Reallusion recently released a major upgrade to their already well-received facial animation program, CrazyTalk. The new version 6.0 has one feature that makes all previous versions instantly obsolete: you can now animate multiple talking characters in a single scene, and each character has it's own timeline where you can detail each animation independently of the others. This feature alone makes CrazyTalk 6.0 a must-have upgrade if you are interested in converting 2D images into digital actors.
CrazyTalk 5 hit the ground running with the addition of the real-time puppeteering tool. But now with the ability to animate multiple characters (and other upgrades), CrazyTalk has become a mature software program that is intuitive enough for the beginner, yet advanced enough for the pro. You can quickly animate talking digital actors for use on your personal (or commercial) web page, as a social networking widget or digital movie. You are only limited by your imagination.
So, now that you know one reason CrazyTalk 6.0 is a great upgrade, let me give you several more.
In addition to the multiple talking characters, there are some other significant changes to this new edition of CrazyTalk. Here are some of the most important ones:
Also, while working with CrazyTalk 6.0 on my quad-core PC, the program felt more responsive, and rendering out the final project in various sizes seemed to go faster than previous versions. Reallusion mentions improvements in Open GL hardware rendering and that seems to be the case, at least with my Nvidia GeForce 9800GTX+ video card. And there was no slow down in the program even with the full four characters in a scene.
CrazyTalk 6.0 Work-flow
CrazyTalk 6.0's basic work-flow is to import an image, create a 3D model of the image, construct an animation script for your image/character and then export it to the format of your choice. It's a very simple program with an easy to use interface. Users can quickly and easily edit their 2D images (or web camera captures) by selecting the area they want to edit on the image, carefully applying markers at key points (in the Face Fitting window) like the outside of the eyes and outside of the lips. This orients the basic 3D mesh that CrazyTalk 6.0 uses to create 3D facial animation. You can choose to “auto-fit” the image and this works fairly well for simple images (especially cartoon-style faces), but I'd recommend selecting one of the three marker options you see in the upper left hand corner of the screen. Your other controls are on a dock all the way to the left of the main window of the “Model” set, which is the first one you start with when you import an image to animate in CrazyTalk 6.0.
It's easy to adjust your basic settings by clicking the hammer icon in the upper right hand corner of any window. This allows you to adjust settings for the temp folder, maximum pixel size for your images (options are 1 to 8 million pixels), your workspace image size (goes up to 1280x1280 pixels) and border color for your main window. You can also turn on/off the “Getting Started” window on start up and the fitting wizard for importing images (leave this on if you are a beginner). The “Getting Started” window allows you to check for updates (I was immediately given the option to install a patch which applied without a hitch), go to the Reallusion site for more content, watch demos of program functions, and access the very thorough online help system.
Once you get your face/image generally fitted with a mesh (you can always come back and detail the mesh using increasing amounts of markers), you can add eyes and fine tune them with the new Vivid- Eye technology, which amounts to more eye choices, tabs for eye specularity/shadow and tabs for eye lashes and eye shadow. Both are very easy to use and the level of detail you can achieve is only limited by the time you spend fine-tuning. I found myself going back and forth from the eye details to adjusting the original eye markers until I got it just right.
One thing that is quite useful when you are adjusting the facial mesh for your image/face is the ability to calibrate various parts of the face to see if they look right. Up at the top of the screen you'll see a small eye with an arrow. If you click the down arrow you'll see a list of calibration selections to test your markers around the eyes, facial expressions, head movements and mouth shape, either individually or one at a time. CrazyTalk 6.0 provides a dummy script that takes you through basic animation in each of those areas. If you use this calibration method, it becomes obvious where your mesh needs adjustment in order to animate correctly with your chosen image.
Now, if you are using multiple images/characters you'll follow essentially the same process for each character, except you'll click the “add model” button located in the upper left hand corner of the Face Fitting window for each character (maximum is 4 characters). There is simple background masking accessed on the tools dock to the left, which allows you to erase the background of your image and select a background of your own. Alpha channels are included when you use the bmp and tga formats.
After fiddling with your new 3D model of the image endlessly (and you will do this), you finally move on to the Scripting section of your animation project, which is a ton of fun. After clicking “new script” in the top portion of the new “Stage” window, you can set the script length and add up to 4 models you've previously fitted and saved. Then, by right-clicking on the target track (at the bottom of the window) for each character, you have the option of creating a new script, importing audio, record audio live through CrazyTalk 6.0 (record button is to the left of the window docked with the other main tools) and use the text-to-speech function built into the program. There are also many pre-made template scripts you can use and tweak (be sure to save the new versions) to your heart's content.
