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Natural Front: The simple and powerful 3D animation system that’s constantly evolving – guest blog

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In this guest blog from Natural Front, the team discusses how its Curved Controlled Modelling technology is simplifying the process of facial animation

Natural Front: The simple and powerful 3D animation system that’s constantly evolving – guest blog

Text from NaturalFront. See more from the company at www.naturalfront.com

3D facial animation is one of the most challenging facets of animation, even in the contemporary world in which technology has made so many areas of animation considerably more manageable. Computer technology has made the animation process considerably cheaper, and less painful, in many areas, but all professional animators know that 3D facial animation remains a costly and time consuming process.

At least it does if you utilise conventional methods. In most contemporary 3D animation, facial models are achieved by the blending or morphing of shapes. In order to achieve this, animators must firstly build key shapes or morph targets and then undergo a blending process in order to complete the animation process.

Building these shapes or morph targets is hugely time consuming. In order to complete this process adequately, huge numbers of shapes, some of which would never appear in an everyday face, must be created. In addition, every shape that is created may involve fairly low-level operations, for example moving each point or vertex of a shape individually.

At Natural Front, we analysed this process and also the notion of how faces actually move in an attempt to get to the bottom of how to simplify this process. We concluded that the change of appearance in your face is determined by the movement of muscles within your facial structure. For example, one individual movement may incorporate the movement of one or two muscles, while a different movement may, of course, utilise completely different muscles.

This poses logistical problems for the 3D animator. When you combine the shapes used in conventional 3D facial modelling, you may find that your virtual face is being asked to do something that couldn’t conceivably be mirrored in the real world. You are creating muscular and skin movements which cannot be seen in a real face; hence, they will appear unrealistic and unconvincing, at least to some degree, to the human eye.

The only way to combat this is to build more shapes, making the whole process even more unmanageable. You might be forgiven at this point for feeling like workers constructing the Biblical Tower of Babel, with your 3D facial animation becoming more and more akin to the doomed tower.

And other approaches have hitherto failed to solve the problem. Even About.com acknowledges that creating a satisfactory facial rig using a traditional joint and bone structure is extremely inefficient and difficult.

Thus, at Natural Front we use a 3D innovative technology called Curved Controlled Modelling (CCM). This technique and process is built on the analogy of the movement of rational curves and the movement of muscles. CCM is a scientific approach to the modelling and animation of complex 3D objects such as the faces, akin to Newton’s apple and Galileo’s planetary model. As a result, with CCM you don’t need to worry about ending up on Venus when you really want to fly to Mars. It delivers the results that you actually need.

CCM absolves animators of the need to create morphing targets or blend shapes. Even something such as muscles is completely hidden from the user, just as one is never consciously aware of gravity when traversing the everyday world. The result is an extremely fluid and intuitive system which creates realistic results with the minimum of fuss.

Because of the unique technical strengths of CCM, not only is Natural Front’s software designed to be powerful and simpler for the professional animator to use, it is also relatively easy and quick for the developer to constantly improve. The software is currently a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) which means that we are looking for direct input from 3D professionals. If you get involved with Natural Front now, you can be involved in helping to craft the future of this exciting technology. We value professional animators’ input, and use it to help decide the direction the software goes in as we continually update it. So why not get involved today?