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Want to take your portraits to the next level? What about making them talk to people? Didn't think I'd say that, did you?
Reallusion CrazyTalk 4: System requirements
- Pentium III 500MHz
- 128Mb RAM (256Mb RAM or higher recommended)
- 300Mb disk space
- Duplex sound card, VGA card, keyboard, mouse, microphone, speaker
- Windows Vista, XP, 2000
- Internet Explorer 5 or above (online activation)
Based in Silicon Valley, Reallusion specialise in 3D character animation based software programs to be used on devices such as email, video, computers and even mobile phones or powerpoint presentations. They consider CrazyTalk as the flagship product and it's designed to bring photographs to life. Not in a rubbish saturday kids show way where just the mouth moves and nothing else. It uses powerful programming to bring facial emotions and head movements into a previously static image.
Despite its obvious comedy element, CrazyTalk has been advertised as a serious marketing tool which, Reallusion say, can be implemented into your professional life.
Installation with the included CD is easy enough with straightforward instructions. Even registering on the website is a no-brainer and five minutes later it'll all be finished with.
Reallusion CrazyTalk 4: In use
The main screen has options for aligning your anchor points along the top, save options on the right, animation editing below and image editing to the left.
Anchor points are used on import and are positioned at the corners of the eyes and mouth.
You can launch the program immediately without the need for rebooting and thirty templates will automatically load under five categories for you to take a look at what it can do. It only uses the same female welcome dialogue on each demo which works really well on the pictures of women and the kitten but not so much the men or the gorilla.
Three tabs are located in the top left of the main screen. The first one is for importing your own image which can be done through the browser box that pops up. It's default size is a bit too small but it can be easily enlarged.
Below that is an option to import from a scanned image. When the image comes in from your location, you have to set four "anchor points" which go in the corners of the eyes and the corners of the mouth. This is simply to get the basics of movement going and the portrait will immediately start moving it's head around and blinking. At this stage you may notice that the eyes aren't fluid with definite lines where the image isn't keeping up with its surroundings.
Along the top of the main window are three eyes with varying amounts of dots around them. These are more anchor point options and clicking on them will open up an advanced version of what you see upon import.
With this you can fine tune the movements by adjusting the auto anchor settings to adjust the position of the nose, eyebrows, eyelids, lips, teeth and face shape. Positioning the anchor points correctly on the mouth will make the teeth disappear if the mouth is open. If this is a problem, you can make alternative, albeit dubious, adjustments by clicking the advanced facial settings button at the very bottom of the page.
It allows you to alter the eyes by adding weird oversized comedy eyes into it so your subject looks like a character out of a Spanish cartoon. You can adjust the teeth which start off serious but towards the bottom of the list there are options for braces, gold teeth, gaps and even vampire teeth or multi layered teeth like the creatures in Critters.
The teeth, eyes, lips and overall mouth can be adjusted in the Advanced Facial settings box.
The teeth can be rotated round (can't think why) or moved up or down to make the top or bottom row more prominent. It doesn't compensate for if someone has their head lifted and is looking down at the camera, though. It's a shame as I think this would be a really beneficial option.
You can also adjust the inside of the mouth to show the uvula or have it as a dark void and finally you can mess around with the lips including forcing them closed if they're open. Reallusion say that this creates a more natural look when the image talks.
The coloured box on the tabs to the right of the main window is for editing the image and gives basic options such as brightness, contrast, saturation and hue. It'll show you in a preview box but I found this completely different to the finished product on the main screen.
The final two icons are for masking the background which you should only really need to use if the background is moving as a result of an eye being too close to the edge of the face for instance. The large tool has a tendency to slow when you're masking off a large area which is annoying and using a smaller one, although more fluid, takes ages.
Back down in the bottom right corner is a tab called Motion Settings. It allows you to increase or decrease the amount of movement on your animation including adding shoulder movement.
Once your animation is at your desired settings, clicking onto script at the very top of the window will allow you to go further with your animation depending on what you wish to do.
The script page works in a similar way to a video editing software system allowing you to make changes to everyting including how the mouth pronounces words.
The emotives will do as they say. You can add emotion to your animation by including the emotive in the timeline script which is on the next tab over. In this box you can also record your own voice over, import a previously recorded one or use the text-to-speech if you don't have a microphone. This option, while useful, is limited in its capacity to only use Microsoft Sam which sounds like a livelier version of Stephen Hawking and makes any female animations sound plain stupid.
To get the pronunciation correct may take some time too. I had to edit "Hello, this is a review of CrazyTalk 4 for ePHOTOzine.com by Matt Grayson" to: "helo, this is a review of cray zee talk four for ee pho tozine.com, by matt grayson." Working it this way got the spaces and rolling of words to a more acceptable ending.
The timeline will show all the parts of the animation in a similar concept to a video editing suite with the voice in the top row and then joined below with facial expressions, special effects, head movements, eyes, shoulders and lip movements along with another audio line. All of which you're able to edit even the mouth movements to the words if you decide the automated sequencer doesn't make them fit properly.
You can choose from five options in the output stage. The messenger is an executable file that you can quickly send to people for them to open and listen to the message. You can choose a number of templates for the image to be enclosed within such as an alarm clock face, a mobile phone screen or a number of different skins similar to window media viewer.
You can also send animated greeting cards for events such as birthdays, weddings or Christmas although they've taken the diplomatic route of making it a seasons greeting card. It works in the same way as the messenger but with different skins to surround your animation. This is great as it means you don't have two different methods to learn.
Preparing the image for web is done in the Web tab and saves your animation as an html file or you can copy the html content to embed into other html pages. The blue box is manoeuvrable to frame the subject. The formats available include avi, wmv, rm, animation gif and sequence bmp. Exporting as a wmv file requires the wmvencoder9 from the Microsoft website.
If you want to have some fun with the program, you can also send the animation to a compatible portable device such as a mobile phone. You can choose the resolution based on the make of the phone. You can also adjust the frame rate and video/audio quality before exporting.
Reallusion CrazyTalk 4: Verdict
It's not a bad idea if you're a professional photographer and you want to give your presentation that extra edge. Think about having your wedding demo CD using a photograph to present the CD to them. It's certainly a unique stand point.
You can have a great deal of fun with the program and I'm impressed with how fast it is at getting the image moving. Just by adding those initial anchor points gets it moving around the screen which is pretty cool.
The box contents are the CD.... and that's it. There's no instruction manual or anything. Any help you may need has to come from the help button. However I did manage to get started without any help and did quite well. The help menu gives tips on how to position anchor points which you simply won't know without instruction.
I can think that a portrait or wedding photographer may find this useful to use. Maybe send a personalised email of a person telling them that their images are ready to view. Use it at the beginning of a slideshow as an introduction or as a presentation for your company.
The idea would be that you use the actual person you're sending the image to otherwise you may as well do a video. It does have a certain cute aspect though as you can also get animals talking or even paintings.
Reallusion CrazyTalk 4: Plus points
Powerful program gives movement in seconds
Amazing to see for the first time
Reallusion CrazyTalk 4: Minus points
No instruction manual included
Teeth can look unnatural
Talking animation isn't perfect
No obvious undo action in Script
Reallusion CrazyTalk 4 prices vary online but seem to average at around £30. Take a look at the Reallusion website here for more details.
This is the finished video I produced while using Crazytalk. I used the text to speech option instead of recording my own voice and inputting that, mainly because of time restraints.