Talking heads

  / by Bassam

emocontrols1 We finally have the dialog recorded for our movie! It took one five hour session last Thursday at Earforce with Tygo Gernandt as Proog and Cas Jansen as Emo. We couldn’t have better voices for our characters. Both actors spent considerable time and effort understanding the characters and the story, aided by the animatic and by verbal descriptions from Ton and myself. The result? I can’t imagine Proog or Emo sounding like anything else- the performances are that good.

Above and beyond the sound, the video of the session is a goldmine of reference for our animations. We watched it compulsively, at normal speed and also slowing it down and freezing it at key frames, picking out expressions and gestures that could really fit the characters.
One side-effect of this is that we began to feel that the original facial setup for the characters wasn’t up to the quality of their voices- and it would take some time and tweaking to match the performance.

Both Proog’s and Emo’s original facial setups had some flaws I had previously deemed acceptable. Emo specifically had issues- The default pose was with a mouth slightly open (don’t do this!) The bone-only approach I had taken for the mouth open shape wasn’t working out ( on either character), the teeth were too high, and some of the shapes were blending really poorly.

Of course this is not acceptable! I decided to get the basics fixed as quickly as possible, so I could then get to the refinement as the project continues. This weekend I spent some time revisiting Emo’s facial setups (Proog’s will come later this week) and laying down a stronger foundation of shapes and controllers for acting purposes. The resulting setup has more controls with less “automation” but gives the animator a better range for expressing emotion, and also keeps the work in the same 3D view.

Well, after a couple of days work, I can safely say we’ve got a nice foundation. I’ll still put in time tweaking the weight paint and shapes ( There are at least 4 more shapes I still plan to add ), and of course, I’ll still add extra shapes and controls whenever scenes demand it. But here’s a few teaser quick poses from the current setup:

emocontrols1 emocontrols2
emocontrols3 emocontrols4
emocontrols5 emocontrols6

[Edit] I suppose I should explain a little bit what you see here, since it relies on some features that are so far only in the orange branch:
1st: the setup relies on shape keys and controllers, similar to this post
2nd: the drivers aren’t made up of separate objects; it’s just bones in the same armature.
3rd: bones in orange branch can display as arbitrary object with a nice little “object” button in the bone panel in pose mode.
4th: armatures have layers: you can have a layer for general posing, a layer for hand poses, a layer for IK arms, etc…. and of course, a layer for the facial controlers.
5th: profit!

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82 Responses to “Talking heads”

  1. Ton said on 21 Dec, 2005:

    A little note from the producer; even whilst we can use the video material of the actors for the making-of documentary, the actor agents have explicitly requested to not release anything of that before the final DVD is finished.
    That means we better also remove the video captured shots from this blog. :)


  2. Mal said on 21 Dec, 2005:

    Actors and agents eh! You’d think they’d be happy enough getting a paid gig, now they’re giving out demands like sweets! :)


  3. buergi said on 21 Dec, 2005:

    Great work, i love it.
    What about publishing the subtitles in a wiki, splited in to seperated paragraphs, so everyone can translate them.
    And if there are mistakes or there is just a better way to translate a paragraph, everybody can correct it.
    I’m sure there are many people out there, who’d love to support the project this way.

    I’d love to watch the movie, no matter in which language, but in English with German subtitles it would be great.

  4. Matt said on 21 Dec, 2005:

    Yep, we’ll make an announcement about the subtitles when we have the final audio dialogue edit (soon, I hope!)

  5. jan said on 21 Dec, 2005:

    Whoa there – you give me a final animatic, I’ll give you a final dial edit! ;)

  6. Matt said on 21 Dec, 2005:

    Hey, what are you doing reading thi.. I mean.. er.. you’ll have it soon! :)

  7. Bassam said on 21 Dec, 2005:

    animatic? what’s that?

  8. jan said on 21 Dec, 2005:

    Beats me, is there a cryptozoologist among our readers?