The new Stage area of CrazyTalk 6.0 also allows you to edit the camera for your scene, and key-frame it's rotation, zoom and pan movements. There is also an “auto-zoom/pan” function which allows you to control the rate of the movement. Essentially, the Stage gives you the ability to move your characters around by moving the camera. Camera editing is simple at this point, but I have a feeling Reallusion will be adding more functions to this tool in future editions.
Once you've staged your scene, you use the time-line to create facial animations for your characters. CrazyTalk 6.0 now gives you separate time-lines for each character you are using in a scene. Now you are free to either use a pre-made script for your characters, combine emotives and motion clips from the CrazyTalk 6.0 library, or puppeteer each character's face in real time. I think the puppeteering tool is one of the most powerful tools in the program. The puppeteering window pops up when you click the time-line tab at the bottom of the window. There is a face with dozens of muscle groups which you can click on to animate using your mouse movements. There are several generic presets available like “youthful” or “wicked”, but they tend to be somewhat exaggerated. Plus, it's much more fun to create your own profiles because the puppeteering tool allows you to create facial animations in layers. You can practice your animation using the preview button, then, once you have a particular movement down, click the record button and the movements are added to the time-line. If you don't like the results, delete them and start over.
Now that you've fine-tuned your facial animations with the pupettering tool, you are ready to export your masterpiece. By clicking on the output tab at the top of the screen, you can render your work in a variety of formats. The Media tab will give you the traditional options of rendering as avi, wmv, mp4 or as an image sequence. The Widget tab lets you create a small widget of your animation for a website. The Web tab allows for export to VCD, DVD and the new HD (720p, 1080p in Pro version) formats. Finally, by clicking the YouTube tab you can export directly to your own personal youtube.com channel by filling in your personal info. There's an area where you can title your video, provide a brief description and even set tags. The quality of the renders are very good, too. The HD I exported at 720p was sharp and clear. Rendering speeds are decent, too.
CrazyTalk 6.0 is a lot of fun to work with. It's so simple that once you start working with it and get a sense of the work-flow, you end up spending hours creating animations and dreaming up new projects to try out. And, of course, the multiple talking characters are a blast. The program makes it so easy to do what you want to do, that it's becoming an increasingly transparent program where the interface does not get in your way. No crashes, high quality image imports, and much improved scripting makes CrazyTalk 6.0 easily the best release of the program to date.
Now, there are some little improvements I think Reallusion could make in future versions of CrazyTalk. Adding more (and better) text-to-speech voices is much better than simply providing a link to a very complex Microsoft site in order to purchase new voices (I never did find them at that site). The ability to interact with an external 2D editor like the Gimp or Adobe Photoshop would be very useful. I'd also make some small tweaks to some of the window tools, like moving the emotive slider closer to the middle of the time-line and making the text bold so you can actually see the damn thing. I spent a good hour trying to figure out why my emotive script was so over the top: the slider was set to intense (you can set it on a range from 'mild' to 'intense'). There is also lots of blank space in the Output window which could be filled with tips on how some of the output settings work.
I also wish the Face Fitting window was adjustable in size. It would make fitting the face easier since you wouldn't have to zoom in and out so much. And more options on the lip area during face fitting would enable a character with a bad 70's style moustache (like me) to animate the lips more easily and realistically. Finally, a version for the Mac I think would be greeted with lots of shouting and clapping of Apple hands. Honest.
The purchase price of the CrazyTalk 6.0 Pro version (which, among other goodies, gives you up to 11 time-line tracks on the time-line editor) is a reasonable $149.95 (USD); while the Standard version is a nice $49.95 (USD). The Standard version lacks the detailed controls for animation (and no HD export) that come with the Pro version. Reallusion is offering an upgrade to the pro version for previous CrazyTalk users for $75 (USD); the Standard version upgrades for $25 (USD). There's a nice product matrix section which shows you the main differences between the Pro and Standard versions.
I'd also recommend taking a look at some of the special prices Reallusion is offering for Premium users (users who become Reallusion members and then register their products by listing the serial number). They are offering some summer deals which includes an animation tool-box with facial expression clips, dialog balloons, special effects and comic characters all designed to make using CrazyTalk 6.0 faster and more fun.
Congratulations, Reallusion, you've got a real winner with CrazyTalk 6.0.
Forums at Reallusion.com are active and very helpful. Reallusion's YouTube page has a variety of videos for their products, including a nice feature overview for CrazyTalk 6.0. There is also an excellent CrazyTalk Training Center where you can download the manual or get detailed help on every aspect of the program.
Watch a CrazyTalk 6.0 Demo in the Renderosity Video Center
Minimum Requirements for CrazyTalk 6.0 (both versions):
My system set-up:
Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.
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