Free Version of Unity3D Facial Animation Plugin Now Available

clock February 7, 2016 22:49 by author EliciaT

 

Today’s 3D animators are constantly under pressure to create high-quality models and animations in shorter periods of time. When it comes to 3D facial animations, it is extremely difficult to capture real-life expressions by using traditional animation techniques. The process may take months or years with teams of artists working together, and still, the expressions can turn out awkward and unrealistic. Luckily, there are a few emerging technologies that could help improve the creation process for 3D animators.

The new NaturalFront® 3D facial animation plugin for Unity is a very-easy-to-use solution that is vastly cutting down the time usually required to create complex 3D facial animation. The plugin allows animators to create realistic 3D facial models and their animation in seconds, without the need to rig, sculpt, or perform any other tedious tasks.

How does the plugin work?

The plugin is designed to work seamlessly with Unity3d Editor. Users simply need to upload a portrait of a model’s face and input a few settings. For the best results, the photo should be taken indoor using flashlight, and with the subject facing the camera. Once uploaded, users will be prompted to select certain points on the face to create a mesh. The plugin will then automatically generate a 3D model, with a few thousand vertices. More importantly, once created, the 3D model will instantly come with built-in 3D animation that includes abundance of different, real-life facial expressions, without your performing any conventional time-consuming tasks, such as rigging or creating morphing targets!

Why should you download it?

Using traditional 3D computer modeling and animation techniques, it may take an animator days, weeks or even years to complete high-resolution characters. Animators can significantly reduce the number of work hours that they dedicate to facial modeling animation through the tool, because it eliminates the need to rig, model, morph or keyframe.

With this Unity plugin, a model can be generated within a few seconds or minutes, depending on the processing speed of your computer. More importantly, animating expressions can be easily accomplished by only a few simple clicks.

With the Complete version of NaturalFront® 3D Facial Animation Unity Plugin soon to be available, animation and synchronizing with audio can be done super-fast and easily by our unique 1-Click Animation ™!

How can you download it for free?

Downloading the Unity plugin is simple, with a free option recently available. Animators have the opportunity to test out the facial animation tool at no-cost by downloading a free version here. Upload a photo, adjust the settings to fit your preferences, render your model in seconds, and start animating facial expressions in minutes. Essentially, you can kiss-goodbye to your old-fashion, time-consuming and costly techniques!

If you have questions about using the plugin or want to share your experiences using the tool, feel free to comment below. For more information about the tool, check out this tutorial video.



3 Predictions for the Animation Industry in 2016

clock January 19, 2016 15:48 by author EliciaT

 

Last year was a promising one for the animation industry. Animated film successes like Inside Out and The Peanuts Movie rejuvenated interest and demand for 3D animation. Furthermore, innovators made big leaps with 3D animation technologies. What can we expect to see in the animation industry in 2016?

Top animation companies will see box office and stock gains.

Stocks rose 10 percent last year for top media companies Dreamworks, Hasbro and Disney. Dreamworks successfully released Home, with $400 million in sales, while Disney broke records with Inside Out and Star Wars:The Force Awakens. Their improved performance could signal a promising start for animated endeavors in 2016.

There is an exciting lineup of films planned for all three companies in the next several years. Plus, partnerships with other brands suggests a positive outlook for the animation industry. Dreamworks recently announced that they are expanding their deal with Netflix with more original animated series and streaming in more than 130 countries. Towards the end of 2015, Hasbro also announced a partnership with Paramount Pictures to create films based on their iconic characters like G.I. Joe.

 

The bar for facial animation will be raised.

In 2016, you can expect facial animation and technologies to be even more sophisticated. Facial animation has long been one of the greatest challenges for 3D animators. However, in recent years animation technologies have focused on improving the process.

Last year, media corporations invested in technologies that improve the quality of facial animation, raising the bar for animated productions. Also, software like Naturalfront is making it easier for animators to create realistic, accurate facial expressions in a very small fraction of the time that it would have taken a few years ago.

