At its heart, ProFace Complete, the latest incarnation of Famous3D Animator, is a cluster animation tool. The program has a wealth of features specifically designed for the efficient tagging, weighting, and animating of vertex or NURBS point clusters. ProFace has strong ties to a motion capture workflow, but it's also quite easy to rig and animate a head without the benefit of mocap data.
A typical workflow involves building a character using a modeling package, importing the model into ProFace, defining clusters, applying and tweaking motion data, then exporting back to the modeling package or creating a new file. Currently, ProFace Complete interfaces (via a plug-in) with 3DS Max, Maya, Softimage 3D, Lightwave, and Filmbox. Without a plug-in, geometry import is limited to .OBJ and .3DS files (with .OBJ export only). Motion data can be brought in from most popular systems, including real-time capture setups. Audio and video files can also be imported, and a text-to-speech and audio-to-speech engine allows for facial poses and lip-synch to be created based on spoken or written dialogue.
ProFace in Action. ProFace's interface is clean and uncluttered, with a Max-ish command panel that toggles between modes. The program has no built-in help system other than a table of mouse and keyboard shortcuts, although a decent set of printed and PDF manuals and tutorials is supplied with the software.
After a head model is loaded in ProFace, the real work of building clusters can begin. ProFace uses a brush-based system, similar to Maya's Paint Effects, for this task. A brush's attributes are easily defined, although custom brush settings cannot be saved for later use. Also missing is a symmetrical or mirror painting mode, which tags mirror sets of vertices on either side of a model (such as the cheeks or jowls). Clusters are displayed as color gradients that indicate their hotspot (center) and area of influence, and are defined as one of five types: translation, rotation, double rotation, eye (for, you guessed it, eyes), or spline.
Famous3D ProFace Complete provides a range of facial animation tools.
The spline cluster is something special and represents a jackpot for lip-synch artists. In this type, vertices follow the shape of a spline curve, as opposed to a single hotspot. This approach works great for animating the lip and mouth areas on a character.
Once defined, clusters are married to channels of animation data. Given its mocap heritage, strong tools exist for defining, scaling, and applying imported motion channels. Mocap data can be either 3D or 2D, as the program works with the optional vTracker module to translate video of an actor wearing facial markers into 3D animation data. A good expression and constraint system allows users to re-create 3D movement based on 2D mocap (for example, an expression could translate the lips forward whenever they purse together in a pucker).
ProFace also has a keyframe editor that allows for direct access to individual animation channels. Essential for tweaking existing animation as well as for creating it from scratch, the editor can also be used to define morph targets that can be utilized internally or to export deformed geometry.
When the animation is complete, the plug-ins take your model and its newly married animation channels back to the original program. Animation data can also be exported separately as a MEL (Maya Embedded Language) script or a well-formatted text file for game engine use. Web authors will be happy to learn the program can export animations to either Shockwave 3D or its own proprietary format. ProFace can also render the viewport animation as an AVI movie.
Bottom Line. ProFace's narrow focus is both its greatest strength and its biggest liability. For projects that involve a lot of detailed facial animation and lip-synch, particularly if the animation will originate from a mocap source, it's the ideal tool. But it's an expensive package, and given its lack of suitability for other purposes, it may be a tough sell for smaller studios.
To address this issue, Famous3D now offers different subsets of ProFace at varying price points and with different motion input capabilities. ProFace Voice ($995) accepts text and voice input only, ProFace Video ($1,995) supports live video capture only, ProFace Mocap ($3,995) does 2D and 3D mocap input, and ProFace Complete ($5,995) has it all. For 3DS Max users who are only interested in a tool to help them paint and build clusters, there's also FaceAce ($495), which is specific to that task. Additionally, a lower-priced line of software is aimed specifically at web animation. By offering features of Famous3D ProFace à la carte, studios that need to make their characters talk are much more likely to find a tool suited to their needs.