What’s New in the Updated Complete Unity Face Animation Plugin?

clock July 29, 2016 13:32 by author EliciaT

NaturalFront is excited to announce an updated version of the 3D Face Animation Plugin Complete on the Unity Asset Store. With the facial animation plugin, 3D animators and hobbyists can create and animate life-like models in seconds and at little cost. With the updated version, animators can produce professional-quality, realistic animations even when they are short on time, budget and training. What features have been added to the new version to make the animation process even easier than before?

In previous versions, users can create as many models as they want by uploading a photo of a person’s head into the Unity software. After clicking on a few key points on the photo, the plugin will generate a realistic, 3D facial model that is incredibly accurate and ready to animate.

Other benefits include:

  • Synchronized lip movement to audio- Say goodbye to spending hours struggling to match up mouth movements to audio files. The plugin takes the hard work and guessing out of lip syncing through its 1-Click Animation feature.

  • 1-Click Animation - The plugin has a vast range of facial expressions and mouth shapes already built-in. So, you can skip the manual animation process of morphing and spend almost zero time by selecting from the expressions and mouth shapes available. In addition, you can blend the expressions and mouth shapes together, thus generating literally unlimited number of facial poses, in a few clicks of your mouse.

Users can still look forward to all of those benefits in the updated complete version, but they can now also add a few more to the list.  

First, animators can save and reload their facial models and animations. Simply click File and Save when you want to hold on to an animation.

C:\Project\Work\PluginTests\Complete20\Test\Assets\NF3DFaceAnimationComplete20\documentation\13.png

When you want to reuse that animation, click File>Load>and Select the saved animation file.

C:\Project\Work\PluginTests\Complete20\Test\Assets\NF3DFaceAnimationComplete20\documentation\13_B.png

The plugin will reload the file and when you click Animate, it will generate the previously created animation. For optimal results, users should note:

  1. Only one 3D model can be reloaded at a time.

  2. If you want to reload multiple models to animate them in a scene at the same time, you can do so with other NaturalFront software.

  3. Models that you save and reload in the plugin can be used in other NaturalFront software.

  4. The current version only works with Windows operating systems.

Second, the new version is offered at an even lower price than before. Animators and hobbyists can take advantage of the 3D Face Animation Unity Plugin Complete at $100. Previous NaturalFront 3D Face Animation Unity Plugin Complete users can receive a voucher for a free upgrade to the latest version by contacting us by email here.





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.





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 Rigging Is Bad For 3D Facial Animation - revisited

clock October 23, 2015 13:54 by author EliciaT

 

 

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

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

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

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

What Happens When You Use 3D Rigging For Facial Animation

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

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

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

Curve Controlled Modeling

 

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

What is Curve Controlled Modeling?

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

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

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







 



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?



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