Video game industry will experiment more with mobile devices.

Mobile devices have infiltrated almost every aspect of our lives. In fact, the number of mobile devices now exceeds the number of people on Earth. They are becoming commonplace in workplaces, schools, stores, and dozens of other places. It was only a matter of time before they started to significantly impact the video gaming industry too.

Simple games have long been a staple of mobile app stores. However, hardcore video games have yet to truly find a place on mobile devices. This year, that could change. Consoles will likely still remain relevant for years, but companies will start to explore mobile platforms as the demand continues to grow.

According to a 2015 study by Mintel, over half of Americans now play video games on mobile devices. Another study by the NPD Group found that 63 percent of children ages 2 to 17 preferred to play games on a smartphone or tablet. With growing demand, game companies can’t afford to ignore possibilities for mobile expansion.

This year will be an exciting one for animators and the animation industry. As new technologies push boundaries and films continue to draw crowds at the box office, it will be interesting to watch what 2016 holds for animation. What predictions do you have for the animation industry in 2016?






New Year’s Resolutions for Animators

clock December 17, 2015 17:52 by author EliciaT

 

 

As the holidays wind down, many are taking a look back at 2015 and creating their New Year’s resolutions for 2016. For animators that are often busy with projects during the year, it is crucial to use this time to reflect and refresh. Below are some resolutions for animators to consider when making their lists.

Refresh your animation reel.

During the year, animators are often too immersed in work and projects to focus on their own goals and initiatives. This also includes devoting the time to polish their demo reel. However, it is the biggest aspect that employers consider when selecting talented job candidates.

The end of a year is a great time to look back on your work and see how much it has progressed. This makes it an opportune time to review your animation reel and refresh it with your best work from the year. Some reel tips to use when polishing your reel is to keep it short, put the best work first to entice viewers to continue watching, and ensure that you have full permission to show the content.

Explore new animation tools.

Every year it seems like there is a new, innovative animation tool that promises to make animators’ work easier, faster, and more impressive. With so many tools being produced, it is difficult to decide which ones are the most effective and beneficial.

However, if a tool can help animators complete their work in record time while maintaining or improving the quality, it is worth it. For example, 3D facial animation has long been a challenge for computer animators to master. In recent years, facial animation software like NaturalFront’s Intuitive Pro has helped to simplify and improve the process.

In 2016, devoting a few minutes or hours to exploring animation technologies can save you hundreds of work hours and frustration in the long-term.

Go to more animation events.

One of the most influential factors to succeed in any industry is to build your network. Events are one of the best places to meet like-minded animation professionals, share ideas and collaborate on projects.

Attending both international and local events presents several benefits for animators. Local events can help you establish a foothold in your community and open up more opportunities to work and collaborate in the area that you live. International events can open up other doors of opportunity, inspire creative ideas, and introduce you to the latest in animation technologies and trends from around the world. Some of the most renowned international events include: E3 Expo, MIA Animation, Siggraph, and Animex.

In the middle of projects and the busyness of the holidays, reflecting back on your own accomplishments and preparing for the next year may seem impossible to do. But, doing so will ultimately make you feel more prepared and excited for the new year. What are some of your New Year’s resolutions for 2016?



Best 3D Animations of 2015

clock December 9, 2015 21:11 by author EliciaT

Each year, talented 3D animators release their newest creations. This year there have been several fantastic 3D animations released. However, a few films stick out more than the rest. Below, we have compiled a list of the best 3D animations of 2015.

The Little Prince

The film, based on the well-known children’s book by the same title, uses a mixture of computer and stop-motion animation. The characters, lighting and style of animation are reminiscent of  Antoine de Saint-Exupery's illustrated novella. However, the main reason the film makes this list of top animations is its unusual and captivating use of color.

The film has become an international success at the box office. According to the latest report, it has sold over 12.5 million tickets at the international box office, becoming the biggest animated release for French filmmakers.

