Are Realistic Computer Animations No Longer Impressive?

clock September 26, 2016 09:47 by author EliciaT

 

When early attempts at realistic 3D animation like the 2001 Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, the 2005 Polar Express, and the Grand Theft Auto and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider series were produced, critics, audiences and gamers were either amazed at their advanced graphics and realism or creeped out because at moments, they fell into the uncanny valley. Now, over 15 years have passed since the earliest renderings of realistic animations were created for full-length films.

Realistic animation has evolved well past the days of the Final Fantasy films and Grand Theft Auto games from years ago. Now, the bar for realistic animation is set extremely high, because there are more developed techniques and technology available. Still, some animators avoid hyper-realistic computer animations, because they fear the uncanny valley. Others may think  that since realistic animations have been around for over a decade, it’s not that impressive. So, we asked the question: Are realistic animations no longer impressive?

Animation technology is still evolving.

Some may say that generating a realistic-looking 3D model probably isn’t that amazing anymore, because the technology to do that action has been around and used for a while. However, technology is rapidly advancing and creating animations that wouldn’t have been possible 10 or 5 years ago.

Also, there is still room for improvement, especially when it comes to facial animation. It’s one area that animators have struggled with for years, and it’s the pain point that NaturalFront software is tackling with advanced capabilities, algorithms and technology.

There’s a constant need for innovation.

The fact is that people have a short attention span and get bored easily. We are constantly looking for the next big thing. However, that isn’t to say that well-done computer animations are no longer impressive.

It means that you can’t rely on the same old, techniques and technology alone to impress people. (This is unless you are utilizing new, innovative technologies that revolutionize some aspect of old ones.) Like any art or entertainment form, you need to create something that is unique, thought-provoking and that resonates with your audience to differentiate yourself from other creators.

Game and film animation are different.

It’s also important to note that game animation and film animation are two different areas, that often require unique considerations and have different audiences. For example, games are interactive, which means that characters and animations need to look and animate smoothly from every angle.

When it comes to realistic computer animation, although it is important part of the film creation process, it is more prominent in the game industry. This is likely because game animation is about immersing the player into their own game world, and realism increases that feeling of being a part of the game.

Realistic animation is not dying out anytime soon. If anything, it’s flourishing as the desire to push the limits of art and technology grows. But, the key is to keep pushing the envelope and innovating computer animation technology and techniques, so that they will continue to amaze.





Two New Versions of NaturalFront 3D Face Animation Unity Plugin Available

clock June 19, 2016 21:39 by author EliciaT

 

NaturalFront has just released two, updated versions of the 3D Face Animation Unity Plugin. The updated versions fix reported bugs and issues, while also adding more features that make the facial animation process cost-effective, fast and simple for 3D animators.

Animators and hobbyists can choose from the two versions of the plugin: Basic and Complete. Each version vastly improves the animation process by creating 3D facial models in a matter of seconds. Instead of devoting hours to rigging, morphing, sculpting or key-framing to create and animate realistic facial models and expressions, users just need to upload a photo and the plugin does the work.

After uploading a headshot photo, users are prompted to select key points on the face. Then, the plugin creates a mesh with thousands of vertices for precise animations. It also comes with a diverse range of built-in facial expressions and mouth shapes, and works seamlessly with Unity 3D Editor. Both versions accelerate the animation process, but there are a few differences between them.

Unity Plugin Complete Version

The complete version is packed with valuable features that make facial animations easier, faster and more realistic. Here are some of the top capabilities to look forward to:

Lip Syncing

Lip syncing computer animated characters is one of the most difficult and labor-intensive tasks for 3D animators. The complete version of the NaturalFront Face Animation Unity Plugin fixes that and many other issues that animators face. When you upload audio tracks into Unity with the plugin, it can be synced in seconds with our patented 1-Click Animation technology.

1-Click Animation

A wide range of built-in facial expressions and movements are at users’ disposal with the complete version of the Unity plugin. Customizing mouth shapes and blending them together can be done within a few clicks of your mouse.

Professional Quality Facial Animations

Animators don’t need to spend thousands of hours or dollars to produce high-quality 3D models and animations. With the plugin, models are realistic and produce life-like facial expressions. Plus, there is no limit to the number of 3D characters that you can create.

