Skate Monkey (Part 3) - My first Crazy Talk Animator Multi-Dimensional Character

Work on my Skate Monkey character for Crazy Talk Animator 2 continues and I'm happy to say it's nearly done. If you haven't read my previous posts follow these links, Part 1, Part 2.

Below is a very short video demonstration of the character so far pulling a few dance moves. There's a few minor issues that you may or may not notice but otherwise I'm quite happy with the character's general look and how the body is working.



Obviously I've still to add a tail to my monkey. I'm not quite sure how best to do this yet. CTA2 characters do have provisions for a tail with multiple sections but it seems like a hold over from CTA1's G1 characters and don't work so well with CTA2's G2 mutlti-dimensional characters.

Other things still to do is all the facial expression graphics and hand graphics (for different hand positions and motions).

I've also developed the monkey as a character capable of utilizing the new character styles feature of CTA2 that allows you to change a character's look between any one of ten different styles with just a click. Unfortunately I've encountered a problem there that's a little too hard to explain to anyone not familiar with vector art. I'm waiting to see what Reallusion support says about the issue because it may just be a bug.

Hopefully by next week this character will be done and I can start producing a few animations for your enjoyment.

Skate Monkey (Part 2) - My first Crazy Talk Animator Multi-Dimensional Character

Last post I started creating my Skate Monkey, Multi-dimensional character for Crazy Talk Animator 2. This post I thought I'd give you an update on where I'm at. It's been a slow process and there is still much to be done.

Below you can see my DrawPlus character template now has all ten views of my skate monkey completed. Well almost.

DrawPlus Template with 10 views
of my skate monkey.

If you click on the above image to see the larger view you'll notice all the character views appear to have random purple dots spread all over them. These are the pivot points (or joins) for where each body part will attach to the next. So far I've only positioned them for the very first view.

I mentioned in my last post that I didn't really like drawing in DrawPlus, which is part of the reason this character has developed so slowly. I've been completing 1-2 views per day, on the days I have sat down to work on the character. After that I've usually felt so tired working on it that I literally start to nod off in front of the computer.

It's not just the drawing I find tedious. With each new view I have to manually go through and change the name of each body part to match with the name of the view that it appears in e.g. 'Left_foot_top' needs to be changed to 'Left_foot_bottom' etc.

Once all the drawing, naming and pivot point positioning is complete I can actually import the character into CTA2 and see how it moves but that isn't the end of it. Next I'll have to draw the eyes and mouth for up to 16 different facial expressions (and I'll have to draw enough mouths so the character can be lip synced to speech.

Oh and I have to add a tail too.

It's a lot of work to do just to create a character I feel. I can't see myself doing this for every character in my animations. I suspect a better way to go will be to create partial characters with just the body components that actually will appear in my animation. The only time I'd do a full character like this again is if it's a character I plan to use in many animations (which I am planning to do with this monkey).

Hopefully by my next post I'll have this skate monkey character complete, and maybe even staring in a test animation.

Skate Monkey (Part 1) - My first Crazy Talk Animator Multi-Dimensional Character

Continuing on with my progress of learning Crazy Talk Animator 2 I've begun work on creating my first Multi-Dimensional character. As you may have guessed it's my Skate Monkey character that I briefly attempted to turn into a CTA1 character quite some time back (See this post for the video).

A CTA2 'Multi-Dimensional' character is simply a character that consists of 10 different view angles that form a 360 degree view. This character is attached to a bone skeleton that exists in three dimensional space. The software then calculates which images from your 10 different view angles are needed to execute whatever motion you add.

In the image below you can see my skate monkey character drawn at angle zero in the Serif DrawPlus template provided by Reallusion. The other nine view angles are the CTA2 dummy character which I will progressively replace with my monkey as I draw more views.

A CTA2 Multi-Dimensional character has 10 view angles.
In the short video below that I put together especially for this post you can see the monkey character has been imported into CTA2 and is animated walking forward. It's still a little rough (and I"m not sure why he's missing a pupil because it's certainly there in the template) but I wanted to show you not just how the character looks but also demonstrate how the bones exist in 3D space to animate the character.



You'll notice from the above video that the software is automatically working out the perspective on the character so that the foot and hand closest to the camera appears larger than the ones further away. If you look at the lower inset video you can see the actual bone structure in action (you may have to watch the video at full screen to see it).

What this 3D bone structure does is makes a CTA2 G2 (i.e. Multi-Dimensional) character seem more like a fully rounded character that has form, body structure and occupies real space. Unlike CTA1 characters, such as my Cool Froyd the cat, whose body appears very flat and, when I do move his limbs, they have a less natural movement to them.

