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

clock October 11, 2013 23:18 by author MattW

Facial Animation is one of the hardest things to do when dealing in 3D animation. Capturing the exact expression of a face and then translating that into a 3D program is very difficult. Many animators turn to a technology called Motion Capture to successfully animate the face, but it isn’t always necessary to do so. There is a better alternative, called Curve Controlled modeling which could be better for facial animators.

Why Isn’t Motion Capture Best Bet?

So basically the way motion capture works is by placing cameras and markers (in many cases)  around the subject, capturing the motion of the specific parts and then applying that movement to the 3D model piece by piece. This includes expensive software and equally expensive hardware. The cameras that are used can be very pricey, especially when you get up into the higher resolutions.

Motion capture also needs to happen in an environment conducive to collecting motion data, in other words, a studio. The lighting and space needs to be perfect in order for the motion capture to be as accurate as possible.

What is Curve Controlled Modeling?

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 software tool called a NURBs or Non-uniform rational B-spline curve to simulate the movement of muscles, making it ideal for facial animation.

Without getting into the complex equations that make it work, NURBs curves are equations that allow animation software programs to animate the muscles of a 3D object. Changing a part of the equation correlates to a specific movement around a control point (or more than one). This allows for astonishingly complex movements to be generated very quickly, which is something you will need in order to successfully animate the facial muscles. 

Why is it Better?

There is no denying that motion capture has its uses. In fact, it is one of the most used technologies in the animation industry. The biggest problem, at least for most animators, is that it requires expensive equipment to pull off, and also requires the right environment to get it right. That means that unless you have a huge budget or a corporation backing you, large scale motion capture is probably out of your price range.

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 might be relatively hard to obtain the tools to correctly use motion capture.

Conclusion

Curve Controlled Modeling is not simple to grasp but it IS simple to use once you start. CCM is also much cheaper since it is a software-only solution. It will allow even the most modest animator to pull off facial animation without spending thousands of dollars on expensive camera and sensor equipment. 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 and without setting up a studio.




What is Motion Capture?

clock October 11, 2013 23:16 by author MattW

3D Animation is one of the fastest growing niches of software development. One of the areas that is most interesting inside that niche is motion capture. Motion capture is one of the best ways to translate living and moving objects into 3D projects. The question is what is it really; what is it used for; and what are some examples of its uses. That will be our quest in this article.

First Off What is Motion Capture?

To put it simply, motion capture is the act or process of recording a moving object. The object can be anything from your mom doing dishes to a rock rolling down a hillside. Sensors and cameras catch the motion of the real world object and then translate that movement on to a digital oriented object. So, for example, if you were capturing a rock rolling down a hill, the movement of that rock would be translated into the computer and projected on to a similar digital object, like a rock on a hillside.

To get more technical, at least for a minute, motion capture takes snapshots at a certain rate of the real world motion. This is done by using sensors attached to the object (in many cases), and by pointing precision cameras at the object as it moves. The rate at which the motion is captured determines the accuracy of the digital transformation. The data that comes out of the cameras and sensors is then fed into a computer running 3D animation software, which coordinates the real world movement with the digital object.

What is it Good For?

So motion capture has many uses, and in many ways the technology is still evolving. As cameras get better at capturing small movements, motion capture technology also gets better. Motion capture is used in many places that you see animations such as movies (particularly 3D movies), television shows, and more entertainment-style uses. It is also used in universities and laboratories to study human movement for medical purposes and user interface study.

Examples of its Uses

So the most obvious use of motion capture is in moves. Films like Happy Feet (which portrayed a group of penguins) and Cars(which was a story about cars) both used motion capture to assist in the animation of the movie elements.

Other, more obscure, uses of motion capture exist. As we mentioned above, it is used in medicine to study the effects of motion on the human body. It is also used to study the way humans interact with both digital and real world user interfaces. The data collected from both of these uses is used to better medical equipment in the former, and to improve how we use machines and digital interfaces in the latter.

