Softimage Launches Face Robot

With facial animation becoming more of a necessity the Oscar-winning KING KONG relied on it heavily Softimage unveils SOFTIMAGE | FACE ROBOT this month, the industrys first software application dedicated to the creation of believable facial animation for high-end film, post and games productions.

Designed for studios faced with high-quality or high-volume facial animation requirements, Face Robot software represents a technological breakthrough by enabling professionals to animate a digital human face with higher quality results and in less time than using traditional methods. In just six easy steps, artists can generate emotive expressions that replicate natural, organic movement of skin and soft tissue. The software works with all major 3D applications and easily integrates into any studio pipeline.

Believable facial animation is arguably the hardest problem in computer graphics today, and a huge challenge for 3D production, said Marc Stevens, vp of Softimage. Face Robot is an important step for Softimage, building on our long-standing heritage of innovation focused on revolutionizing the way 3D animators work. We are very excited to deliver a new technology that truly empowers artists to bring human characters to life with unprecedented quality and efficiency.

Currently, the most common methods for animating human faces are complex, labor-intensive and time-consuming, typically requiring artists to create a series of shapes for each facial expression. With Face Robot software, artists save valuable production time by directly manipulating various anatomical features such as the mouth, eyebrows and jaw. With the ability to exercise precise control, Face Robot offers the freedom to sculpt the nuances of an expression at any point during the animation process. With the softwares unique soft-tissue solver, Face Robot simulates how facial tissue slides and deforms during the formation of expressions and includes a corrective sculpting system for detailed art direction.

Michael Isner, manager of special projects at Softimage and leader of the Face Robot development team, said, The main objective behind developing Face Robot is to maximize the life-like appearance of a face while minimizing the difficulty of getting there. By working closely with top animators in the industry, we delivered a tool that is dedicated to enhancing the artistic approach to a 3D workflow. With a streamlined production process focused solely on facial behavior, Face Robot is poised to have a tremendous impact on the industry.

With built-in support for importing and exporting of Autodesk 3ds Max and Maya file formats, Face Robot software can be easily incorporated into existing pipelines, offering further interoperability.

Face Robot has already been used on a number of projects, including U2s latest music video, ORIGINAL OF THE SPECIES, in collaboration between Spontaneous and Blur Studios.

The Face Robot system consists of two packages: Face Robot Designer ($94,995 MSRP) is a complete environment to prepare, solve and animate faces, with tools to define wrinkles and puffing, place tendons and fine-tune the mouth. Face Robot Animator ($14,995 MSRP) uses a powerful retargeting algorithm that transfers animation and motion capture across faces and offers high-level tuning controls. It is the animation environment for artists to apply keyframe animation techniques or manipulate MoCap data. In a typical Face Robot pipeline, there will be one seat of Designer and several seats of Animator.

Face Robot is considered a complement to performance and motion capture. Instead of capturing a large number of markers that both over constrain the face and create room for error, it allows productions to capture only those markers that represent the salient points of the face. The deformation of the face around these markers is driven by a soft tissue model that delivers believable, lifelike animation and removes the need for extensive cleanup and tweaking. Studios will save time gluing on markers, have much less data to clean and will be able to get animation into projects sooner.

Face Robot is the culmination of many years of animation research and development at Softimage, which has been at the forefront of computer graphics technology for nearly 20 years, spearheading many fundamental animation technologies, such as inverse kinematics, which first found their application in Softimages 3D systems and enabled ground-breaking new results, such as the digital dinosaurs in JURASSIC PARK.

The technology for Face Robot was developed in secrecy by the Softimage Special Projects team and condenses numerous algorithmic advances and years of production experience with facial animation into the first coherent solution for facial animation. Led by Isner, Thomas Kang and Javier von der Pahlen of the special projects team, Face Robot was developed in close collaboration with one of the key partners in this project, Jeff Wilson at Blur Studio in Los Angeles, who helped define the artistic needs for creating life-like facial animation.

Essentially, there are six stages to Face Robot involved in preparing a human face for animation:

Stage 1Assembly: Brings together facial parts and check their validity.* Import a completed 3D model of a head built according to Face Robot modeling guidelines. * Check if meshes are ready for Face Robot. * Fix holes. * Generate the interior of the eyes and mouth.

Stage 2 Pick Objects: identify the mesh components of the face.* Pick the face mesh, eyes and teeth.

Stage 3 Pick Landmarks: select landmark points on the face.* Visually guided workflow to pick the key points on the face.

Stage 4 Fit: spatially aligns specialized parts of the face.* Fit jaw tissue, neck and jawbone.

Stage 5 Act by setting keyframes or by applying motion capture.* Key facial animation controls. * Load facial motion capture from .c3d files. * Re-author and alter performance using motion retargeting. * Blend keyframes and motion capture animation. * Use the animation mixer to blend animation. * Animate eye blinking. * Test facial poses. * Export animation to XSI/Maya/Max/ LightWave/Messiah.

Stage 6 Tune: adjust the mechanical behavior of the face to match artistic or data-driven goals. This last process step consists of soft tissue tuning, an iterative technique that uses various forms of manipulation of the soft tissue model to achieve the desired deformation of the faces surface for a range of facial expressions. * Adjust the soft tissue regions of the face through sculpting. * Adjust the eyelids. * Adjust the mouth. * Create maps to control facial behavior through rendering or to transfer to a game engine.

Softimage Co. (www.softimage.com), a subsidiary of Avid Technology Inc., delivers innovative, artist-friendly character creation and effects tools to animators and digital artists in the film, broadcast, post-production and games industries. Its flagship product, SOFTIMAGE|XSI the industry's only non-destructive digital character production software frees character animators and digital artists to create compelling animated 3D content and effects: from major motion pictures to CG features and commercials, to videogames.

Avid Technology Inc. (www.avid.com) is a leader in digital nonlinear media creation, management and distribution solutions, enabling film, video, audio, animation, games and broadcast professionals to work more efficiently, productively, and creatively.

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