Previously in CTA1 to create a flash based character (as opposed to a bitmap based character) you had to import each component of the character individually e.g. hand, forearm, upper arm, eyes, nose, etc. This new way, via template, whilst it is something of an improvement doesn't do a whole lot to speed up the process. Though I'm fairly certain it's quicker than importing every component individually for a G2 character (which is what you'll have to do if you didn't purchase the Pipeline version of CTA2).

I'm not that comfortable drawing in DrawPlus either because it is entirely vector based. Despite it being the only software I own that fully supports my Wacom tablet, right down to reprogramming the buttons to commonly used tools, it doesn't feel natural to draw with. Plus I'm from the school where drawing a freehand vector line is a definite no, no as it creates far too many points. Which means I have to draw by manipulating shapes and that doesn't feel natural or fun.

Maybe I'm just not used to drawing that way yet. Nothing beats drawing for real with a regular HB pencil on paper.

Back to the software. I've also had trouble with the layer order of body parts. View angle zero (the one I'm working on) sets the layer order for all the other views to base themselves upon. However when I import the character the layer order seems to change. I've yet to work out in CTA2 how to change the layering for the default character pose. I know how to change the layer order of body parts whilst key framing the animation but I don't want to have to do that every single time I animate the character just because the default pose starts the laying out wrong.

Colour Styles in CTA2.
One other thing I'm trying to do is allow this character to utilize automatic colour styles that can be applied with a single click (see the image right for an example of some of the styles available). One thing you can do is remove all the character outlines. However, for those of you familiar with vector drawing, for some reason, my 'open' shapes that have an outline, retain their outline when this style is applied?

Something else you may have noticed is my monkey doesn't have a tail. This is because the template doesn't include the tail segments of CTA2 characters. I'll add that in once I've imported the entire main character.

I think that's all I wanted to highlight thus far. It's taking longer than expected because I'm trying to solve all my problems using the zero degree view first. Once I have that the other views should come together much quicker as many of the parts can be adapted from the zero and subsequent angles as I draw them.

I hope you've found this insight into custom CTA2 character creation useful and, if you are considering buying CTA2 Pipeline for this very reason, you take the phrase "Easily create multi-dimensional characters..." used in the promotion with a very 'relative' grain of salt.

New Look Toon - Learning Crazy Talk Animator 2

The Cast of New Look.
New Look is a new animated short that I created from a piece of comedy I wrote back in December of 1996. It's a very short sketch I created with a view to it being told as stand up comedy but I thought it was also an ideal piece to help me learn Crazy Talk Animator 2 (CTA2).

Watch the short video below then I'll go through some of the behind the scenes stuff to give you some idea of how it was made. Note that all of the artwork comes from CTA2  G2 Power Tools Volume 1 and that my goal was not to make a perfectly animated short. I know there's plenty of room to improve. This was entirely about learning the basics of the software.



The Script

As mentioned it was written by me in 1996 and is inspired by real life events where I actually did start a new job as a layout artist for a very big Supermarket Group. On several occasions different people did come up to me and say "You look a little lost!"

I wasn't but I must have paused long enough to appear less productive than everyone else or something. I only wished I had gone in one day and actually tried looking 'alarmed' just to see what reaction I'd get.

Storyboard

Most of the time I don't fully storyboard my own animation projects, since I don't usually need to show them to anyone, but this year I've decided to make more of an effort drawing proper storyboards I can actually understand. In the past my personal storyboards have been so bad I don't know what the squiggles mean even 5-10 minutes after I've drawn them.

Below is my storyboard for New Look minus all the scene description to save space. If you compare it to the finished animation you'll see all the shots are pretty much there as shown, with exception to an extra shot I created that appears between scene 3 and 4. It's a wide shot of the main character walking down a hallway that I added in because I didn't make scene 4 long enough to fill out the narration.

Storyboard for New Look.
All the rest of this article will reference the scene numbers shown in the storyboard above when talking about specific scenes.

Crazy Talk Animator 2 to MoviePlusX6

All of the scenes were animated as individual project files in CTA2. Although you could do an entire animation within the software it's really designed to be a scene editor. Once I completed each scene I exported it as an MP4 file and then brought it into Serif's MoviePlusX6.

Bringing the files into your video editing software gives you more options for adding titles, transitions and other effects as well as giving you more audio tracks to work with.

Prop Animation

Scene 1: I only wanted to highlight this scene because it's the only scene that is entirely prop and camera animation. It's not obvious but the building and trees at its base do slide slowly to the right just to give the scene a little more feeling of depth. If it weren't for characters, CTA2 would be a breeze to learn!