Motion capture is also used in virtual reality and augmented reality. Both of these fields have uses outside of the university. Virtual reality uses it for gaming, and augmented reality uses it to overlay information on the real world.

Conclusion

In an upcoming piece, we’ll talk about the disadvantages of using motion capture in certain 3D animated situations. Until then, the best thing to know about it is that it is widely used, especially by moviemakers. You should also know that the technology is still advancing. Devices like Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect use similar technologies to advance gaming and fitness, as well as controlling user interface. Like most technology, it isn’t over until it’s over.



Why 3D Morphing Isn’t Necessary For 3D Facial Animation

clock October 11, 2013 23:13 by author MattW

3D morphing is one of the most used forms of 3D animation technologies. It allows animators easy access to complex and simple motions that just can’t be done by 3D rigging. On the other hand, it isn’t the best option for every situation. For example, while it is often used for facial animation, it isn’t the best option. So what makes 3D morphing so bad for facial animation?

Why is 3D Morphing a Bad Bet for 3D Facial Animation?

There’s no doubt that 3D morphing has its uses. It is one of the premier animation technologies. It just isn’t as good for facial animation as it is for less complex animations. 3D morphing works by creating a series of poses of an object that are outside of its neutral position. These poses, or blend shapes, are then blended together in rapid succession to create movement.

This is fine for movements that are fairly large scale, or that don’t need to be that precise. With 3D facial animation, animators need to be able to control the smallest movement of the muscle underneath the skin in order to create the motion of facial expression. 3D morphing can do this, of course, but it requires a ton of morph targets in order for it to work. That means that the animator needs to create and manage every single target, and then use them as they correlate to the other targets and the neutral expression. This is time consuming and just plain difficult to do. Curve Controlled Modeling is a much better option.

What is Curve Controlled Modeling?

The better option is called Curve Controlled Modeling (CCM). This is a 3D animation process that uses complex calculations to simulate the movement of underlying muscle. It is designed specifically to control objects that have multitudes of movement positions. It uses complex data curves called Non-uniform rational B-spline or NURBs. These are complex equations that calculate and display the position of each muscle in the face, as well as their complex interaction.

Why is it Better?

CCM is better because it allows animators to have full control over the complex movement of the face without having to spend a ton of time setting up morph targets for every potential facial expression. This means a lot less time spent on the animation, and more control while it is being produced. Obviously, the complex the animation is, the more time CCM can save you.

Conclusion

The best way to do an animation is as simply as possible. The fewer points of stress on an animation, the easier it will be to finish and the better it will look when it is finished. 3D morphing does offer benefits, and can be used for 3D facial animation, but since it requires so much work, it makes the animation process much more complex. With CCM, you can make the animation much less complex by focusing on animation techniques meant to be used on complex movements. 




What is 3D Morphing?

clock October 11, 2013 23:11 by author MattW

There are several branches of animation technology out there, each one with a specific situation where it is the best option available. One of those technologies is called 3D morphing, also known as blend shapes or morph target animation. It is usually used in concert with 3D rigging to achieve more complex animations. So, what is it, and what is it good for?

What is 3D Morphing?

3D morphing is fairly easy to understand. It is a method of animation where there is a neutral position, and several “target deformations” or morphs. The software and animator then use those morphs to transition between movements. This can be done between just the neutral position and one target deformation or the neutral position and several target deformations, depending on the complexity needed.

Basically, think about it like striking a pose. Each morph target is a separate pose, which the animator can blend and switch between to simulate movement. This can be done on a large or small scale. The smaller the scale, the more morph targets (generally) the animator will need to use.

3D morphing is great for animations that do not require a skeletal structure, which is why it is often used in concert with 3D rigging. The rig will take care of the motion of the major parts of the 3D object, while 3D morphing will animate the smaller aspects of the object that are outside of the rig’s control. For example, you could set up a rig that moves the legs and arms of the object. Then, in order to simulate a pin pick on the skin, you would use 3D morphing to do the motion of the skin as it is being pricked.

What is it Used For?

