Cool Froyd the Cat and Crazy Talk Animator 2 (Pipeline)

I started trying to animate my original cat character, Cool Froyd (taken from one of my paintings), back in April of 2013 using Crazy Talk Animator Pro.

The character was all ready to animate but the project stalled due to a lack of inspiration script-wise on my part and a need to spend more time learning to use CTA Pro.

Fast Forward to December 2013 and my purchase of Crazy Talk Animator 2 (Pipeline edition). After spending a few weeks over Christmas and New Years learning CTA2 I decided to revisit Cool Froyd and discovered that enough of what I had learned was transferable to CTA Pro. What's more learning CTA2 made Pro look almost like child's play.

In the space of an evening I had ad-libbed a short animation, created with CTA Pro, featuring Cool Froyd, for my previous blog post about AVSoft's Voice Changer Software. I was really happy with the result but not the script and I also knew CTA Pro characters can be imported into CTA2.

So, back story over, let's finally continue animating Froyd, this time in CTA 2. I won't go through the process of importing CTA Pro character because there really isn't much to it. Once I had Cool Froyd set up in a new project with his blue backdrop it was time to start animating.

Quick side note about my script... I decided it was time to stop waiting for inspiration and just choose a topic for Froyd and write a short two minute piece. It's not the funniest script you'll ever hear but it beats shelving the project entirely while waiting for genius to hit.

The first thing to notice about Froyd is that he's not a standard humanoid character. Which means all of the predefined motions for human characters available in CTA 2 are virtually useless. However CTA 2 allows you to operate your character just like a puppet, in real time. Not only that but you can isolate different parts of the character and just operate those. This allows you to build up complex movements in sections at a time.

Crazy Talk Animator 2's Facial Puppet Editor.

My process for animating Froyd was to add the voice track on the first pass. CTA 2 has automatic lip syncing so importing the voice file was as complex as this gets. You can fine tune the lip syncing if the auto sync doesn't quite get the match right but I didn't for this project.

Next I did a pass of random eye blinks using the facial puppet editor. I could have done these at any time whilst puppeting the face but doing them now means one less thing to think about.

Most of Froyd's head was animated using the body puppet editor. This simply involves choosing a setting, say side to side head tilts, doing a test run and practicing with the mouse (or track pad in my case) the movements you want to make simply by moving the mouse around in real time.

Once you've rehearsed the movement you simply hit the record button and repeat your movements. If you don't like the result you can always hit undo. The upside is that puppeteering the character is so much quicker and more intuitive than creating key frames.

The only parts of Froyd not animated with the puppet editors in real time is his tail - which is a looped setting that sways the tail from side to side. The pom-pom on his hat - which I key framed entirely on the timeline and his praying hand gesture - which was also key framed on the timeline.

Camera control is handled by creating key frames on the timeline. I used two basic shots, a wide shot and a head shot with a slow pan in at the beginning and a slow pan out at the end.

Adding Camera key frames on the timeline.
Usually you would create titles and end credits in your video editing software but since Cool Froyd is a one scene animation I decided to create the opening title and closing credits using the effects features available. That black title screen is just a black rectangle prop in front of the camera that becomes transparent or opaque as needed using the Opacity function.

Finally I added a bit of music for the intro and decided that was it.

Below is the final two and half minute short created entirely with CTA 2. There's plenty I could do to improve it but I didn't want to get bogged down with striving for perfection. This film's main purpose was to help me learn the software. I think it's done that rather well.



Overall I'm happy with the result. I've still got to learn how to get more facial expression into the character. I also had some trouble with stretch and squash puppeteering being wiped by the tilt head from side to side puppeteering. Hence there's no stretch and squash of the head like there was in my voice changer animation.

My next step will be to create a G2 character in CTA 2 - which is a character that can be viewed through 360 degrees of angles. Froyd is a G1 character and only has the one front view. It would be quite hard to make multiple views of Froyd since his original source image was a painting.

I hope you've enjoyed reading about Froyd. I may make more episodes once I've acquired a little more proficiency with the software. For now, it's just been great to see a painting come to life.

Voice All Your Own Animated Characters with Voice Changer

Voice Changer by AVSoft is real time voice manipulation software that can be used for a wide range of purposes including (according to their website); Voice-over and voice dubbing for audio/video clips, presentations, narrations, voice messages, voice mails, E-greeting cards, broadcasting, etc.; mimic the voice of any person, create animal sounds, change/replace/remove voices in songs, videos,etc.

I bought it for the specific purpose of changing my own voice, to extend my vocal range, for voicing characters in my own animations.

I was fortunate enough to get this software at a significant discount that made it difficult to refuse, given that I'd never tried it, or even heard of it before. I'm not sure if I would have bought it at the full price given that much of what it can do (for my needs) can also be done with the freeware audio program, Audacity.

Voice Changer User Interface.
Voice Changer is relatively easy to install and set up. Once installed simply change you default microphone to the installed AVnex Virtual Audio Device and any software you have that uses a microphone will take the output from Voice Changer.

The program manipulates your voice by first adjusting the pitch and timbre of the input voice, to which you can also apply a number of optional effects such as Equalization, Sound effects and Background effects.

What sets this software apart from using Audacity is that you can adjust your voice in real time, speaking directly into the microphone and hearing your voice echoed back with whatever adjustments you have applied.