Basic Version 1.1

Each version features NaturalFront’s unique 1-Click Animation ™.and makes the facial animation process fly by. The basic version is offered at a download price of $39 in the Unity store. Of course, it has some limitations in comparison to the complete version.

Primarily, the range of facial expressions and movements is limited. For professional animators or users that want a nearly unlimited number of facial movements at their disposal, the complete version is recommended.

If you are currently using previous versions of the Unity plugin, you can easily upgrade for between $5 and $115. For new users, the complete version costs $160.Each can save animators thousands of hours and funds that would otherwise be spent manually modeling and animating 3D models. Windows operating system is required for the download. To create and animate custom-built 3D heads quickly, you should have at least: 4-core i7/i5 CPU (or their equivalences) running at 3GHz, with 64-bit OS and 8GB RAM.

For more information on the new NaturalFront 3D Face Animation Unity Plugin complete and basic version, visit the Unity store.



NaturalFront Releases Free Unity Plugin On All Operating Systems

clock June 19, 2016 18:19 by author EliciaT

 

In February of this year, NaturalFront released a free version of the 3D Face Animation Unity Plugin. It hosted a number of features that made the facial animation process quicker, eliminating the need for rigging, morphing, key-framing and other costly techniques.

Now, NaturalFront has released the 2.0 free version of the plugin in the Unity store. After reviewing user feedback, we noticed a significant number of users requested that the plugin be made available on all operating systems and listened to those requests.

Before, the plugin was only compatible with Windows. With the 2.0 free version, users can test out the software on all operating systems, including: Windows, Mac and Linux. The free version has received high praise for its features and capabilities. Users can expect the same with the new plugin download.

What features come with the free plugin?

Using traditional computer animation techniques to configure facial models and animate them, takes animators weeks or longer. With NaturalFront’s 3D Face Animation Unity Plugin, realistic facial models can be created and animated in a matter of seconds.

Users just need to upload a headshot photo into the Unity software and mark specific points on the face to create a mesh. Then, a fully-functional 3D facial model is generated and already has a range of different animations built in. Also, since the plugin works seamlessly with Unity 3D Editor, you can start animating it right away.

The plugin not only makes animating a wide range of facial expressions fast and easy, but it improves the lip syncing process as well. Animators can download the audio track straight into Unity and the plugin will help match the lip movements to the audio file.

How can you get the NaturalFront Unity Plugin 2.0?

Downloading the free 2.0 version of NaturalFront’s Unity Plugin is easy. You can visit the Unity store and download the new version here. Users must have the Unity 5.3.5 version or higher to download. To create and animate custom-built 3D heads quickly, you should have at least: 4-core i7/i5 CPU (or their equivalences) running at 3GHz, with 64-bit OS and 8GB RAM.

If you have already downloaded the old version of the plugin, you can update your version to work with all operating systems. For a beginner’s tutorial on using the plugin, check out our video.



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.



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.



3D Printing Once Again Provides Animation Template

clock August 26, 2015 13:51 by author christpaul

As 3D animation continues to develop, it seems that 3D printing is playing an increasingly important role in the industry. These two naturally collaborative technologies are being utilised concurrently on a wide variety of different projects, and yet another one has come to light recently.

The studio behind stop-motion comedy Robot Chicken used a 3D printer in order to produce several aspects of the animation, and the experience animation studio has emphasised the advantages of this method. 3D printing has enabled Stoopid Buddy Stoodio to produce a large amount of the puppetry and animation work involved in the project in-house. And there is no longer the need to mould and craft everything on-site; even a job such as cleaning up complex parts becomes obsolete.

Thomas Keiser, the director of design for Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, stated that 3D printing has enabled the animation studio to mass produce animation elements, since the machine utilised has a large build volume. Keiser was speaking to 3D Printing Industry, an important industry publication that documents developments in this burgeoning industry.

 

Animators at the studio utilised an EnvisionTEC Perfactory 4XL printer in order to achieve the unique animation technique. The studio was already familiar with this particular printer, which ensured that the production could be kept as affordable as possible. It is important to emphasise that despite some recent innovations in the niche, 3D printing remains an incredibly expensive technology. Although animators are now achieving 3D extremely impressive results with 3D printing, it will certainly be beyond the price point of many small and medium animation studios.

Using the printer, Stoopid Buddy Stoodios were able to design the action figure puppets that give the shows their signature look with more precisely honed mechanical properties, engineering them for their own creative needs. The studio has become more involved with producing prototype toys and props for television commercials as a result of their pioneering work with 3D printing, and this has opened up new opportunities for the studio.

