fuwa Fuwa Time Yui Version as my test bed but limited myself to only one character to keep the complexity down. The choreography itself isn’t really that well made since I was focused on testing the features rather than creating the perfect performance. I also tried lip-syncing but it got really tedious so I quit. However I really liked how the effects and camera worked out and if I spend a little more time on the choreography and tweak a few things it could look pretty decent. I also added the lyrics at the very bottom for that delicious iM@S-flavor. Check out the video below to see my test run,
Temporarily took down video since it interferes with my Gallery for some reason or another
Of course Dance×Mixer is not without it’s drawbacks. One minor complaint I have is that the program by default only accepts wav and wma files for the BGM which meant that I had to convert my mp3 files in order to load them. It would be nice to see expanded audio format support in an update. Of greater concern was the more frequent than normal rate of crashing I got while using this. Dance×Mixer would sometimes hang up requiring me to quit and restart the program and at worse resulted in at least a few bsods which was especially amazing to me since it was the first time I have blue-screened in years. At the very least the developers had the foresight to implement an auto-save feature which prevented any of my work from being lost. While I was testing the video rendering feature I would at times not be able to initialize it so I had to reload before it started to work again. It would also occasionally quit partway through the rendering process but I suspect this could be a encoder problem rather than a problem inherent in the program because certain encoders would give consistent bad results while others would not.
Despite such problems Dance×Mixer is overall a pretty good program that does something novel in a fairly easy to use package filling a similar niche as the Vocaloids except with dancing rather than voice synthesizing and I truly hope that Dance×Mixer achieves a similar level of success. Anyone yearning to be the next great choreographer or just anyone with an interest in music need to give this a try.
PS My favorite videos (Niconico account required):