Reallusion's CrazyTalk Animator PRO in Review

Product Review: CrazyTalk Animator PRO

"CrazyTalk Animator is the next major leap after CrazyTalk6. Before, the CrazyTalk product line was initially focused on talking head animation. In this new generation of CrazyTalk, you can not only animate a character's face, but also do full-body animation with enhanced bone-based fitting technology in the unique puppeteering engine. CrazyTalk Animator is a revolutionary animation suite with 3D layering mechanics and drag-n-drop multi-media compatibility that allows you to import your characters and props directly from photo "
-Reallusion.com product page

Major advances in computer graphics over the last decade have given the animator tools to create remarkable 2D and 3D films, commercials and motion graphics. It's also narrowed the gap between the amateur and professional user. All kinds of people want to create quality animation, but don't have the time (or the money) to invest in high-end 2D/3D packages that cost thousands of dollars. Dozens of companies have sprung up over the last few years with software that attempts to satisfy this growing amateur/pro market. But not all of them have been able to deliver on their marketing promises. One company that has consistently delivered programs that are not only easy to use, but have pro-level features, is Reallusion. Their recent December, 2010 release of CrazyTalk Animator (an update from CrazyTalk 6) is a great example of a full-featured program at a great price.

I've used Reallusion's original CrazyTalk program for several years now and have always felt it was one of the best photo/image morphing applications around. Initially, it was a a program that allowed you to animate heads and faces using a mesh-based approach to animation, along with very good lipsync capabilities. After 6 versions of that program, which focused on refining the facial animation process, including adding "real time" puppeteering, Reallusion has completely re-worked CrazyTalk into a full-scale animation program rivaling applications like Toon Boom and Anime Studio Pro. Their release of CrazyTalk Animator is a milestone in the development of an already excellent program. It's a whole new ballgame, which is probably why the "Animator" has now been added to the original CrazyTalk name.

Let's take a look at how Reallusion has re-imagined CrazyTalk, and then consider how the new version of the program makes it easy to create a variety of high-quality animation styles. Note that CrazyTalk Animator comes in two flavors: the Standard and PRO versions. I'll be reviewing the PRO version here. The Standard version of the program is primarily designed for the beginner and casual user. The PRO version is for more serious animators who need more features.


GUI of CrazyTalk Animator Pro

New in CrazyTalk Animator PRO

  • Drag-n-drop Super Media & Animation Platform - The major change is that now you can animate full body characters, in addition to facial animation and lip sync. Moreover, with the "super media" approach, CrazyTalk Animator allows you to drag-n-drop just about any media, including images, videos, flash and sprite videos right on to the animation stage. The user now has a complete animation editing environment for actor, scene, animation and sfx, along with a special library for each element. Essentially, the program is a complete animation editing environment for 2D animation.
  • Two Editing Engines – There's a Composer Mode for your character and prop set ups and you have the Stage Mode for animation editing. You also have an in-screen Object Editing Gizmo and Navigation toolsets all laid out simply and intuitively.
  • Real Z-depth Layering & 3D View Object Management - All scene elements can be arranged on a Z-depth layer inside of the preview window. CTA allows you to switch between perspective and orthographic views, and there is a full scene manager that lets you track and control every element of your scene.
  • Advanced Timeline & Keyframe Editing (PRO Version Only) – One of the most impressive improvements in CrazyTalk Animator is in the new Timeline. Motion layering, 16 tracks of body part animation control, extend/loop/group clips together using copy/paste/move keys, separate facial motion tracks, and dockable timeline placement are only a few of the excellent new additions to the timeline which will make using the program even easier.
  • Real-Time Puppeteering – The real-time feature has expanded from facial animation to the entire body in CrazyTalk Animator. You can also control the speed and exaggeration of the motions and save just about any combination you create.
  • Sprite-based Animation System – Sprites, which are graphic objects that can move independently of the background/other objects, allow the user to animation different faces or body parts either in real-time or using keys.

The full list of "what's new" in CrazyTalk Animator PRO is too large for this review, so I've only covered the highlights here. For a full list of new features, see this link.


Facial puppeteering in CTA Pro

Performance

Working with CrazyTalk Animator is really a lot of fun. Although the interface has changed quite a bit to allow for the new animation system, anyone who has used an earlier version of CrazyTalk will feel right at home, and beginners will be creating animation in minutes - it's that simple.

Basically, the user can choose to create two types of animation: morph-based and sprite-based. The morph-based animation consists of photos, scanned images (you can easily take a photo of yourself and bring it into the program as a character) or raster images. You then take the photo, or drawing, and through a helpful wizard create bones for the character, which you then shape and distort to create motion and expressions. Head and facial morphing is a bit more complex for beginners, but the range of tools you have to create unique faces and features is really neat.

Sprite-based animation is different (similar to flash animation) in that you use raster images and replacement animation to create movement and lip-sync. The addition of the z-buffer and 3D viewer makes setting up this kind of animation easy. Plus, the 3D camera can create some amazing imagery/animation with all kinds of depth to them.

Both types of animation can be either key-framed or real-time, too. There is a large content library that lets you get started quickly. And Reallusion has extra content packs that can be purchased separately, including props, backgrounds, facial features, etc. In my experience, their content packs are always well done and relatively inexpensive.


Full-body bone rigging with CTA Pro

Animating with CrazyTalk Animator PRO 1.1 is an enjoyable and creative experience. I found that once I got the hang of how workflow is handled, I was importing images and animating very quickly and the time just flew by. I enjoyed the original CrazyTalk very much, but this is an entirely new program, one that is far more powerful and allows for much more creative expression by the user (either pro or hobbyist). And what's particularly impressive, is that Reallusion really hasn't made this powerful 2D animation program any more difficult to use or understand. Considering the massive amount of coding involved in this new version, that's no easy task.

The documentation for CrazyTalk Animator PRO (and the Standard version) is excellent, with a full manual and lots of well-produced tutorials at the Reallusion.com site. The forums there are also well managed and attention is paid to advanced, as well as new users.

After having fun all week with this very cool program, I think that Reallusion has hit a home run with CrazyTalk Animator. I don't know of any other program in it's price range that has as many features and is as easy to use. I mean, you can even export your work in 3D!

As part of it's 10-year anniversary, Reallusion has the Standard version on sale for $37.46 (USD); the PRO version is also on sale at $134.96 (USD), and upgrades are reasonably priced (there's an education version available, too).


Advanced timeline in CTA Pro

CrazyTalk Animator Standard is a perfect entry program for those who want to start learning animation, and the PRO version is very well suited to more advanced users who want to benefit from the great price and range of features. Download the trial software and see what's so cool about this program. You won't regret it.

Notes

Full system requirements are listed here. Unfortunately, there is no Mac or Linux version of the program at present. Something I hope Reallusion will consider for future versions of the program. I use a mid-range quad-core PC running Windows 7 and the program smokes, so most users should be fine.

I'd like to thank Reallusion, and in particular, Bill Lessard (personne adroit), for providing CrazyTalk Animator PRO for review.


CrazyTalk Animator Pro: New Features

For more information, please visit:


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.
March 21, 2011

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