3D morphing is primarily used for non-skeletal animation. It is great for animating things like cloth and skin. It’s good for these things because it is capable of animating “positions” of objects that aren’t tied down to a skeletal structure. It is also for this reason that it is often used for facial animation. It isn’t the best choice for that since it requires a ton of work in order to get right, since the face is capable of many minute facial expressions, which require a ton of morph targets.

3D morphing is also used for environment animation. For example animating the movement of leaves on a tree, or the breeze blowing through a woman’s hair. The motion of these things is basically several positions being switched between and blended very quickly to simulate movement.

Conclusions

3D morphing is one of the most useful types of 3D animation. It allows animators to process objects that are outside the skeletal structure of an object, and allows them minute control over the movements of the objects it is applied to. That means that it is good for both complex and simple animations. In an upcoming article, we’ll talk about the downside of 3D morphing when it comes to 3D facial animation.

 



Why Rigging Isn’t Necessary For 3D Facial Animation

clock October 11, 2013 23:07 by author MattW

3D rigging is one of the most useful tools in an animator’s tool bag. It is easy to use, and works well for a ton of different situations. One of the places where it isn’t so great is in Facial Animation. Luckily, there’s a new technology called Curve Controlled Modeling (CCM), which is much better for animating the complex muscles that control facial movements. Here’s why 3D rigging isn’t the best bet, and why CCM is better.

Why 3D rigging isn’t the best bet for facial animation

The way 3D rigging works is by attaching simulated bones and joints to the 3D model. Those bones and joints then control the motion of the model itself. That is a great process when all you’re dealing with is a subject with basic bones and joints, but when you’re dealing with something that is mostly muscle, 3D rigging becomes less useful.

When you think about facial animation, you think of expression, complex movement and subtle motion. Rigging is less about subtlety, and more about expressed motion. For example, Rigging is great for the motion of the jaw opening and closing, but is fairly useless when it comes to simulating a scowl. The difference is the jaw motion can be easily modeled using joints and bones, the scowl cannot.

What is Curve Controlled Modeling?

Curve Controlled Modeling (CCM) is a newly developed technology that uses equations to simulate muscle motion. It utilizes a modeling tool called a NURBs or Non-uniform rational B-spline Curve, which is represented by complex equations. The software uses these equations to simulate the movement of the muscles of the 3D object. Using the CCM method allows for astonishingly complex animation , which can be generated very quickly.

Why is it better?

Rigging is a great tool, and is and will continue to be used as long as animation is a thing, yet it isn’t good for every animation situation. When animating the face, you’re dealing with muscle and skin, instead of bones and joints. Since 3D rigging is based on a model of bones and joints, it is just much harder for it to be used in facial animation.

If you were to use it, you would need to basically treat the muscles underneath the skin as a bone and joint system. This will get tedious since there are so many minute muscles that interact and move in strange ways. That means that you could spend hours or days coordinating each part of the rig just to find out that one of the bones affects the movement incorrectly, and that you have to start all over again.

That is why CCM is so much better. It is meant for muscle animation, not bone and joint animation. The technology it uses is meant to calculate how one muscle moving affects the rest of the structure, and how multiple muscles interact with each other.  

Conclusion

3D rigging is just not meant for facial animation like Curved Controlled Modeling is. Animating an object that relies on muscles instead of bone is a more complex animation, which 3D rigging is not meant to handle. There is a broad array of software on the market that will allow you to take up CCM without a ton of cost, and will help you successfully animate the facial structure.




What is 3D Rigging?

clock October 11, 2013 23:02 by author MattW

In 3D animation, there are many technical terms for the process before the actual animation begins. One of those terms is rigging. This is a process that isn’t hard to understand, but can be hard to master. Many standard 3D animation software suites come with some sort of rigging application. Some dress it up in fancy terms, others use standard terms, and so it gets even more confusing when moving from program to program. Here is our attempt to explain exactly what rigging is, and what it’s good for.

What is 3D Rigging?

3D rigging or 3D Character Rigging is a process used in the animation of digital characters. It is also known as skeletal rigging in some cases (you’ll see why in a bit). To simply explain it, rigging is the process of creating a digital skeleton so that the character mimics real world (or non-real world) motion.

