Review: Reallusion's CrazyTalk Animator 3 - Taking a Step Back to Move Forward

GRRR Dog by TET.
Can I animate this guy in
CrazyTalk Animator 3?
CrazyTalk Animator 3's bold claim is 'The One-for-all 2D Animation'. Does it deliver? Could it be your 'go to' 2D animation tool of choice? Before I explore those questions I feel a bit of backstory is necessary.

I've been using Reallusion's CrazyTalk Animator since its original incarnation that promised quick and easy, 2D animation creation. An idea that was relative depending on what kind of animation you wanted to do. Since my focus has largely been on original character animation my experience with CTA is relative to that.

If you wanted to create animated characters from your original artwork, quick and easy didn't really describe the time and effort involved. There was a lot of preparation and considerable time spent rigging its G1 characters.

CTA2's Multi-Angle G2 Characters.
CrazyTalk Animator 2, introduced G2, multi-angle characters, with the revolutionary technique of being animated like 3D characters in 3D space. You could even apply 3D character motions to them from iClone, Reallusion's Flagship 3D animation studio.

However G2 characters upped the complexity of character creation from scratch so much that, even those of us who bothered to learn the detailed process, still struggled with the time and effort just to produce a single character.

It was tedious work. So much so that I've personally never managed to complete a single G2 character in its entirety – and believe me I gave it a really good try (Read about my G2 Monkey and Cat Character to see how much I tried). Once you've drawn more than 50 or so hand gestures the last thing you want to do is draw 50 plus mouth movements, nose movements, eyebrow movements etc.

When an all new upgrade of CrazyTalk Animator was announced, users were desperately hoping Reallusion would do something to make G2 character creation quicker and simpler. Multi-angle characters are a great idea, it was just far too hard to bring your own characters to life.

When the work-in-progress videos came out for CrazyTalk Animator 3 some amazing new features were shown including; Elastic motions, Motion curve libraries, an animated component designer and new motion libraries for humans and animals to name a few. For character creation it was a return to single angle characters that initially left many scratching their heads. The new G3 characters wasn't what we were expecting. It seemed like a step back to G1 characters. Watch the first Work in Progress video below.



However, once you start studying the potential of the G3 range of characters you realize that Reallusion has shifted their focus back to 2D animation in order to move forward. As a result I think CrazyTalk Animator 3 is, hands down, the best version of this software to date.

G3 characters are single angle characters like the original G1 characters but, thanks to the new flexible bone system, offer exceedingly more functionality. Initially it looks like a step backwards and a rejection of G2, multi-angle characters. However, on closer inspection, it's a giant leap forward, with completely new styles and types of character designs to play with.

G2+ Character using the new Facial Morphing System.
G3 characters come in five different types; Human, Animals, Spine, Wings and Free bone.

Additionally there is the updated G2+ characters that use the new, G3 facial morphing system, drastically reducing the number of sprites you need to draw for a G2 multi-angle character's face.

Watch the video below for a complete walk through of all of CTA3's character types.



The defining characteristic of G3 characters is that they are raster image based, using hi-res PNG files, animated through a bone structure combined with a wire mesh. Together they control how the image is distorted when the bones are moved around.

The result is a far more flexible character creation system allowing you to start developing an animated character simply by selecting a character template and importing your own single image into the template. Adjust the bone structure to match and you're ready to start animating.

Freebone characters can have simple or complex bone structures.
Shown here is the underlying mesh that helps determine how
my dog character image is deformed when the bones move.

If you need the character to be more complex, you can break it up into layered components completely inside CTA3, using masks (similar to the G1 character composer in the original CTA). You even have options to add one of three types of custom heads; morph, sprite and the new G3 facial morphing system head.

Separating the front right leg onto its
own layer using masks.

During character creation, CTA3 is now better integrated with your preferred raster image editor (such as Photoshop). Clicking a dedicated button allows you to easily edit a body component externally, with the component automatically updating inside CTA3 when you save it.

What's most impressive about the G3 characters is that they are so easy to create. There's still a fair amount of work that goes into a fully rigged G3 character but it's the kind of work you could do in a day or two, depending on the detail of your images. The G3 characters alone make animating with CTA3 easy, quick and most importantly, fun.

Below is a looping animation of my dog I created using the freebone character. It's pretty rough and has a few issues but certainly demonstrates how fluid G3 characters are and how easy it now is to animate four legged characters. This entire animation only took a few hours of tweaking - most of that was key framing the running motion. The character its self took less than thirty minutes and is just a single image being manipulated by the bone and mesh structure.


via GIPHY
CTA3's Freebone character rigging makes an
animation like this very easy to achieve.

