The Most Anticipated 3D Animated Films of 2016

clock April 14, 2016 22:05 by author EliciaT

Looking at this year’s lineup of animated films, there are a number of promising titles. However, a few of the 2016 animated releases stand out from the rest. Here’s a list of the top 3D animated films to look forward to this year.

Kung Fu Panda 3

The DreamWorks Animation film is the third featuring the cuddly, karate-chopping panda Po, voiced by Jack Black. As the third installment, Kung Fu Panda 3 faces the challenge of not falling into the category of just another mediocre movie, trailing behind the success of its predecessors. However, this movie stood on its own, as creators animated it in two languages━English and Mandarin.

The storyline is not bad either. Po finally meets his biological father and visits his village with other pandas, which he must help save by training them in the art of kung fu. It is playing in theaters right now.

Zootopia

Zootopia is a 3D computer animated film by Disney’s Pixar Studios. The film takes place in a city of anthropomorphic animals. The main characters are a rabbit police officer and a con artist fox working together to find an otter that is missing. On the surface, it may sound like a simple, comedic animated flick about animals living in the big city. However, the film touches on real-world issues, such as intolerance and racism.

The animation is impressive too. Animators wanted to make sure every detail in the film was just right, specifically when it came to the fur. They studied animal hair under a microscope to aid in their animation and created unique hair types for each of the 64 animals featured in the film.

The film has surpassed expectations━it currently has a 98 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, has smashed box office records and has received widespread critical and audience praise. So far, it is the highest grossing film of the year.

The Angry Birds Movie

If you are a fan of the popular Angry Birds game, you’re probably already looking forward to the release of the animated movie. The Finnish game developer partnered with Sony Pictures to create the feature-length film. In it, the birds have more depth and story than in the game. Red, Chuck and Bomb are the three main birds that are on a mission to figure out why green pigs have invaded their island. Angry Birds fans can watch the film when it is released in May.

Finding Dory

In the 2003 animated film Finding Nemo, audiences fell in love with the lovable but forgetful Dory. This year, the film is finally getting a sequel in Finding Dory, with Ellen DeGeneres returning as the voice of the blue tang fish. This time the story focuses on Dory, as she struggles to remember her family and loved ones and embarks on a journey to find them. Along the way, she is helped by her fish friends, Hank the octopus, Destiny the whale shark and others. Marlin and Nemo make an appearance too.

However, the release of Finding Dory isn’t just exciting because it is the long-awaited sequel to Finding Nemo. Filmmakers also put a lot of work into it, experimenting with new animation software and techniques in order to create it. For example, animators used Renderman RIS and path tracing techniques to create more enhanced lighting effects in the water. The film opens up in theaters in June.

Moana

Another animated movie by Disney, Moana is about a girl in Oceania, who embarks on a journey at sea to get to an island━that may or may not exist. Many are looking forward to the new movie, since it is the first to feature a Polynesian princess. Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, is the voice of the demi-god Maui, while Moana is voiced by Auli'i Cravalho, a 14-year old native Hawaiian. The film is being directed by Ron Clements and John Musker (The Princess and the Frog) and will be their first time directing a full feature 3D computer animated film. You can check it out in theaters in late November.

 

This year, animation fans have a lot to look forward to. From animals dealing with relatable problems to cultural firsts, 2016 seems to be a promising year in animation. What animated flicks are you excited for this year?






Top Contests for 3D Animators

clock March 27, 2016 18:32 by author EliciaT

Participating in media arts and animation contests is one way to help animators share their work with others, get constructive feedback, improve their skills and maybe even make some extra cash along the way. However, there are hundreds of contests out there, some not worth the time or entrance fees. As animators time is extremely valuable, so we have picked out some of the top contests that are worth checking out.

Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film

The Stuttgart competition is one of the biggest and most renowned animation events in the world. The competition runs in conjunction with the international film festival, which lasts for about six days and nights and brings animation companies and leaders from every corner of the globe. The festival doesn’t only focus on animated films either. It also has a category dedicated to computer games.

The festival takes place April 26 to May 1, 2016. Winners may have their productions showcased at the event and win a lump sum of cash.

Animation Block Party

 

If you are a young animator looking to get recognition on the east coast of the United States, then Animation Block Party could be the contest for you. The contest is international but has an entrance fee between $25 and $45, depending on when you register. The prizes aren’t as grand as some of the other contests on the list, but winners have a chance to share their media with a crowd in Brooklyn. The last day to submit your animations is June 3, 2016.

Nickelodeon Shorts Program

 

The TV network channel Nickelodeon has an annual international animation competition. The competition accepts ideas for programs and shorts that would be targeted to young kids. For animators that are in the early stages of a production, this contest may be more feasible. In order to submit their ideas, applicants must have strong visuals, which can be in the form of storyboards.

Winners receive production and development support to transform their pitches into animated shorts that may be aired on the Nick TV channel, website or mobile app. Interested applicants can view last year’s winners here. Submission is free and the deadline is April 15th.

