Hugh John gets animated about the capabilities of CrazyTalk Animator Pro
The successor to one of the most innovative animation programs of the past few years, CrazyTalk Animator Pro enables users to create an altogether more sophisticated animation experience than its predecessor, CrazyTalk.
While education creatives such as Jonathan Boyle (anyone see the talking Scouse Dalmation?) were able to do some great things with the original CrazyTalk program, it was limited to facial animation. Crazy Talk Animator (CTA) extends those capabilities, making it possible to animate both face and body, and a whole lot more. (Give-away complete, winners below.)
US publisher Reallusion is understandably excited about its latest product, originally premiered at the BETT 2011 educational technology show, describing it as “a 3D layered, 2D studio where you can drop and drag actors, props, scenes, images and videos directly on to the set-up stage... and bring actors to life with automatic facial animation and innovative puppeteering motions”.
Teachers like Jonathan Boyle and Renaldo Lawrence have used the original CrazyTalk program to create engaging materials for students, and learners have even made their own. What could be better than learner-researched figures from history making insightful and even funny presentations of their key achievements? Or a talking Mona Lisa giving a presentation on art? CrazyTalk Animator Pro lets teachers and learners go a lot further with their animations, bringing them a full animation suite at a budget price.
'Talking head' creation can be as simple or complicated as you wish
The home screen is clear and uncluttered with six main tabs (Project, Actor, Animation, Scene, Special FX, Export) running across the top. On either side of the work area are further selection tabs where users can call up stage props or import and export sound and image files.
Head creation can be as simple or complicated as you wish. The easy option involves selecting one of the supplied ‘ready to go’ images in either comic or human form, these could be children or adults You can, additionally, purchase, extra ‘character’ packs from Reallusion.
The other, and perhaps more rewarding option, is to import one of your own images. Animator Pro has its own, quite adequate, masking software. You might, however, find it easier and quicker to do some of the pre-editing in a fully featured graphic program such as Adobe Photoshop or use the excellent Mask Pro third-party filter from OnOne software and import the edited image into CrazyTalk Animator. Once done, the next step is a breeze. The software lays a configurable grid over the prepared face which contains a number of adjustable control points. Once these dots are lined up with eyebrows, eyes, mouth, nose and teeth you’ve got an editable and mobile face capable of quite subtle expressions.
Body animations use a wire-frame ‘overcoat’
Users wanting quick body animation results might wish to explore the character/figure template library which contains cartoon figures such as Humpty Dumpty, ‘Dog Advisor’, Queen and Lumpy as well as four different versions of Cherry and Eddie, two American kids from central casting! The ‘fitting’ system is based on the same principle as face manipulation, in other words, a wire-frame ‘overcoat’ or, in CTA speak, a ‘Rig Skeleton’ that allows for the adjustment of movable body parts; elbow, wrist, knee, hip, shoulders and feet.
How to bring these newly articulated characters to life? Well, most simply by selecting one or more of the options grouped under the Animation tab. So, under sub-section Dance: Chicken Dance, Egypt Dance, Electric Dance. Under Performance: Bye Bye, Clapping, Depressed and Blow Kiss.
With face and body defined and animation applied, the final step in the process is scene and prop creation, the stage where it’s possible to truly personalise a CrazyTalk animation. This is the point where careful study of the manual is richly rewarded.
You can create stage props such as furniture or pets from extraneous sources such as fashion magazines, online images or catalogues. You can paste and resize a Flash movie into a TV screen and simulate a 3D effect and control the viewing angle using the 3D button.
Sound files are imported into a project by selecting the music icon which can be found on the left hand side tool column. Click on this and follow the prompts to locate the required files. Choice is limited to two sound effect files and one background music file. We were also able to fade tracks in and out using the volume slider. There’s a selection of speech clips included with the program which are already synced to facial expression but animation power-users may well opt for the lengthier but more convincing manual syncing process.
With the creative possibilities on offer it might be a good idea to start with a storyboard
To truly personalise a CrazyTalk animation – to convincingly combine motion, speech and character – requires a level of familiarisation with the software that can be quite time consuming for animation newbies. Not because the program is particularly complex but because it’s so well-featured. With a huge number of creative possibilities on offer it might be a good idea to start with a storyboard, or at the very least have a well defined structure for any potential project.
CrazyTalk Animator is a powerful, sophisticated program, intuitive enough for new users to undertake and complete relatively simple projects without constant reference to the well written, comprehensive handbook. (Reallusion has also loaded some short training videos on YouTube that are well worth watching.) Hopefully, this will then encourage them to experiment further because on the far side of a quite steep and challenging learning curve are two happy places called fun and self expression.
And when you do want to show, friends, colleagues or students that masterpiece of animation, you can be confident that, whatever viewing format they use, CrazyTalk Animator will be compatible. Video can be exported in AVI, Mpeg-4, Flash, WMV, NTSC and PAL and also in the increasingly popular HD (high definition).
Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 4
Ease of use 3
Value for money 5
CrazyTalk Animator tutorials
Mask Pro third-party filter from OnOne Software (available for free 30-day trial)
Vital task for using CrazyTalk to inspire creative writing
CrazyTalk Animator school case study – St John the Baptist Catholic Comprehensive School
Steve Dale,Bradford Education: Claire Hancox, Boclair Academy, Glasgow; Julia Richardson, Djanogly City Academy, Nottingham; Bev Evans, Pembroke Dock; Barry McHenry, Greater Merseyside Connexions Partnership Ltd; Spencer Cartwright, Bristol: Amy Crabtree, Taunton, Somerset; Tim Laver, Bishopbriggs Academy, Scotland, Their details have been passed over to Reallusion for delivery.