  9. AniCator said on 21 Dec, 2005:


  10. Mataii said on 21 Dec, 2005:

    Wow..!! Amazing work guys :D

  11. malefico said on 22 Dec, 2005:

    Holly Cow !!!!!!

    You guys are making my life easier every day !

    Kind regards


  12. rogper said on 21 Dec, 2005:

    I just have one thing to say you guys:
    I really just hope one day be, at least, as good as you guys!!
    I´ve seen allot, and I mean allot animation movies of big, full of money, endeless resorces animation houses and wath I see here… It chore beat´s a couple of them.

    Blender to the Oscars ^_^

  13. Joeri said on 22 Dec, 2005:

    The final audio edit only needs to be done for the correct timing, for the correct wording (words) the script should be enough. So I’d say sign up with the producer, get a script, and get the director to approve your text. Then when Jan is ready, time it to the audio.

    Ofcourse any language that don’t make it to the disc can be added later and be available for download.

  14. claas said on 22 Dec, 2005:


    could u maybe explain a bit more the blue interface elements?
    how are they made? how do they work? i am familiar with driven keys
    but for me they are always 2D shapes. the blue elemenst seem to hover over the face and also have a stretch and translate option.

    hu my english is pretty messed up. but i hope you can see what i would like to know. HOW DOES IT WORK and HOW DO YOU SET IT UP ;)

    the progress is impressive people. as i posted at elysiun as well, at bowling green state university for intro into digital
    arts, for virtual reality (game design) we are going to use blender as the first tool to teach students. the higher classes
    are and will remain for maya (feature film production).


  15. rob Backman said on 22 Dec, 2005:

    looks really interesting.. i wonder is it already possible to use bones as ipo drivers? I was just creating an animation that I was breaking into several actions. it would be really nice to be able to combine the shape key driven animations with the armature action.

  16. Nathan Letwory said on 22 Dec, 2005:

    For subtitles make sure you *don’t* use small fonts. If the available space is a problem… tough luck, that’s why good TV-translators are needed :)

    (saying current progress is wonderful is unnecessary, as it would be repeating what has been said before multiple times multiple times)


  17. Bassam said on 22 Dec, 2005:

    @claas and rob: indeed it is possible: the little blue interface elements are actually bones set up to be ipo drivers to shapes, or as targets for action constraints for the other bones ( with a bit of locked track magic) or both. so it kinda works like this:
    -make a shape for the mesh
    -create a new bone, that lives sorta close to the deformation, and can be moved along it, and lock most of it’s axis/transform possibilities
    -make a driven ipo for the shape, using the armature->bone as target.
    -last bit of icing is to make an object with a shape you think would be nicer for the controller than the default bone shape, and enter that object name into the bone panel. The object can even have deformers, driven keys etc. -> you can make the bone change shape as it moves for instance. for extreme hilarity, you even can use the same headmesh as the bone shape :D

    Nathan: Not being a subtitle/dvd maker, I agree with you. furthermore, most of the lines in the dialog are short- not many long monologues, should be possible to make it fit without too many words/small font.

  18. Vassilios said on 22 Dec, 2005:

    Bassam:…thanks very much for this Infos !!!Great!

    the little blue interface elements are actually bones ….
    Question:are this B-Bones or Sticks…. i mean in Which Draw (Bones mode) you edit this Bones (In Pose mode or in Edit mode)…B-bones..Stick?

    Can you Post a Blend file with a Simple Example for this bones set up to be ipo drivers to shapes!
    There are so many…. many New Features in Development Progress i canot follow or undertand how this works!!
    You must be a Alien to learn all this…!!

    Vassilios Boucer

  19. Vassilios said on 22 Dec, 2005:

    Yeah!!!!…i made it…Thanks!!
    ….. after i Read exactly what you wrote!

  20. Hugo said on 22 Dec, 2005:

    From Brazil

    Olá, conheci a à pouco tempo.
    Adorei os trabalhos que estão fazendo com o Blender.
    Eu também trabalho com o Blender.