Melbourne International Animation Festival

 

The annual festival in Australia has grown significantly since it first launched in 2001. It brings guests and entrants from all over the globe. If selected, winners are considered for other festivals like London, Sydney and New Zealand International Film Festival. The submission deadline has passed, but the festival takes place between June 21-28. 

Animayo

 

Resumen Animayo 2015 from ANIMAYO on Vimeo.

Animayo is an international festival and competition that includes animated films, video games and visual effects. It is held in different locations around the world, such as Los Angeles, Gran Canaria, Madrid and Mumbai. The application is free and winners may have their works promoted by the festival for up to five years after submission.

Animation can be a strenuous, time-consuming art form, so it is important to recognize when an individual’s hard work pays off. Participating in festivals and competitions gives animators recognition and opportunities to progress in the industry.

 



The Complete Version of the NaturalFront Unity Plugin

clock March 2, 2016 21:36 by author EliciaT

 

Earlier this month, we released the free version of the NaturalFront 3D Face Animation Unity Plugin. Now, the complete version is available to download in the Unity store. The full version gives users more freedom and offers a wide range of features that help make the animation process faster and smoother. Below are some of the main capabilities and how animators can use them in their Unity animations.

3D Avatar Creation Process

The Unity plugin revolutionizes the 3D facial animation process. Instead of spending days or weeks creating models manually, users can have a realistic, ready-to-animate facial model in seconds.

In order to generate a character with the plugin, first you need a quality headshot photo with a plain background. Upload the photo into the program, and it will prompt you to click key points on the face. Then, the program will generate a model that has around 1,000 vertices and a range of expressions, saving users hours of rigging and sculpting facial features. Creating an avatar usually takes between 15 seconds and 2 minutes with the plugin .

Synchronization and Animation

Accurate lip syncing is one of the hardest animation tasks to master. However, the Unity plugin simplifies and improves traditional lip syncing processes. After a model has been created, users can begin adding audio and synchronize it to the character’s mouth shapes and movements. Simply upload an audio file and select key points and expressions. Users can also playback the animation to ensure that the expressions and lip movements match up with the audio. Adjusting the lip sync can be done in just a few mouse clicks.

Fine Control

Some of the primary benefits that come with the complete version of the Unity plugin, are that animators have more choices and more freedom when it comes to animating facial expressions. For example, users have the ability to customize expressions by individually selecting different parts of the facial structure. This allows for animators to slightly tweak a facial animation and make it as accurate and realistic as possible.

With the complete version of the Unity plugin, animators can create facial models in seconds, synchronize audio and mouth movements, fine-tune expressions and much more. To learn more about the Unity plugin, you can watch the tutorial video that explains how to use it for facial animations. To download the Unity plugin, visit the app store here. To try the tool out first, animators can also download the free version with limited features here.





Which Animated Feature Film Will Win the 2016 Academy Award?

clock February 28, 2016 16:49 by author EliciaT

 

The Oscars show is this weekend, and everyone has their own opinions as to which nominees will take home awards. The animated feature film is one of the younger categories in the Oscars. It was established in 2001, with Shrek becoming the first winner. This year, the group of nominees is more diverse and unpredictable than many before.

There are nominees from different studios all over the world. Below are the nominations for this year’s animated feature category and winner predictions for Sunday night.

Anomalisa

Anomalisa is not your traditional animated film. For instance, it is the only R-rated movie in the category, making it one of the few animated movies that is intended for adult audiences. Although the story could be told in live-action, there is something to be said for the stop-motion. The characters were created using 3D printers in a style that is uniquely realistic.

Also, the film has some humble beginnings, in comparison to some of the other nominees. Writers Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson funded the project with a Kickstarter campaign and had additional support from the production studio Starburns Industries.

Shaun the Sheep Movie

From Aardman Animations, Shaun the Sheep may seem simple in comparison to its contenders. However, the film and its characters seem to be loved by both audiences and critics. The movie is inspired by the British TV series of the same name, and it follows the quirky misadventures of the charismatic sheep, Shaun. It has a 99 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and it highlights the best of the stop-motion animation style that has made Aardman famous.

Boy and the World

An unusual pick for the Academy, Boy and the World is a Brazilian released animated film that is devoid of dialogue. There are some intelligible noises from characters, but it relies almost  completely on the beautiful animations to tell the story.  If it were to win the Oscar, it would be a first for the South America region.

When Marnie Was There

When Marnie Was There, is said to be the last film that will be created by famed Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. The anime movie is based on the story of a girl that forms a strong relationship to her neighbor, who may or may not be a real person. It is the fifth film from Studio Ghibli to be nominated for an award, and would make the second win if chosen.

Inside Out

Inside Out is a 3D animated film from Disney’s Pixar. The film is unlike any other Pixar releases before and it’s story is original, which is why it has also landed a nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Some of the main characters are based on the basic human emotions that we all experience━Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear. If history is any indication, Disney will most likely take home the prize. Since 2001, the company has claimed nine of the fourteen awards.

Even though Inside Out is the popular pick for this year’s winner, the diversity of nominations and animation styles may surprise viewers. The Oscars premieres on February, 28 at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT. If you plan on tuning in, which animated film do you think will win on Sunday night?



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.

 

 



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