 

The skeleton is made up of a series of digital bones and joints, which is then responsible for translating movement to that portion of the character.  That movement is then used in concert with the rest of the skeleton. The animation, obviously, can be as precise or as imprecise as the animator wishes it to be. The more bones a rigger uses, the more poses the animator can use to simulate movements onto the character.

The way each “bone” affects the movement is very complex. In one form of rigging, bones can only affect bones that are below it. So a shoulder will only affect the bones of the arm below it, not anything else. The leg is likewise limited to its own movement. In another form of rigging, the animator can choose which bones affect the movement of the character, and how. For example, instead of the shoulder being the rotating point for the arm, the animator could use the elbow. This second form of rigging is mostly used for the animation of arms and legs.

What is it Used For?

3D Rigging is used primarily for the animation of animated characters in film. For example, movies that are totally animated use 3D rigging to animate the characters. It is also used in films that use CGI.

3D rigging is also used for other purposes. In academic study, for example, it is used to study the movement of bones in the actual human skeleton, as well as in robotics.

Conclusion

One thing you’ll notice we didn’t talk about here was facial 3D rigging. The main reason for that is that it is really, really hard. In an upcoming piece, we’ll talk about the failings of 3D rigging, and why facial rigging is so difficult. Until then, the most important thing for you to know about 3D rigging is that it is used to coordinate the movement of a character using digital “bones and joints.” These bones and joints are used to create the movement of the character. They can be used to create realistic movement or any type of movement the animator chooses. Finally, you should know that the people responsible for creating these skeletal rigs are called riggers. Knowing that might save you should you ever get on Jeopardy?



The Theory of Gravity and a Breakthrough in 3D Facial Animation

clock October 1, 2013 19:56 by author christpaul

3D facial animation is one of the most desired animation procedures as it can reasonably be considered to be the most important way of personalising a character. Thus, there is a great desire amongst professional animators to produce the highest quality of 3D facial animation. But high-quality 3D facial animation does not come cheap, it is known to be one of the most intensive forms of animation, and thus the most expensive. Thus, professional animators find themselves in a quandary, having to make a decision on whether price or quality is of more importance to them.

However, there has recently been a breakthrough in the field of 3D facial animation technology which has enabled the animation technology start-up NaturalFront to overcome many professional animators’ assumptions about the compromise between price and quality. The most realistic and powerful 3D animation need no longer break the bank.

The technology involved has been likened to the Theory of Gravity. Whereas this long accepted scientific theory was analogically based on a falling apple and an orbiting planetoid, the new breakthrough animation technology is based on a similar analogy, between the movement of muscles and the modification of ration curves. It is, thus, now possible to modify any 3D model by using the curve as a control mechanism. This is quite a sea change in the scope of 3D modelling, as it enables the actual dynamic movement of 3D objects to be modelled in a quantitative fashion.

 

What this means in practical terms for the professional animator is that world-class results can be achieved for a much more competitive financial outlay than was possible previously, and not only that, but at a speed which was unthinkable until recently. The technology itself has also been intellectually protected under law, with the patent application no. 10/862.396 having been accepted and authorised by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

The saving of time is achieved by the fact that this new technology enables 3D animation to be carried out without recourse to any of the techniques that are traditionally associated with it. 3D animators can forget about time consuming procedures such as rigging, morph targets or blend shapes, key-framing. The new solution which is being pioneered by NaturalFront can also be fully integrated with motion capture, meaning that incredible results can be produced very easily in real-time.

And another great thing about this exciting new technology is that the animation industry can get on board right now. People in senior positions within animation studios, whether professional animators, creative directors or even shareholders and owners of businesses, are being encouraged to participate in the beta-testing of the new NaturalFront project Minimum Viable Product, without incurring any cost whatsoever. This really is an excellent and unique opportunity that won’t last forever, so if you’re engaged in the world of 3D animation you’d be well advised to take advantage of this chance and participate in the creative process that will help steer the future of this extraordinary breakthrough to 3D animation technology.



