Are Female Faces Really Harder to Animate?

clock August 30, 2016 11:19 by author EliciaT

 

Some of the most experienced and renowned animators in the industry struggle with facial animation. A few were publicly criticized after they made statements claiming that animating facial expressions for female characters is more difficult than male characters.

Right before Frozen was released in 2013, Disney animator Lino DiSalvo sparked controversy after stating that, "Historically speaking, animating female characters is really, really difficult, because they have to go through these range of emotions, but you have to keep them pretty."

Even Ubisoft creative director Alex Amancio caused some to stir in their seats at the E3 Conference when he said that women weren’t in the Assassin’s Creed: Unity because, “It’s double the animations, it’s double the voices, all that stuff and double the visual assets.”

Structurally, women and men have the same types of muscles, bones and anatomical layout responsible for creating facial expressions. So, from a technical perspective, are women really harder to animate?

There are thousands of facial movements.

First, facial animations have traditionally been one of the hardest parts of animating, regardless of gender. This is because humans have thousands of facial expressions and a slight movement can alter their entire meaning. In fact, University of California researchers once mapped over 3,000 facial expressions, but that doesn’t represent the full scope of possibilities.

The vast range of expressions is part of the reason why facial animation has traditionally been a challenging process. But, in reality, female facial expressions aren’t harder to animate than men.

Facial animation tech and processes are evolving.

For many animators, animating facial expressions on both male and female 3D models is an equally intricate and complex challenge. But, thanks to advances in animation technology, 3D animators have more options for accelerating and improving the process. If animators use the right tools and processes to animate their characters, facial animation is relatively simple.

NaturalFront’s Facial Animation software drastically simplifies traditional animation processes and produces life-like facial expressions. In minutes, hobbyists and professional 3D animators can create female and male character models and animate them in a few mouse clicks. Because NaturalFront technology uses photos of real people to generate high-quality 3D facial models in seconds, the animations are virtually limitless and incredibly life-like.

The core innovation of NaturalFront software is its outstanding ability to very efficiently simulate the complex movement of different muscles, as well as their interactions. As we know, women and men have the same types of muscles that produce expressions. Thus, what has been unimaginable is now unavoidable – you can animate female faces as easily, fast and realistically just as male faces, by using NaturalFront software.     

Instead of guessing how to rig, morph or manipulate your 3D model to make the expressions that you want, you can choose from a wide library of facial animations. You can also customize and tweak animations to be as subtle, pretty, ugly, exaggerated or as human as you want. But, because you start with an anatomically representative 3D model, the hard labor and guesswork that used to go into creating facial animations disappears. Instead, you can easily and efficiently create animations that are more diverse, human and realistic, regardless of gender.

Would your mum be more difficult to smile to you than your dad?

 



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.





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.



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.



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.







 



New Natural Front Professional Release on the Horizon!

clock February 22, 2014 20:50 by author christpaul

We’re very excited to announce that the latest professional version of the Natural Front 3D animation software is nearly ready to be unveiled. We’re extremely proud of our latest product, and can’t wait for 3D animation professionals to get their hands on it, and for that matter to see some of the results that are produced with it.

The latest version of the Natural Front software still bears all of the hallmarks that professional animators have come to associate with the intuitive 3D animation package. Thus, Natural Front’s enhanced curved controlled modelling ensure that there is no need for time consuming and costly processes such as rigging and morphing. You can create world-class 3D facial animations for a fraction of the time and expense that would have been incurred previously.

This latest version of the software has stepped up the animation features within the program even further, to ensure that photo-realistic 3D animation can be produced without difficulty. We pride ourselves on making the Natural Front package as user-friendly as possible, so you can be reassured that this latest professional version comprises a highly intuitive user interface that makes producing the most absorbing 3D animation easy.

One of the features that we’re particularly excited about with the professional edition of the Natural Front software is the ability to create unlimited photo-realistic 3D models. These can be rendered from merely one photograph of a person, although several can be used if they are available. This is a really neat and exciting feature that is sure to create a big impression on those that witness it.

Natural Front is standalone technology which is not reliant on expensive and logistically complex techniques such as motion capture or tracking. However, in order to make the software as flexible as possible and meet all of the needs of our audience, it is possible to incorporate these techniques into Natural Front if you do desire.

 

The Natural Front software has been built with a unique 3D algorithm which has never featured in any other software program. This unique approach to 3D animation produces spectacular results that rival any major cinematic production.

We’re fully aware that professional animators are very passionate about their work, and also understand some of the frustrations involved in what is an extremely complex and involved process. Our goal from day one with Natural Front has been to produce software that takes all of the headaches out of creating 3D animation. We believe that our latest professional package achieves precisely this, and is our best yet, and we’re extremely excited about its imminent release.

Keep watching this space for more on this new release in the coming weeks.



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. 




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