Inside Out

 

Inside Out follows the story of a girl named Riley as she deals with the typical struggles associated with growing up. It portrays her emotions━fear, anger, joy, disgust, and sadness━ in the form of 3D animated characters.

The film’s creators worked directly with renowned psychologist Paul Eckman to understand and capture the complex facial expressions. Eckam is responsible for creating the mathematical-based Facial Action Coding System that influences several animators when creating facial animations.

The Pixar produced film has received critical acclaim from a number of organizations. It recently received the 2015 New York Film Critics Circle Award for best animated feature, and has been dubbed as a possible Academy Award contender.

Peanuts Movie

The Peanuts Movie from Blue Sky Studios is arguably one of the greatest animated features of the year. Bringing famous 2D characters and stories into the world of 3D animation is a difficult challenge for the most talented animators to tackle.

However, the film’s animators worked diligently to create the 3D film, while preserving its 2D roots. Creators studied the comic strips to guide them in their work. The facial animation was especially tricky, with animators using new rigging techniques, which they called UVN transformation, that allowed the eyebrows and eyes to slide around the face.

In the end, their hard work paid off. The film manages to capture the essence of the original 2D Charlie Brown comic strip world using 3D computer animation technology.

The Good Dinosaur

 

The Good Dinosaur is another 3D animated film released by Pixar this year. The film’s major feat is its hyper-realistic world. The animators used real-life resource material to create the breathtaking settings. They studied United States Geological Survey (USGS) data and other footage of environments and weather to create the scenes.

The film’s team of creators researched heavily to develop the artwork. The animation tends to outshine the story, but has given it recognition as one of the most beautiful creations of 2015. The film was recently named as a nominee for best animated feature in the 43rd Annie Awards.

The year has produced some shining examples of well-crafted and beautiful computer animations. As we anticipate next year’s releases, what 3D animations of 2015 do you think should be added to the list?






Why Motion Capture Isn’t The Best Choice for Your 3D Business

clock November 9, 2015 07:31 by author EliciaT

 

Even the greatest 3D animators struggle with mastering realistic facial animations. This is because the complex muscle system that controls numerous, subtle facial expressions is hard to capture using traditional 3D animation methods.  

Methods like rigging and morphing are often time-consuming and inefficient. As a result, some animators have tried to use motion capture, also called mocap. Motion capture for facial animation uses a system of wires, cameras, and sensors to capture the motions of real people and transfer them onto a 3D character model.

Major, renowned 3D animated productions like Avatar and characters like Gollum from Lord of the Rings were created using motion capture technology. Furthermore, the technique has transformed computer animation, primarily by making it possible to transfer human emotions onto a 3D character. However, motion capture has its own set of challenges and is not suitable for every situation.  

Why Isn’t Motion Capture The Best Choice?

There is a reason that major films have used motion capture in their animation process━they have huge budgets. To accomplish the highest quality, accurate video footage, it usually requires many cameras and an environment conducive to collecting motion data. The well-known 3D characters created by motion capture were made possible in a studio, fully equipped with hundreds of expensive, high resolution cameras.

The total setup and hardware costs can range from $200,000 to a million dollars. Animators can try to minimize the costs of motion capture by using cheaper and fewer cameras, however, the price is still high and the results can be lackluster.  

Furthermore, motion capture may make it easier by automating the process of transferring video of human movements into a 3D animation. However, it does not mean the entire process is automated. In order to make the animation flow smoothly, it still requires skilled 3D animators to manually clean up the animation. For animators that want high quality 3D animations while minimizing the cost and work time, there is another option━Curve Controlled Modelling.

What is Curve Controlled Modeling?

Screenshot (40).png

Curve Controlled Modeling or CCM is a type of 3D animation that is completely software based, meaning that it doesn’t require the expensive hardware costs of motion capture. It uses a tool called NURBs or Non-uniform rational B-spline curve to simulate the movement of muscles, making it ideal for facial animation.