Enhancing 3D Printing with Facial Animation Software

clock September 23, 2013 09:20 by author JerohO

Recently, an online shop pulled down some 3D printed characters--Final Fantasy--developed or should I say created by an indie designer due to the issue of licensing. This was reported as news due to the fact that the printing evolution is destined to blur the lines of plagiarism amongst artists and designers. Just imagine the huge losses organizations such as IKEA, LEGO etc. will incur if we all started printing our own furniture or toys--similar to theirs--and sell them online. This realistic fear will definitely lead to new copyright laws and reviews in many lands.

 

 

The very nature of 3D printing and its modeling techniques, makes it possible for designers to avoid the problems associated with copyright infringement and a breakdown of these techniques should show you how. Your average 3D printing project is accomplished through the following steps:

 

  • Developing a 3D model with computer aided-design software(CAD) or animation modeling software

  • Next, this model is fed into the printing platform of a 3D printer

  • finally, with additive manufacturing the model is printed.

 

Most CAD/animation software users would have spotted the step in which plagiarism can be avoided from these listed steps. But if you haven’t, then note that the first step of developing the 3D model with CAD gives you all the flexibility required to avoid all copy right infringement laws in any land. Going back to the indie designers brush with--final fantasy --plagiarism, he or anyone of us could simply use our facial expressions or that of our loved ones, combined with a facial animation software to model a unique 3D character having the physical attributes of any major fictional character with two major difference--the characters face and its’ name.

 There are diverse character animation software that can handle the modeling of 3D characters but the design process associated with most of them is hectic for professionals and provides a steep learning curve for beginners. Therefore securing the services of a facial animation software that simplifies these modeling processes while sticking to quality and realism is important to the success of printing realistic 3D models. CAD applications such as Crazy talk, Faceshift, photoshop etc. are easy to use but provide designers with poor quality models, so what one needs is a modeling software that renders facial animation with a high degree of precision while eliminating morph targets, rigging of any sort etc. which brings the character animation software “Natural Front” to mind.

 

 

 

 

Facial Animation Simplified

 

Natural Front is a 3D CAD software predominantly built for facial animation--which puts it ahead of multi purpose CAD software--while eliminating difficult facial modeling procedures. It uses curve-controlled modeling techniques to simplify its modeling process and this makes it possible for designers--professionals and amateurs--to model advanced facial expressions in record time.

 

Natural Front gives you the opportunity to be strategically placed at the forefront of tech advancement in facial animation. It does this by taking into consideration your personal opinion on the CAD file formats you would love on its interface. Therefore, do not hesitate to leave your comments and opinions in the comment box provided just for you. 3D printing is definitely a technology for the future and coupling its design processes with a customizable facial animation software, gives you the chance to mould the future.

 



Gaming: 3D Facial Animation and Your Favorite Games

clock September 13, 2013 15:47 by author JerohO

With the rising popularity of multi-player games in the gaming community, the need to create characters that stand out from the multitude of characters available on gaming platforms such as World of Warcraft, Everquest etc. has never been greater and although gamers can now customize personal characters on some of these game platforms, limitations still exist. These limitations which include; poor graphic quality, limited customization options, and poor facial animations have led gamers to petition developers to either improve customization options or allow the use of third party software to create appropriate models.

The Godfather franchise took the first step of allowing players load animations of their facial features to its “mobface” platform for file conversion and integrating uploaded images on your favourite character. This bold step is sure to cause...or has caused a ripple effect in the game developer community for a majority of games now provide gamers with the option of creating 3D models of your favourite weapons, vehicles and facial expressions for use in your favourite games.

 

 

This ripple effect is been felt by both private gamers and independent (indie) game developers who create games for either mobile operating systems--iOS, Android etc.--or computing/gaming platforms such as Microsoft’s Xbox, Sony PlayStation, and Windows to name a few. Taking the Xbox XNA builders platform as an example, indie developers can now model 3D characters--both animate and inanimate--import these characters to XNA for developing their unique games.