3D printing is one example of modern 3D animation techniques that has played a major role in the development of the industry as a whole. There is no question that 3D animation is the most important new technology in contemporary filmmaking, and continues to have a profound effect on Pro software package proving popular with studios all over the world.



Pixar Director Sees Rich Narrative Future for 3D Animation

clock June 24, 2015 21:50 by author christpaul

John Lasseter is an infamous name in the field of 3D animation, as he is the director of the Pixar animated masterpieces ‘Toy Story’ and ‘Toy Story 2’. Thus, when he offers his views on the future of 3D animation it is certainly worth paying attention.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Lasseter has presided over a revolution in filmmaking: as a director he has played his part in reasserting the fundamentals, no less, of the art of film itself. And as creative head, of Pixar then Disney (since 2006), he has reinvigorated the stale, corporate, executive-laden world of children’s entertainment.

While 3D animation is often emphasised as being a state of the art medium, Lasseter sees things differently. He suggest that 3D is just a new tool that the filmmaker has to help tell a story. In this sense, the Pixar legend just sees the technology becoming the mainstream of filmmaking, rather than a niche element of the industry.

Every technology that comes into filmmaking is first a gimmick. Think about sound with “The Jazz Singer” or the first colour or surround sound – it takes a while for filmmakers to understand how to use it. Most of the time, when people think about 3D, it is with images ‘coming out of the screen’ at the viewer.

 

But these are just the early days of 3D, and Lassiter believes that as people understand the technology even better than we do at the moment, that it will evolve rapidly.

There is certainly pressure on Pixar to produce something outstanding owing to its position in the industry. Pixar has become such a dominant name that it is literally synonymous with it. And under the circumstances, the billion dollar company which Pixar has become ensures that the industry constantly looks to the company for innovation.

But according to the comments of Lassiter, Pixar sees the future of the industry as involving 3D animation becoming a mature form of storytelling. Perhaps at times elements of 3D animation can still be gimmicky, but this pioneer of the industry has no doubt that this will not remain the case indefinitely. This is a medium which has huge potential to usurp existing forms of filmmaking and deliver an entirely new, more profound experience.

Considering the success of its biggest movies, there's absolutely no doubt that Pixar will play a central role in this, and don't bet against Lassiter himself producing another 3D animation classic.



Natural Front Intuitive Pro - Next Edition Taking Shape

clock June 22, 2015 12:43 by author christpaul

Here at Natural Front we are continually working at improving our software, and we expect to have some exciting announcements in the near future regarding our proprietary Intuitive Pro package. Our experienced team of engineers and animators has been working behind the scenes in order to improve our already outstanding animation software, and we anticipate that it will only be weeks until we can announce the latest improvements to the 3D animation package.

This is always an exciting time for everyone at Natural Front, and we are certainly enjoying putting the finishing touches to our latest product. But we always like to remind people at this time that feedback from our customers is particularly important to us. Natural Front and the Intuitive Pro software package have been built on the principle of a constant two-way feedback loop, with the software always treated as a beta build that is being continually updated.

So as much as we are looking forward to releasing our latest version of Natural Front Intuitive Pro, we're also looking forward to hearing from our extremely valued customers regarding their perspectives on the software.

One particularly exciting aspect of the new Natural Front software is the possibility that it offers related to video games. We are currently in the process of developing a plug-in for an extremely popular game engine, which will provide Natural Front users with even greater convenience. There is, of course, an extremely strong relationship between video games and 3D animation, and we're looking to develop and grow this aspect of the Natural Front Intuitive Pro software in the coming years.

We're also pleased to announce that the United States Patents and Trademark Office has just granted us another patent, and we will be utilising the underlying technology related to this in our new release. We can't say too much about this latest innovation at this point in time, but we are extremely confident that it will be something our customers simply love using.

So we're all hyped for this latest Natural Front Intuitive Pro release, and anticipate being able to release some more explicit information to customers in the next few weeks. In the meantime, you can rest assured that we're working extremely hard to develop the software, and that we have taken on board all the comments that we have recently received from our customers. In the meantime, we hope you're enjoying using the existing version of Natural Front Intuitive Pro, and we look forward to hearing more feedback from our valued professional animators in due course.



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