With version 3.0, PMG's Messiah is no longer just a character animation plug-in for Lightwave 3D, but is now a full-featured 3D animation package busting at the seams with great features.
The biggest improvement to Messiah is that it is now a stand-alone program, with added support for multiple rendering pipelines. Straight out of the box, Messiah animations can be exported for rendering in Lightwave, 3DS Max, Maya, and Softimage XSI. Don't get too excited, though, because Messiah animation data gets exported to the other rendering packages as vertex deformations only. In other words, you load up your model in the 3D package you want to render in and apply the Messiah plug-in; the plug-in then deforms your model's vertices frame by frame. Still, this is the best effort I have seen among any 3D package to try to play well with others.
Messiah can import from a variety of formats, including 3DS (.3ds), BioVision Mocap Data (.bvh), DXF objects (.dxf), Messiah Motion (.fxm), Messiah Scene (.fxs), Motion Analysis Hierarchical Translation Rotation (.htr), Lightwave 5.x or 6.x objects (.lwo; unfortunately, Messiah doesn't support some of the advanced features of the new Lightwave objects such as skelegons, weight maps, or endomorphs, but it does support loading in individual object layers), and Wavefront objects (.obj).
Messiah has the ability to export its skeletal weight and animation data to ASCII format, making it very easy for programmers to do what they need with it. Additionally, Messiah has added a full scripting language and an SDK to allow developers to create their plug-ins or pipelines in and out of Messiah.
Messiah's strength is apparent when setting up advanced character rigs. Setting up skeletons is similar to the way you draw bones in the Lightwave layout, except with a more refined interface. The program has a Setup tab that takes the character back to its rest position for easy bone editing. You can actually start animating a character and then go back to the Setup tab to modify a bone or add an extra bone or muscle, all without losing your animation. Messiah's bones are amazingly fast, even with complicated IK and expressions on a rig. Although the bones deformation envelope works well, Messiah doesn't currently have the ability to create or import weight maps.
The program has a very powerful implementation of expressions, shipping with a ton of predefined expression functions that are simple plug-and-play, even for nonmathematicians. IK, sliders, and morph targets are straightforward to implement and can all be tied into expressions as well. One neat feature new to Animate 3.0 is the premade Setups panel, which comes with some setups, and with one double-click, you can also add your own.
Messiah has a built in nonlinear animation (NLA) system called Compose. It lets you work with motion clips in the same way you would with video clips. Basically you group some items (bones, objects, and the like) into a character and then make a library of motion clips (say, a pose or a walk cycle) for it. Then you can arrange the clips in any order and/or blend the clips into one another using a linear blend or a curve. Compose has an elegant interface that is easy and intuitive to use. Much like a nonlinear video editor, it's possible to scale, repeat, copy, and blend animations using visual representations of the clips on multiple tracks in a timeline.
You can also modify any aspect of the character's performance on an instance of the motion clip, or even modify the original motion clip itself. Compose is a well-refined NLA with many second-generation features. For instance, a walk-cycle motion clip captured from one character can be applied to a different character using a tool that matches the individual items in one group to the items in a different group. Most NLAs have similar features, but Messiah's has advanced features like auto-matching, hierarchy matching, and base-name filtering.
Another advanced feature is how Compose applies the edited motions to the character. For each item in a character group, you have the option to apply the motion before or after the character's IK. Motions can also be applied instead of - or combined with - the motions that the character has in the current scene already. The possible combinations are additive, subtractive, multiply, divide, greater than, or less than.
You can also have a variety of motion end behaviors (such as cycle or oscillate) and rest value compensation so your character won't pop backwards at the end of each walk cycle. Another great feature is that you can define multiple character groups with overlapping items. For instance, you can make a character group for an entire character, and also make a group for just the hand.
In short, with all its refined features, Messiah: Animate is a pretty serious non-linear animation system. Messiah: Animate has an MSRP of $1,045; the upgrade from Messiah 1.5 is $395. PMG is making available a free downloadable demo version of Messiah: Animate 3.0 at www.projectmessiah.com.