NURBs curves are equations that allow animation software programs to animate the muscles of a 3D object. This allows for astonishingly complex movements to be generated very quickly, which is crucial to successfully animate facial muscles.

With CCM, all you need is a software program, and the knowledge of how to use it. It is relatively easy to get both of these things, while it usually more difficult to obtain the tools to correctly use motion capture. With the complex and feature rich software that is available on the market for CCM animation, you’ll be able to animate complex facial muscles without spending an arm and a leg on hardware and studio space.



Why Morphing Isn’t the Best Solution for 3D Facial Animation

clock October 30, 2015 10:35 by author EliciaT

 

For 3D facial animation, animators sometimes use morphing targets. Morphing is a common 3D animation technique that creates movement by blending together a number of poses, called blend shapes. The method is usually more suitable for facial animations than methods like 3D rigging. However, there are some distinct drawbacks that animators face when using 3D morphing for facial animations.

 

Why is 3D Morphing Not the Best Choice for Facial Animation?

Years ago, morphing 3D facial animations may have been considered the norm. The technique can be used to create animations that are large-scale and simple. For more complex tasks like animating realistic character facial expressions, there are several challenges

For instance, when using morphing, animators must manually create and manage the poses, or targets, to be blended together. Because of this, early 3D video games that used morphing produced slightly shaky or jittery movement between poses.

In order to produce smooth and fluid animations, animators need to create hundreds of these targets. It is possible to create smooth animations with 3D morphing, however, it is an extremely time-consuming and challenging process.

With the high-demand of the realism in 3D facial animation, animators are sometimes forced to create more and more morphing targets. At this point, your targets are getting like workers constructing the Biblical Tower of Babel, with your 3D facial animation projects becoming more and more akin to the doomed tower.

Luckily, animators have more efficient options to choose from thanks to advancements in technology. One of the most efficient alternatives is Curve Controlled Modeling (CCM).

What is Curve Controlled Modeling?

natural front unity.png

Curve Controlled Modeling (CCM) is a 3D animation process that uses calculations to simulate the movement of underlying muscles. It is designed specifically to control objects that have a multitude of movement positions. Based on a clever analogy that was recently discovered, CCM uses equations to calculate and display the position of each muscle in the face, as well as their interaction. Each vertex of your 3D model is controlled individually by these equations in real-time. In other words, while using NaturalFront software, CCM completely eliminates the time and effort required to create morphing targets. 

As animation for video games and other media becomes more realistic and precise, the need to improve the process grows. In a short amount of time, animators are pressured to create 3D animations that are life-like. Using CCM can help animators produce impressive facial animations substantially faster and cheaper than ever before.

 

 



Why Rigging Is Bad For 3D Facial Animation - revisited

clock October 23, 2015 13:54 by author EliciaT

 

 

Animating realistic facial expressions in 3D is one of the most difficult tasks for animators to accomplish. Unlike the rest of the body, movement of the face isn’t controlled by a simple hierarchy system of joints and bones. Instead, dozens of complex muscle movements control facial expressions.

Furthermore, facial movements are subtle. A slight change in the position of the eyebrows or mouth can completely alter an expression--and the meaning we attribute to it.

For example, a smile may seem like a simple expression to capture. However, there are many different types of smiles, each with their own significance. In fact, psychologists at the University of California at San Francisco once mapped and studied over 3,000 facial expressions. 

Facial animation is challenging, because of the variety of expressions and the complex system of muscles that work together to create each one. Therefore, some of the traditional methods that animators use to control body motions simply are not suitable for facial animation.

What Happens When You Use 3D Rigging For Facial Animation

One of the common methods that animators use is 3D rigging. The way 3D rigging works is by constructing and attaching simulated bones and joints to a character model.

In many situations, 3D rigging is one of the most useful tools in an animator’s tool bag. It is useful when moving limbs and other body parts that rely on a hierarchy system.