    Abraços e meus parabéns a toda a equipe.


  21. paroneayea said on 22 Dec, 2005:

    Whatever happened to what used to be the first picture on here, of the actual voice acting recording?

    It made it clear how the faces have been influenced by the recording.

  22. Rui Campos said on 22 Dec, 2005:

    TRANSLATION for Hugo’s post:

    From Brazil

    Hi, I found just a while ago.
    I love the work that is being done with Blender.
    I also work with Blender.

    Regards and congratulation to the whole team.


  23. Trevor said on 22 Dec, 2005:

    You guys rock!!! Keep up the good work! I know how things can get really intense in a production environment, especially when you are very close the the project and deadlines are looming, but it’s lookin’ real good guys.


  24. Bassam said on 22 Dec, 2005:

    paroneayea, scroll up a bit for ton’s post.. the actor’s agent asked us to remove them- they prefer that material from the performance be limited to the soundtrack of the movie, and the making of on the dvd, and that non of it appear on the web. So we removed those links from the post to comply.
    Ruis thanks! and cheers to Hugo, also :)

  25. 20to30 said on 22 Dec, 2005:

    buahaha .. =) Someone seems to be my fan, taking my nickname.
    Now here are my comments and critics, if U let me…
    I can see that character’s neck seems more natural now, there are no strict corners anymore. I can’t see animated result but would like to warn that too exagerated emotions do harm to the animation when occure too frequently. Some skin overlaps can be seen. Im not sure that higher subdivisions can solve this problem. This overlaps will be definetly seen at higher image resolutions.

  26. Bassam said on 23 Dec, 2005:

    hmm, interesting that you think the neck is better – actually, the neck wasn’t fixed when these screenshots were taken- but it has been improved wrt general deformation.
    I doubt the overlaps will be solved by subdivision alone. most of them should be taken care of with a “fat neck” shape when the character looks down. If there are other problems visibile in the final shots, we’ll take care of them then- we don’t have the time budget to make some ‘perfect’ character- we’d rather be practical and make sure he looks good from camera point of view.
    As far as the earlier post in this thread, I had assumed you were just joking and answered in the same vein- I guess it’s just a different 20to30 then! hmmm. two 20to30’s in the same blog…
    I suppose we should delete the other post, or rename it to 20to30II or something. I didn’t know the blog software allowed identical nicks.

  27. Auteuro said on 24 Dec, 2005:

    This is a test…I typed this using a different email address than I have been using. If you can read this, then we have an identical-nick problem! :D (I sure hope *my own* doppleganger doesn’t find this blog!)


  28. womball said on 25 Dec, 2005:

    Ooh, I though I saw new looking controllers in the blender 2.4 release notes. Are these new bone shapes? They look even better than shape widgets! Probably trickier to set up though. How is the eyes and mouth intricate in terms of set up? I have had trouble with the mouth before, but I am curious what’s involved with the set up of this new control method?

  29. SexyCinemaMan said on 31 Dec, 2005:

    It works quite well (the new features)…

    It’s amazing how FAST you add new and USEFUL features, without BREAKING old functionalities ;)

    Great job. The Blender 2.40 is about 6 MB, and contains EVERYTHING I could need for 3D animation (rendering, modelling, texturing, etc) and ONLY 6 MB for the binary (with libraries compiled in). I looked at 3D Max and Maya, and the program ranges from about 600 MB to 1 GB (crazy????).

    Also, I’m commencing first “animatics” next week (the first week of the new year).

    Wish me luck! I hope I can produce something… So far, I’ve been only doing basic stuff, reading up on the manual, and the new features trying to figure out what they do and how to do it…

    Thanks Ton and the programmers! I LOVE FREE SOFTWARE (GPL — Freedom loving)!!!