If G3 characters was the only improvement I would've been happy but with all the additional new features like Elastic motions and Motion curve libraries, which really bring your animated props alive with cartoon flair, on top of existing features such a auto lip syncing, morph based heads and the facial puppet system, Reallusion have created, potentially, a one-for-all 2D animation studio. Watch the video below to see more of the new features in action.



It seems like Reallusion have really sat down and said, what can we do to make CrazyTalk Animator 3 not just the best tool for 2D animation but also one of the quickest and easiest to work with?

I feel they have delivered. Whilst there is still quite a learning curve for someone who's never used CrazyTalk Animator at all, I think the basics could be learned, easily, inside a weekend. Constructing a simple G3 character from scratch could be learned inside an hour.

If you're not an artist or animator you can still create great looking animations by using only purchased content such as characters, props, scenes and motion libraries. If you want to go completely into your own imagination you can animate pretty much anything and everything entirely from scratch too. Just break out your favorite image editor and start drawing. Import your character drawing into a G3 template and you could have your character animated and moving around a scene within the hour.

CrazyTalk Animator 3 is for all levels of 2D animators. It's the kind of software that you can get up and running quickly and then really start to push what can be done with it as your confidence grows.

Don't believe me? Why not download a Free Trial for Windows or Mac and spend a weekend with it. See how quickly you can animate your first G3 character.

I'm looking forward to working with CTA3 more, and really exploring the new features in the weeks and months ahead. Every time I fire up CTA3 I'm now thinking 'what could I animate today?' because I know animating a character is no longer a major commitment of time and effort. It's finally possible to try character animation with CTA3 just to see where it goes.

I have a few character projects from past iterations that I will be upgrading to the new G3 system. As I do I'll show you the difference between the versions in future posts along with showcasing more of CTA3's other fantastic new features.

21 comments:

  1. Great review David. I actually feel more motivated to try this!

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    1. I would certainly encourage you to give it a try. This is the best and easiest to use version of CrazyTalk Animator yet.

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  2. I have used CTA PRO, CTA2 AND ICLONE5 successfully and found CTA AND ICLONE5 VERY GOOD AND EASY. UNFORTUNATELY CTA3 (Standard v.) takes minutes to load and I cannot seem to find a way to construct my own characters. Can we also pls have a more appealing dog character as the frontispiece of CTA3

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    1. I've found the video tutorials for CTA3 explains how to create the new G3 characters very well. I haven't had any trouble learning the process.

      I'm not sure why you're asking me about the dog. I don't work for Reallusion or have any real influence over how they present their products.

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    2. What is that video? I have never done this but bought CTA3 pipeline version.

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    3. You'll find all the video tutorials for CTA3 in the Learning Centre [ click here ].

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  3. You seem to know what you are doing, David Arandle, so I will ask you. For the past year or so, I've been working on a comic story of my own design, and recently I decided I wanted to try animating a short clip of it to see how it turned out. The characters need to be as human-like as possible, and quite often the scenes take place in real-world environments. What software would you recommend to animate this? (Free preferably but I am open to buying some too.) Any input is appreciated!

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    1. If you want to stick with free software then Synfig studio is my top pick for 2D animation. It does have a bit of a learning curve but you can get professional results with it.

      If you want something with automatic lip syncing then CrazyTalk Animator 3 (Pro or Pipeline versions - stay away from the standard version) is your next choice.

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    2. Thank you! I looked at Synfig at first, then wasn't sure about it. I'm going to try that to start. One question I do have about all these programs I've seen, how does one take a hand-drawn sketch and put it into one of these programs? I have not been able to find a video from anyone that accurately says how to do this. Is it even possible?

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    3. The dog you see in this post is my own hand drawn art (by that I mean drawn by me on paper and outlined in black ink on paper).

      The best way to get your sketches onto a computer is to use a flatbed scanner (of the variety usually found on multi-function printers).

      The next best option is to photograph it with a digital camera - the camera on most smart phones is good enough for art that will be animated.

      Once you've scanned or photographed your art, use photoshop (or Gimp if you want the free alternative) to do things like remove backgrounds, add or adjust colors etc. For most character art you'll need to use PNG files which support transparency.

      Synfig has some drawing tools so you may want to explore them. You may be able to use them instead of photoshop to prepare your art for animation.

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  4. Excellent review David. Cheers for providing the videos links as well. I am going to do some more research. You have given me a lot to think about.