However, for facial expressions, 3D rigging is often very time-consuming and inefficient. Animators first need to construct a rig that is based on a loose idea of the locations of muscle tissues. Then, they must make a guess (remember your last visit to a casino?) as to how those muscles move to create various emotions. The whole process can take weeks or months and can result in inaccurate and unrealistic facial expressions. How can the current animation process be improved?

Curve Controlled Modeling

 

An innovative technology called Curve Controlled Modeling (CCM) is here to substantially improve the facial animation process.

What is Curve Controlled Modeling?

Curve Controlled Modeling (CCM) is a newly developed technology that is designed specifically for animating complex muscle movements. It utilizes a modeling tool called NURBs or Non-uniform rational B-spline Curve.

If the history of technology development is one of your favorite subjects, you might recall that some of the most important advancements are based on finding and using analogies. For example, the Theory of Gravity is based on the analogy between a falling apple and orbiting Moon. The Theory of Relativity is based on the analogy between on-the-earth standstill and out-of-this-world speed-up. Curve Controlled Modeling is also based on a powerful analogy that was recently discovered (can you guess analogy of what). How can this analogy help you? It can help you complete complex 3D facial animation much more quickly and at a much lower cost than traditional approaches. Once again, the Moon is not going around for nothing. 

Rigging animated models is still an important part of the 3D animation process. However, when it comes to facial animation, it is certainly not the most efficient option. Curve Controlled Modeling can help animators complete life-like facial animations while eliminating rigging time and formidable costs associated with them. To learn more about CCM technology, view our videos here.







 



Peanuts 3D Animated Movie is in the Can

clock September 10, 2015 15:59 by author christpaul

Possibly the most anticipated 3D animation movie in the coming years is the new Peanuts film. This is, of course, based on the iconic comic strip held very dearly in the hearts of many fans across the world. 

Peanuts is particularly poignant as it ran for several decades in publications all over the world, and was then promptly finished when its iconic writer, Charles M. Schulz, became too unwell to continue producing the strip. In the final edition of Peanuts, Schultz wrote of his illness and how proud and honoured he had been to produce the comic strip over many years.

So the new 3D animated version of Peanuts certainly has a challenge on its hands. To reproduce the vision and artistic achievement of Schulz in a 3D animated form will certainly be difficult to achieve, and the animators also need to satisfy a demanding audience that their product is truly authentic. This will be the first ever Peanuts products of any kind that has not involved its lauded creator and this naturally puts massive pressure on the animation studio.

Thus, team members at the Ice Age animation studio Blue Sky Studios were both excited and nervous when they were tasked with turning the iconic Charles M. Schulz Peanuts comic strip into a 3D motion picture, The Peanuts Movie, which opens November 6. There is a lot of anticipation regarding this new 3D animated movie, but at the same time it is hard to escape the feeling that the knives could be out for The Peanuts Movie if it fails to deliver the sort of authentic experience that fans will unquestionably desire and expect.

Speaking Thursday at CGI confab Siggraph, the team behind the film spoke before a clearly enthusiastic crowd of animation fans as it described how it translated Schulz’s subtle dots and pen lines — some of the world's most recognizable comic strip images — into the upcoming feature. Clearly this has been a labour of love, and the animation studio is all too aware of the faithfulness that it needs to show to the original comic strip.

However, animation supervisor Scott Carroll is confident about the work his team have done. Carroll summed up the effort that the team have made for The Peanuts Movie thus: “Our big lesson that we took away from this: If you have faith in your creative team, you can take on big risks.”

With just three months to wait until Peanuts is finally sprung upon an expectant audience, it'll be fascinating to see whether the animation studio has achieved the success that it is unquestionably hoping for.



Harry Potter 3D Animation Being Prepared for Release

clock September 3, 2015 14:02 by author christpaul

When the media reported recently that Harry Potter was about to appear in a new movie incarnation, fans of the hugely successful book series were extremely excited about the prospect. Harry Potter has been one of the success stories of the publishing industry in recent years, and the series of movies sponsored by the character of also proved to be hugely popular.

