When we see today’s absorbing animated movies on the big screen, it is often taken for granted the complex processes which are utilised in order to produce them. In addition, with regard to facial animation, most people are unaware of the technological heritage which has been required to develop the techniques which are generally utilised in 3D facial animation today.
The father of facial animation could be said to be Frederic Ira Parke. The seventy year-old, who currently still teaches at Texas A&M University in the Visualization Sciences program, graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in physics in 1965. Little did his classmates know that he was to produce work which would ultimately revolutionise the movie industry.
After receiving his Masters and PhD, Parke was the creator of the first CG physically modelled human face. Pretty much all modern facial animations are based on his pioneering work.
As the years went by, other theoreticians built on Parke’s work. Later, in their 1981 paper, Platt and Badler described how to construct expressions using a muscle-based facial model. Their work used the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), a model from psychology, to determine which muscles needed to be activated within the underlying model in order to produce the appropriate facial responses.
It is probably rarely considered by non-animators just how complex facial animation is, and of course this become even more complicated when dealing with three-dimensions. Every single word that is spoken, every single facial expression, has to be modelled accurately, or else audiences will instantly reject the character.
It was only in the 1990s that some of the technicalities behind facial animation began to be fully understood. At this time, Cohen and Massaro produced a lip-sync system using a parametric model and studied it in the context of speech perception. They later extended the model to include a tongue and to model coarticulation effects. This involved breaking down very similar human words and then documenting painstakingly the differing movements required to say them.
However, by this time facial animation had already established itself as part of the mainstream artistic culture. In 1985, the short film ‘Tony de Peltrie’ marked the first time computer facial animation played an important role in telling a story. At that time, facial expressions were produced by photographing an actor with a control grid on his face, with points then matched to a clay modelled face. It is perhaps unsurprising that Pixar were also one of the early pioneers of facial animation, when the short ‘Tin Toy’ (1988) was the first computer-animated film to win an Oscar.
Thus, the development of facial animation has taken much effort and industry. Which is why we at Natural Front want to help make the animation process as simple as possible, and why we developed curved-controlled modelling to help you out.