    Here’s my list of what I like (0% meaning indifferent, -100% meaning HATE, 100% meaning absolute LOVE — scaled from -100% to 100%)

    — Blender 2.40 100%
    — OO 2.0 65%
    — Gimp 2.2.10 70%
    — Debian (Sun Wah) 100%
    — MySql 95%

    — MS Windows -95%
    — MS Office -100%
    — Adobe acrobate -50%
    — Flash -95%

    This is based on 1) Freedom respecting for both Users & Developers (GPL), 2) Functionality, and 3) Implimentation of above functionality!

    See everyone in the New Year!!!

  30. SexyCinemaMan said on 31 Dec, 2005:

    Actually make that

    — Gimp 2.2.10 90%

    I put that lower before because, the program was not as neat and tidy for users as blender is… which makes newbies have a ‘hard’ time. But, it’s actually quite good, and the philosophy and belief and hard work behind it makes it AWESOME!

    — OO 2.0 90%

    For Open Office, I had to reconsider, since most of the nuances and bugs are ALSO in Windows Office. Because they try to maintain compatibility with the POS MS Office, it behaves “wierd”…

  31. zamolxes said on 27 May, 2006:

    just saw the movie, and have no ideea where to add my crits, so since I’m mainly gonna say stuff about animation and facial work, I guess this’ll do.

    This facial setup is morph-based, and morphs don’t do good in human-facial-animation, with one huge exception in LOTR – but that was combination sculpting, so a different elephant :D well, not only, I saw combination sculpting with unfortunate results too, so I guess it’s very much a matter of time and organisation and talent and hard work. but normal morphs/blendshapes alone can’t create a viable facial setup for high-quality character work (which is why I keep wondering WHY, oh why aren’t 3D applications advancing the morphs technology, why is there no support yet for combination sculpting for example? I use BCS in Maya, but I don’t know of any other similar soft in other applications). So, yes, nice shapes, indeed… but what happens in between those shapes is unfortunate. That’s the classic problem of morphs used in facial setup. Not good. I see the old guy’s huge mouth and long face, and I expect quite a lot of facial movement and fleshiness. There are interesting results out there obtained with a combination of techniques, like joints and clusters corrected with morphs. You guys only had 2 characters… you could have spent more time on their facial rigs, I think.

    Another thing is, of course, the quality of the animation itself. The greatest rig is only as good as the animator behind it :D Both facial and body animation in this film are very low in quality. Sorry, I don’t want to be rude, I’ll get to my point – if you have human characters in your film, you have a huge responsability towards character animation. Because people will look at the characters, the characters will become the main thing, the main focus, it’s in the human nature to do so. All other gadgets and details, fancy imagery, everything becomes secondary and we look at the characters, at their faces more than anywhere else. And if the character animation is disturbing to watch, problematic, the entire viewing experience becomes painful (please excuse my not-so-delicate expressions). This film would have been, in my oppinion, better off without human animation. The imagery is rich… could have been done as an abstract work. Or the characters could have been less human, so we don’t expect them to look and behave human-like. The mechanical world of your film looks so much more appealing and original.

    The problem with the facial animation was mostly in the rig, I guess, but also in the acting. The acting is unfocused and unclear (faces doing unnecessary, unrelated things that don’t have meaning), plus incorrect lipsynch. The body animation is also unfocused and unclear, plus mainly floaty. There are a few moments of interesting movement… and I do like the secondary mechanical characters (like that guy typing on itself at 3’40” ) :) The overall human acting is generic.

    A last thing – the sound design was also disturbing, very raw (I even heard clicks, hehe). What a difference from the end-credits music (done by the same guy, haha, that’s interesting) that I found very inspired and refined :)))

    That’s all folks, now I’ll go watch the film again (for its wild imagery that absolutely rocks!).

  32. zamolxes said on 27 May, 2006:

    Heeeeeeeeeey, Claaaaaaaaaaaaas, I know this guy from BG. Isn’t the world a small place after all?…..
    Claas, if you happen to read this, drop by my website and leave a comment, gimme your email or something…