Eschewing subtlety, a technology preview by Avid’s Softimage division
at last week’s Siggraph conference in Los Angeles created an “in your
face” reaction. The new facial animation technology, called Face Robot,
3D artists to achieve realistic, lifelike facial animation in real time
and with much less effort. When working in HD resolutions, where 3D is
a memory hog and HD files carry six times the data of an SD clip,
having real-time rendering capability saves time and money. It could
also get you into a whole new line of animation work.
Face Robot addresses one of the most difficult things in
high-resolution production today: 3D animation and rendering of
human-like characters. During production on Polar
Express, the animation team took four hours each day to put
150 markers on actor Tom Hanks to capture his facial expressions.
Face Robot, part of Softimage’s XSI suite of digital character software
tools, can achieve more realistic movements than what people saw in
Polar Express using only 30 markers, according to Jason (“Chinny”)
Brynford-Jones, product manager for the XSI product line. But you don’t
have to use motion capture to get these results. The large team of
animators who designed and implemented moves for the character of
Gollum, from the Lord of the Rings series, required six months of
development and thousands of shapes/elements just to create the
keyframe animations for his numerous facial expressions.
Jeff Wilson, animation supervisor at Blur Studio and a beta tester for
the new software, worked closely with Softimage to develop it for his
own use. He recently completed an amount of animation work rivaling
that of Polar Express (employing both motion capture
and keyframes) for the animated X-Men video game in a matter of days.
The software is based on a new computer model of facial “soft tissue”
that mimics the full range of emotions portrayed by the human face.
With many of the time-consuming processes automated and reduced to a
few steps within the software, Face Robot offers an easy and intuitive
way to produce either keyframe animation or motion capture animations.
That’s because the soft-tissue model developed by Softimage eliminates
the need to manually create dozens or even hundreds of 3D shapes for
different facial expressions.
Keyframe animators get very direct, intuitive access to facial
expressions, while motion-capture animators can work with fewer markers
to reduce set-up and rendering time. Since it’s a division of Avid,
Softimage recommends using Avid’s Mojo hardware and Media Composer
Adrenaline NLE system for top performance.
Based on this soft-tissue model, the software allows artists to work on
a higher level of abstraction. Instead of building shapes for each
expression, the face is manipulated directly through its salient
features, such as the corners of the mouth, the eyebrows or the jaw.
Avid has not yet set a launch date for the Face Robot software because
the developers want to gain feedback from more users, but the company
said the reaction at Siggraph was better than expected. The software’s
target user is not only those who produce high-end animation for
feature films and commercials, but also smaller independents who might
not take on facial animation projects due to their complexity and
time-intensive workflow. A fully rendered 3D digital character might be
in your future.
For more information, visit http://www.softimage.com/facerobot/.