Once you get your voice just how you want it, you can save the settings out for future use.

The program also comes with a number of preset voices, called 'NicKvoices' in two categories; Male input and Female input. These are specifically for situations when you want your voice to sound like a voice of the opposite gender.

The results I got from this program were varied. I've found that no matter what software you use to manipulate a voice it nearly always comes out sounding a little more computer generated than natural. Voice Changer didn't really change my findings.

It's claimed that you can use Voice Changer to mimic other people's voices. Having only used the software for a few hours I haven't really explored this aspect thoroughly. Essentially it works by taking a sample of the persons voice, then recording your own voice saying the same phrase. You then adjust the settings until your voice recording is a close match to the original persons voice.

Voice Changer is certainly fun to play around with and, for my purposes, it's a quick way to solve the problem of not having enough people to voice all my characters. I'm not sure I'd want to use it for finished work but certainly for work in progress and rough renderings of animations, it will do the job.

The biggest let down I've had is with the online documentation and tutorials. Not so much the content but the presentation which is set out in a forum style layout and seems to require many clicks just to get to the tutorial I need. Seriously AVSoft? Gather all that content together and organize it into a logically set out PDF Manual that I can read without being online.

One tip I will suggest is, if you don't have a great quality microphone, then running this program through Audacity is a great way to get better results.  Audacity can remove things like microphone hiss and generally clean up your input - as well as giving a whole bunch of additional effects you can apply after you've recorded your voice.

What I like most about Voice Changer is the ease at which you can experiment with getting just the right voice you need. You could play around with it all day finding different voices and saving them - just in case.

As I said, I'm not sure if I would have bought this software at full price (because Audacity was working just fine for me) but certainly worth the money I did pay. If you're not sure, Voice Changer is available as a trial download.

I did a test run with Voice Changer to voice my character Cool Froyd in the animation below. It's not brilliant by any means. In fact you have to really listen to understand him (probably should have subtitles) but you can see the potential.



Incidentally this is my first completed animated short of entirely my own artwork with Crazy Talk Animator Pro. You can see how the components were created in my original post, Cool Froyd the Cat and Crazy Talk Animator Pro, written back when I started work on the animation.

With all that preliminary work done it only took me an afternoon to create the animation above. Learning Crazy Talk Animator 2 has been a real eye opener at just how easy the original Crazy Talk Animator Pro actually is by comparison. I shouldn't have relegated it to the 'too hard' basket for quite so long!

How to Get the Best Out of PowToon

PowToon and other similar drag'n'drop animation sites can be quite challenging to get good results from, for your animated business explainer video, when you're restricted to using just the characters, props and backgrounds available in their site's theme libraries.

You won't get an animated explainer video that looks exceptional if you simply launch PowToon's editor and start dragging and dropping without a plan. How do I know? Case in point. Watch the unfinished video below that I started work on as described above.

I wanted to make an explainer video advertising my Animation 4 Business services. I had the script ready and went straight to the studio.  Keep in mind, I've been making animated explainer videos professionally with GoAnimate for three years to this point.



As you can see it starts out okay and probably would've been an okay video if I'd had kept at it but to me it lacked energy and looked too much like I was settling for whatever I could find. Not too mention it was taking forever just to drag together each slide as I tried to find suitable components.

Then I had a minor epiphany. I should storyboard my animation independently of PowToon, with no consideration as to whether the site even had the graphics I needed to make it happen. Instead of trying to make my script fit what PowToon has to offer I should work towards making PowToon fit the vision I had for my script.

I will add a slight disclaimer to this approach. You do need to have at least had a look through all PowToon's theme libraries to see what's there. It'll help later on when you're trying to build scenes that have no obvious props available.

So I went away and, using Springboard, storyboarded my script which you can see below.


If you compare it to my finished video below you'll see the key scenes are pretty much what was in the storyboard. The real challenge was bringing them to life with the backgrounds and props available.

For example if you look at the first frame of my storyboard you can see I planned a front on mid shot of a young business woman sitting in front of her laptop computer.

In the final video this scene is more of a three quarter view of an older business woman because PowToon didn't have any front views of characters in the theme I chose to use.

I also went for a completely different character to what I had in mind in the storyboard because a week or so earlier I read an article outlining actress, Gina Davis, plan to increase the number of good female roles in movies, simply by replacing male characters with females and not changing anything else.

Taking Gina's concept I thought, why not apply it to my animation and choose a character that I might not have thought about otherwise. I really liked the look of the business woman I chose and I feel she gives the role I put her in some credibility whilst still being a fun character.

I won't go through every frame of my storyboard. The key point you should take from this article is to plan your scenes for what you want to see in them, then try to realize each scene using what's available in PowToon's library. If you can't find exactly what you need then see if you can come up with a compromise (such as my first scene described above).

Don't stick to one theme either. Choose one theme that you like for your main look and try to create your storyboard as much as possible with that. This will give your animation a uniform style through out. Search other themes when you can't find what you need in your main theme.



I think you'll agree my finished video is much better right from the get go than my initial unfinished version that I first showed you.

I'm guilty of going directly into site's like PowToon and storyboarding with the actual content that will become the final animation. It is something of a trap though. Sure you'll get okay results but you may find you do better work by actually planning your storyboard completely away from PowToon altogether.
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