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    1. Thanks, glad I could help. You might want to check out Moho (formerly Anime Studio Pro) as well. It's a good compromise option if you want more advanced features than CTA3 but don't want the price tag of Toon Boom Harmony.

      That said, CTA3 is still pretty powerful and is great if you want to speed up production.

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  5. From what I have seen of/hear about CTA3 both here on your blog and from other sources it is a good piece of software.

    I chatted with Commedus the other day and he said he is learning it now and that he has been pleased with it.

    On my way to the Moho Blog now.

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    1. If you want something that you're going to be able to learn quickly and get animating with sooner then CTA3 is your best option. I'd also recommend it if you've never used advanced tools like Moho and Harmony. CTA3 uses similar work flows so you can always progress to Moho or Harmony if you feel restricted by CTA3 in any way and bring some knowledge with you.

      If drawing isn't your strength then CTA3 has the best content library of the 3 to purchase characters, backgrounds and props from.

      I'd only consider Harmony if your end goal was to work in an animation studio - in which case you want to start learning ASAP because it's going to take you a while to master it to a professional standard.

      Moho can go either way. It sure has some nice features and is more advanced than CTA3. But a lot of those features are 'nice to have' and certainly aren't essential.

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  6. Guys, Can anybody guide me on how to create those animated characters and get them ready to sell on the market place of reallusions and what do I need to in consideration ?

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    1. If you have the Pipeline version of CTA3 you should have a PDF whitepaper on G3 character creation you can download from your Reallusion account member area (under updates and bonuses for your CTA purchase I think). It goes into detail about how to create G3 characters using the supplied templates.

      Information about joining Reallusion's market place and becoming a content developer can be found at [ this link ]

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  7. Hi David

    I've been using MUVIZU over the past year and now they've gone into liquidation :( I'm now looking for something similar. I used the Characters in MUVIZU in videos I'd taken using Chroma Key, CTA3 looks like a great replacement, is it the Pro edition I need so I can create my own characters from .png files or do I need the pipeline version? Is pipeline version for photoshop import/export and that's the only difference?

    Thanks for the review David, really useful

    Kind regards

    David (Jacobitejake)
    Staffordshire
    UK

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    Replies
    1. Sorry to hear Muvizu's gone into liquidation. I have Muvizu and wanted to do more with it. Just haven't had the time.

      The major difference between Pipeline and Pro is that you can import characters from Photoshop created using Photoshop character templates (supplied with Pipeline).

      Being able to import character templates is such a big time saver on an already time consuming process it is worth the extra cost. Importing your .png files one image at a time - which is the process for Pro users - for a fully rigged character will get old really fast (considering a fully rigged G3 character has around 50 different hand images alone).

      There are other minor differences between Pro and Pipeline versions [ Click here for edition comparisons ]

      If you are planning to make complete characters from scratch then, if your budget allows, get Pipeline.

      If all you want to do is take existing characters and modify them to suit your needs e.g. changing a head sprite or clothing, you could get by with Pro. However, if your budget allows I'd still get Pipeline. There's nothing worse than taking a tutorial that says 'this feature is for Pipeline users only'.

      I hope that's answered your question. For me, I always go for the full version of any application if I can afford to, even if it has additional features I may not use. You just don't know until you need those features and the only way to get them is to spend even more on an upgrade.

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    2. Thank you so much David for your very kind reply, and so soon! I can see your point in getting the pipeline version but I doubt I will ever be able to afford Photoshop as well :(

      One final question, have you been able to play with Moviestorm at all? It looks more restricted but it is 3d and maybe, in a way, also similar to Muvizu, what's your thoughts? Many thanks.

      Kind regards

      David

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    3. You don't actually need Photoshop, you just need graphics software that can open and save in .PSD (Photoshop) file format. I personally use Clip Studio Paint. Affinity Photo is much cheaper, or you could even use a free photo editor like GIMP.

      I hadn't heard of Moviestorm until now. Just looking at it, it's probably okay if you're happy with the style of animation it produces. I don't think I'll be buying a license any time soon though - seems a bit expensive for the quality of animation.

      That said, I've invested a small fortune in Reallusion's iClone, which could be described as a more advanced version of Moviestorm and costs about the same for the entry level product (but obviously without all the content Moviestorm appears to be bundled with).

      I originally used Muvizu because I liked the style of the characters and a license was extremely cheap. Plus it would run on my laptop computer. I would've used it a lot more if it had been easier to use but it was always a struggle getting the characters to act how I wanted them to.

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