 

For facial animation, the difficulties are much due to the need to create advanced models with realistic facial expressions for each character depending on how unique they have to be. This animating process and techniques incorporate advanced CAD modelling procedures such as character rigging, mapping, working with polygons etc. which the average indie developer has neither the knowledge to accomplish nor the funds to hire a professional graphic designer to handle. The popular Toy Story characters took a team of graphic designers and an 8 hour per facial feature rendering time to accomplish. Therefore, the solution to this conundrum lies in acquiring 3D character animation software tools with very mild learning curve that can produce high definition models at record time.

 

3D CAD Systems for Gamers and Indie Developers

 Zbrush: This is a digital sculpting tool that combines 3D modeling techniques--texturing, painting, rigging etc.--to develop animated characters for use in games and other industries. With the Zbrush, you can develop high-definition models and export them in diverse file formats for use in game building platforms. Zbrush is an advanced CAD software which means that it would be quite difficult to use by both professionals and amateurs.

 

 

Natural Front: This software simplifies the difficult process of facial animation by eliminating the need or advanced riggings, motion capture, and polygon/lighting techniques that take hours to render. Natural Front focuses on developing photo-realistic 3D facial animations/expressions that can be exported in different formats onto gaming platforms. The learning curve associated with this software is very mild and it provides separate tools for both professional animators/graphic designers and amateurs interested in modelling character features.

 Combining these software applications and game customization platforms or game builders will definitely give you the time and budget flexibility ever indie game developer desires.



A 3D Animation Software You Should Know: Simplifying 3D Facial Animations

clock September 12, 2013 08:26 by author JerohO

In the world of 3D animation, all CAD users--at one point or the other--have come to acknowledge the fact that modeling an animate character easily ranks as one of the most difficult task he or she has to consistently handle during his/her career path. This is of course due to the steps--character rigging, morph targeting, final rendering etc.--associated with modelling an animate character such as the human form in general and facial attributes in particular to a high degree of accuracy.

During the course of an animators career, he or she must develop personal techniques to help combat the rigors associated with facial animation to a lesser degree and this is one of the major reasons why most of us--including our colleagues--stick to the animation software we grew up learning or using. But what if i told you, that you can produce accurate photo-realistic facial animations or models without going through the rigors of rigging, morph targeting, and blending amongst other procedures?

I bet that your answer will be “even if this is possible, the final model will lack the high definition photo-realistic look associated with modeling 3D facials the traditional way”. Therefore to break this myth or at least put some doubt in your heart, I shall provide you with a quick review of a CAD software application that eliminates traditional procedures.

 

Natural Front an Overview

In the niche of facial animation software, “Natural Front” happens to be a professional CAD platform, that shuns conventionality by providing CAD users and animators with a highly intuitive platform coupled with unique tools/features needed to create facial models from scratch but with an important difference. Natural Front eliminates the cumbersome process of character rigging, morphing, motion capture etc. we experience using the popular CAD tools--3D Max, Maya etc.--for developing facial animations.

It does this by using curve-controlled modeling techniques to intuitively create and simulate the muscle motion and facial expressions of an animate character. Experienced CAD users can read more about its curve-controlled modeling techniques here.

As for novices to the world of 3D animation, this technique can simply be explained with the wave forms made by two strings tied to sticks at both ends but parallel to one another. Tweaking one of the strings results in a vibration that causes a ripple effect through the string’s length while tweaking both strings lead to a resonance or ripple effect that will occur in equal proportion to both strings and the points they are tied to. Therefore the ripple effects that occur due to changes in facial expression can be likened to our example of curve-controlled modeling.



 

More importantly, this modeling process drastically reduces the time taken to create a realistic 3D facial representation to less than a quarter of the average time it would normally take using other traditional modeling techniques. And for those who take everything into consideration before purchasing a CAD software, Natural Front provides the user with an intuitive platform for advanced facial modeling at less than a third of the cost for other modeling software applications. To test run Natural front, get the beta version for free,  and take advantage of its 30 day trial period.









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