The Harry Potter movie in question confirmed this suspicion of analysts, who expected a new release in the series in the foreseeable future. But the movie in question has also confounded the expectations of both critics and fans alike, as the movie in question is set to be a feature length 3D animation.

"Troll: The Rise of Harry Potter Jr." will be produced by SC Films International, and it is reported that the animation process is already well under way for this film. However, considering that canonical material from the Harry Potter universe is now in rather short supply, it is notable that the Harry Potter in this story is not actually the original character. This Harry Potter and his son, Harry Potter Jr. are characters from the 1986 film, "Troll," a movie that came out years before the renowned author released her book about the Boy Who Lived. 

So this Harry Potter picture has certainly confounded the community of fans, but it will be interesting to see whether it gains traction with traditional Potter followers. The story of "Troll" revolves around Torok, a wizard turned troll who wanted his old life back. In order to do that, he possesses Wendy Potter, a young girl who recently moved into a new apartment complex in San Francisco. The studio working on the movie states that it will be a very advanced 3D animation when it is released, and it will be interesting to see whether they can deliver on this promise.

With Harry Potter having made billions of dollars at the box office, the opportunity to promote this new animated movie will certainly be exciting for the studio. The fact that it effectively comes from a completely different universe could suggest that this animation will fail to attract the sort of audience that Harry Potter material typically takes for granted. Additionally, although "Troll" did quite well in the box office, it was generally panned by critics. So it will be a challenge to repeat the success of the live-action Harry Potter films. 

There are reports that Academy Award winning actress, Patricia Arquette, will be voicing the evil witch while Baxter Bartlett is being considered to voice the young Harry Potter Jr. This could being an animated movie to look out for in the next couple of years.



Adult Themes and Developing Economies to Dominate 3D Animation Future

clock August 30, 2015 15:47 by author christpaul

With 3D animation becoming such a mainstream niche, the motto of the industry could perhaps be “go where no-one has gone before”. This old adage from the Star Trek universe indicates the importance of innovating in 3D animation in the contemporary landscape. Animation has gone beyond our imagination, featuring not just cartoon characters, but increasingly human emotions. With robots and monsters, talking animals, dancing toys, aliens taking human form and humans performing super-human acts, animation has opened up a completely new world of imagery and fantasy.

Considering the increasingly realistic animations that are possible with 3D animation, it is hardly surprising that major animation studios and producers are still developing this technology. While companies such as Walt Disney made their reputations with films that were ostensibly aimed at children, today it is possible to produce animations targeting a much more adult audience. Equally, it is common for contemporary Disney films to attempt to be all things to all people, and attract an audience of both children and adults with multi-faceted, multi-level narratives and scripts.

 

Equally, animation studios are realising the importance of diversity and plurality in producing modern 3D animations. Although this has unquestionably been a US-dominated industry up until now, it is also equally certain that 3D animation is beginning to diversify as the 21st century unfolds. Rapidly industrialising countries in the so-called developing world have got on board with 3D animation, and thus there are a wide range of major animation studios now located in countries such as India.

Major animation studios and producers from all over the world like Walt Disney, Imax and Sony are increasingly outsourcing cartoon characters and special effects to India, along with commercials and video games. Avataar, The Lion King, Finding Nemo and The Adventures of Tenali Raman are some of the animation films with Indian expertise that have received rave international reviews.

The propensity of animation studios to both innovate and locate work outside of the traditional Western world indicates that this industry still has a huge amount of developing to do. It is extremely difficult to predict the future of 3D animation, not least because it has always been based on technological innovation and development.

But what can be said with some confidence is that these two trends of more adult 3D animations and an increasing participation from developing economies and newly industrialising countries will be important in the future. These two tendencies should contribute to a highly exciting industry going forward.



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