To make the camera slowly pan and zoom in is a simple case of putting a key frame for where you want the camera to begin and then putting another for where you want it to finish.

Backgrounds

Perspective View for scene depth.
One of the best things about CTA2 is the ability to give scenes, backgrounds perspective (or a feeling of depth). In my office scene, everything you see in the background is flat up against the back wall with very little depth. Everything in the foreground is set quite far forward so when the camera zooms in or out you get that nice parallax style effect that gives the scene a more three dimensional feel.

If however you don't want that effect, you can change the camera to 'orthographic' and the entire scene will be flat without having to adjust anything else.

Character Animation: Predefined and Custom Movement

You may notice that as the story unfolds the characters get more and more animated. That's why I felt this script was perfect for learning the basics. It starts with basic prop animation then the character animation gets progressively more complex.

The first scene that was a challenge was Scene 3. I thought having the character sitting at the desk, then turning to face the man who walks in, was going to be the hard part but I actually created that movement after about an hour of trial and error. It's a combination of predefined animation modified with my own enhancements to suit the situation.

The man who walks into the scene is also a combination of predefined animation (walking) and custom movements (when he extends his arm as he talks). Also I wanted him to carry something so it looked like he had purpose (to fetch a book) rather than just randomly walking into the scene empty handed.

Learning how to link the book to the character and then change his hand sprite so it looked like he was holding the book contributed to the complexity of his movement.

Speech

CTA2 has automatic lip syncing. It's not perfect but it's pretty good. Easy enough to refine the lip movement key frames too if anything is particularly not right. With CTA2 you can record your voice directly into the program, import audio or use Text To Speech (TTS).

Wherever a character actually speaks in my animation that sound was imported directly in CTA2. All the male characters use my own voice, the female is a TTS voice. The narration was imported into MoviePlus X6 and edited there.

Character Animation: Puppet

If you can't find a predefined character action to suit your needs, and you don't want to key frame something out, CTA2 allows you to puppeteer your characters in real time. You can control the character directly with the mouse (or trackpad) or indirectly through preset sliders for different body parts.

I didn't use puppeteering very much in this animation, except for scenes 8 and 11. In those scenes you can see the main characters head move up and down a very tiny amount relatively quickly as if he's laughing to himself. This was me literally moving the head up and down in real time as the movement was recorded.

Character Animation: Performance

Another handy feature of CTA 2 is the ability to save any sequence of character movement (including the audio for speech) out as a performance motion. Once you've saved it the motion can be applied to any other character.

In my animation I created the alarmed look in scene 9 from a combination of an existing pre-animated movement and my own customization (mostly the facial expressions, hand movements and positions). I then 'collected' the movement up and saved it as a performance motion file.

If you watch the two characters in scene 10 closely you'll notice they perform exactly the same movement as the character in scene 9, just offset a little to avoid their looks being synchronized.

Challenges

CTA2 can be quite confusing, specifically using the Timeline to locate movements that you wish to remove from a predefined motion. For example in scene 5 the main character has his feet up on the desk when you first see him. His hands are doing some rather odd, waving/flapping movements that are left over from the pre-animated motion file that I modified.

At the time I was creating this scene I looked everywhere to try and rid him of this hand movement. I just couldn't find it. Nor could I seem to get rid of it by moving his hands around. I still don't actually know how to fix it.

I have gotten much better at getting the characters to move how I want and putting together scenes much more quickly. For example, scene 3 took me the best part of a day to create. A few weeks and a bit more experience later I put together scenes 9-11 in a few hours.

I still have a lot to learn, particularly knowing the different parts of a character and how they relate to the timeline.

To Conclude

In general I'm happy with how this animation came out. I know anyone with even an ounce more animation experience than me will consider much of the animation to be awful. That's fine though. Everyone's first animations are always a bit dodgy and not something you usually want to dwell on. For me it was just a learning experience. I'll put more effort into what I produce when I'm more familiar with the software.

I'm not overly enthralled by the stock G2 characters that come with Power Tools Volume 1. I feel they lack a sense of style and some of the 360 degree views of them look and feel cobbled together and lazy. The characters are fine for business explainer videos perhaps but not something I'd want in my own personal animations. I'm looking forward to developing my own characters from my own artwork.

I'll continue to learn CTA2 from here. I feel it's a great and powerful tool, ideal for a one person animation studio. If you have this software I'd love to see what you're creating with it and reading articles like this one telling people about the challenges you faced.

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