A few months ago Reallusion released version 4.5 of CrazyTalk. If you attended SIGGRAPH you may have had the chance to play with it, but if you didn't and you are a CrazyTalk fan, this article might interest you. If you don't know what CrazyTalk is, you may also read on so you know more about it.
CrazyTalk is a very simple software that lets you create "animated talking avatars". It ships with some premade models you can use for your own projects but you can also create your own from any photo that may be lying around in your hard drive. The only thing you need to keep in mind is that CrazyTalk yields the best results if the faces are facing the camera, or slightly rotated (you can't make your avatar out of a profile face). These avatars can be used for greeting cards, websites, videos, or anything you want.
The first step is to load the picture you want to use. You have "setup zones" that you use to define your character's features so crazy talk knows the location of the mouth, the eyes, and so on. There are 3 fitting settings for your face. The higher the level, the more control points you have to better outline your character's features (the image above shows level two). You can also change your avatar's background for anything else if you want. In the end you will end up with a fully animatable face.
Sometimes you are using characters with closed lips. This can pose a problem because when they open their mouth, they have no teeth. This is not a problem at all for CrazyTalk, though, since it offers the ability to add virtual teeth and even eyes to your avatars. Teeth can be considered more like a necessary aesthetic feature, but the eye replacement is very useful if you want to animate your character's line of sight.
The next step is to import your audio. You can either open a WAV file or record your voice directly within CrazyTalk. If you have "text-to-speech" drivers you can also use those. I tried the latter option, but it didn't work quite well for me since the text I was testing was in spanish. English text should not be a problem, though.
After CrazyTalk has analyzed your audio, it will animate your character to make it talk according to that audio. If you feel like taking your animation to the next level, you can dive into the Timeline and keyframe animate facial expressions, head rotations, and eye movement. CrazyTalk includes a very large facial expression library so you can easily make your character go from angry to sad and then happy with a few mouse clicks. By doing this you can be sure that your character's face will actually reflect the emotions in your audio file.
In the timeline you can also add animated effects to make the final animation even better. For example, if you are sending an animated love letter you can add cupids flying around, or if you are sad you can add a rainy cloud. The best thing is that adding these effects is just as simple as adding the facial emotions. The resulting animation can be exported in a wide variety of formats depending on what you want to do with it.
The only thing that I found confusing at first is the fact that I didn't find a way to actually "save" my projects. In CrazyTalk you save your custom models to the Models library and the animations in your Scripts library. Although I thought that was not so convenient since we are all used to the "save project" and "load project" methods, I figured this offered easy access to all your data.
Something I would like to see in the future is the ability to exchange data with major 3D packages. You can exchange data between CrazyTalk and iClone, but what if you were able to export the facial animation (or facial rig) from CrazyTalk to Maya or MAX. It would be cool if you could make the facial animation in CrazyTalk and then export it to your 3D character in Maya using the FBX format (actually iClone Studio Pro will be able to exchange data with Maya via the FBX format). After all what matters is the result, not how you got there, and that would really save us animators a lot of time and work.
I had never used CrazyTalk before, so I can't talk about what's new in CrazyTalk 4.5, nor I can tell you what features may have been missing. However, I can share my impressions on the software. CrazyTalk, as well as iClone, is designed to bring the animation to the non-professional users. If you were to do the same in Maya, for example, you'd have to model your face, sculpt your facial expressions, and then keyframe animate your mouth and expressions. This would translate into days or weeks of work. CrazyTalk lets you get results easily without going through the technical side of things. If you want an easy way to create animated avatars, you may find CrazyTalk to be the right choice.
For more information, visit the Reallusion website.
Do you iClone? Be sure to check out this iClone movie made by real-life magician, Steve Draun.
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Animation Alley is a regular featured column with Renderosity Staff Columnist Sergio Rosa [nemirc]. Sergio discusses on computer graphics software, animation techniques, and technology. He also hosts interviews with professionals in the animation and cinematography fields.
October 16, 2006