I’m no plugin developer but I do my share of modeling, rigging and animation. The number one thing I want to see in LW is:
Make skelegons into fully realized bones. Being able to save bone info with the lwo could open up many more possibilities, such as weight envelopes in modeler - which would allow you to build your skeleton right along-side your mesh, testing deformations as you go. Houdini allows you to work with envelopes and also tweak weights with a brush at the same time - this type of control is perfect for doing game characters and would be pretty sweet for film stuff too. Parenting of bones without having to weld skelegon verts would then be possible. Being able to store joint morphs using LW’s awesome endomorph system would be a pleasant reality. Very easy to tweak as well this way, since everything is saved with the lwo, and updated automatically in layout.
I’d like to see a secondary endomorph type specifically for this, so that all you’d need to do is rotate a bone, start a new bone-driven endomorph and tweak the mesh. That’s it. When the lwo is loaded into layout you proceed directly to animation and the joint morphs just work. A secondary bone-morph type would help reduce clutter in the morph mixer and could help automate the task of storing bone rotations that drive the morphs. Ideally you’d keep joint morphs separated from regular morphs since they are mostly just automated anyway during animation. Setup mode would be much easier using modeling tools. All rest info and pivots would be automatically taken care of when the lwo is loaded into layout - with no need to convert skelegons anymore.
This would be awsome for game characters that rely on a bind pose and mesh which are typically referenced for use with many looped animation sequences in engine. If you ever need to modify the bone structure and mesh, you only need to update a single file (bind pose reference), and all the animation adapts accordingly.
The biggest benefit to this is that you always have a safe setup environment with no worries about keyframing the bind pose by accident and losing it forever. Modeler is a much better environment for setup work anyway since it’s much more forgiving than layout and has more refined editing/manipulation tools. Deformation is also something that should be tackled during the construction phase… not at the end of it.
Bones in modeler could also open up other doors for creative solutions. I’d love to be able to draw real bones that can also generate geometry the way Zbrush does with Zspheres. I find myself concepting in 3d a lot more with Zbrush these days because of this - to the point where I’m spending less time in the 3d app overall during construction, since my concept is ALSO my mesh construction. I’d much rather do it in my 3d app though, since that’s where all my setup and animation occurs anyway. Being able to reuse the bones that you drew to actually create your character for setup and animation as well just makes sense to me.
I’d also like to see another “deformer” geometry type or flag with special properties that can be used to deform other geometry. You could use something like this for muscle deformation by parenting them to regular bones and giving them bone-driven morphs (like I mentioned above) so that they can then aid in deformation of the character skin (kindof like a shrinkwrap influence effect. Or you could assign them as rigid deformers as well so that they could act as hard bone surfaces that contribute to deformation along with soft ‘muscle’ deformers. Other applications could be for getting soft deformation results by using them as a hard surface contact with a soft body. Storing all this in the lwo saves setup work in layout and keeps it simple for the stupid guy (me). =]
I’d like to see more use/support for splines in layout too.