Computer Graphics World

April 2011

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By GEORGE MAESTRI Facial Animation FaceFX Studio 2010 A s any character animator will attest, one of the more tedious jobs in animation is animating lip sync. The task requires ani- mators to scrub through a dialog track one frame at a time, picking out the phonemes or syllables of every word, then assigning the proper mouth shapes to match. When doing a lot of character animation, this can become very tedious. FaceFX is OC3 Entertainment’s solution for creat- ing facial animation and lip sync directly from au- dio files. It promises to save animators valuable time. The software runs as a stand-alone application, with plug-ins that connect to major 3D applications (Auto- desk’s Maya, 3ds Max, Softimage, and MotionBuilder.) These plug-ins basically are file format converters that export models to the main FaceFX application, where the character’s facial and body motions are matched to the sound tracks. Once complete, the plug-ins can then bring the animation back into the desired package for finishing. When preparing a character for export, the facial de- formation can be set up in one of two ways. Morph tar- gets or blendshapes can be used to manipulate the face using shape animation. Bones can also be used to ma- nipulate the surface of the face directly. Since these are the two most popular methods of rigging a face, most productions will have no problem exporting their char- acters to FaceFX. The exported character is loaded into FaceFX, where the real meat of of scripts to help streamline the process. In addition to facial animation, FaceFX can animate the head and body of the character. These gestures, such as head nods, blinks, and brow lifts, can help to add realism to a character. These events can be generated FaceFX can import characters from a number of popular 3D packages and automatically animate dialog and facial animation. the character setup begins. The interface is tab-based, with each major task organized under its own tab. The animation is viewed in the preview tab, the audio track analyzed in the phoneme tab, and so on. Surround- ing these main tabs are a time slider and scene browsers. In order for FaceFX to work, you need to match up the facial shapes in the model to the possible phonemes the character might speak. So, for example, an “OH” mouth shape needs to be assigned to the “OH” phoneme, and so on. The main interface for doing this is the graph tab, which facilitates the process using a node-based interface, much like Maya’s Hypergraph win- FaceFX Studio 2010 $1995 (Professional) $199 per plug-in module OC Entertainment 44 April 2011 dow. Phonemes can be mapped one phoneme to one mouth position, or you can use what is called a combiner node to blend multiple shapes to one phoneme. In order to speed along this pro- cess, FaceFX provides a number using specific triggers or in a pseudo-random fashion. A lot of it requires some scripting, so getting all these to work on a new character probably requires a technical director with some skill to get it working. It’s not something the average animator can just use out of the box. Once a character is set up, however, the process is relatively straight- forward and can be used by almost anyone. The actual track reading is done using the phoneme editor. An audio file of the voice is loaded to start the process. To help the voice recognition, FaceFX also requests a text-based version of the audio track. This is not required, but does help reduce errors. (The software currently can read seven languages: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Korean, and Japanese.) After that, the process goes very quickly. The audio track is analyzed, and the next thing you know, your character is talking. If the animation sync is off, the results can be tweaked in the phoneme editor, where the duration and timing of each phoneme can be adjusted. Animation Talk The results do sync up fairly well, and the mouth movements reflect the audio, but FaceFX does not bring the character to life. The anima-

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