Review: Stop Staring: Facial Modeling and Animation Done Right | WebReference

Review: Stop Staring: Facial Modeling and Animation Done Right

Review: Stop Staring: Facial Modeling and Animation Done Right

By Nathan Segal. November 6, 2003.

With great delight, I had the opportunity to review Stop Staring: Facial Modeling and Animation Done Right, by Jason Osipa. Overall, the book is broken into four parts, which are:

  • Part 1 : Getting to Know the Face
  • Part 2: Animating and Modeling the Mouth
  • Part 3: Animating and Modeling the Eyes and Brows
  • Part 4: Bringing It Together
This book is unusual in the way it's constructed. The first three chapters are largely theory, and Chapter 1 begins with an introduction to the Essentials of Lip Sync, Speech Cycles, etc. It concludes with a tutorial on The Simplest Lip Sync, essentially an animation based on 3 basic mouth shapes. In Chapter 2, you’ll learn about Eyes and Brows, including major movements, the effects of the upper and lower lids on expression, etc.

Chapter 3 is about Facial Landmarking In brief, Jason explains that when animating speech for CG, the best approach is to use Visimes (the significant shapes or visuals made by your lips) as opposed Phonemes (sounds).

Jason elaborated: "To base sync on phonemes seemingly makes perfect sense - it's the way it's been done for years with classical animation - but for the newer world of CGI, it can get overly complicated." What animators discovered is that there are three different kinds of sounds that are made during speech, but not all are easy to see. Phonemes group all these together, which doesn't make it the best solution for CG. The point is that some sounds are primarily made with either the lips, the tongue, or with the throat and vocal cords. For animation all you need are the sounds made with the lips, "what you really need to see to be convinced." Speech based on Phonemes accounts for 38 sounds, whereas when using Visimes, that drops to 7. To further simplify that, only a few of these result in unique shapes to be built.

In another part of Chapter 3, you’ll learn about using creases to define detail and movement, especially around the eyes and mouth. In one section, Jason spoke about a problem area, movement of the brows. He said: "on the brows it's the eyebrow hair that tends to steal your attention. This is the part of the brows that gets over-manipulated generally. What's extra unfortunate about that is that the brows occur over the border of the eye socket and the forehead. That's a bone. The problem with CG is that with moving brows up for extra emphasis is that typically the ridge, the front of the skull, gets melted away." He goes on to emphasize the need for creases, rather than making the brows go higher.

For this, and other illustrations/tutorials later on that show you how to model the eyes, mouth, nose, ears, and how to position them properly, it would have been helpful to have a transparent illustration, with a drawing/photograph of a human skull appearing underneath, to act as guide and for correct positioning. In my opinion, this would go a long way toward creating accurate faces. It would also serve as a great starting point for variations, not only for male and female faces, but for the different races, as well.

Jason pays a great deal of attention to the various expressions that the face can emote and these are apparent even with a simple animation, referred to as the Box Head (in Chapter 7). The CD is a great resource here, as you'll see how it steps through the different stages of animation.

As the book progresses, you’ll build various features, such as the different structures of the mouth, creating the teeth, tongue, lips, etc. In Part 4: Chapter 10, you’ll connect the features, then build an ear and neck to finish off the head. From there, you’ll progress to the skeletal setup, which involves weighting and rigging.

In Chapter 12, you’ll learn how to build interfaces for your faces, rather than using the blend shape editor. Jason shows you how to “build home-made interfaces, using scene objects as the controls and expressions to link those to the shapes,” which are referred to as sliders. Chapter 12 is dedicated to creating sliders, with instructions on how to use some MEL scripts to simplify your character heads. In his opinion, “expressions provide both maximum flexibility and stability. The setups that he offers here are designed so you can dissect them. In Chapter 13 you’ll go through five animations, giving you practice with 3D heads, as well as cartoon heads.

Parting Comments

Overall, Stop Staring is an excellent book, packed with useful information. It's likely to be a resource you'll use for years to come. Before rushing out to buy it, be aware that it's designed around Maya, so if you work with another application, you'll need to modify some of the techniques.

Also, this book isn’t designed with the novice in mind, so you'll want to have some traveling time with modeling first. If that's your situation, have a look at some of the references below.

The enclosed CD comes chapter folders containing scene files, animations and sounds. In the Extras folder, there are several movies (some with sound and some without) and sounds that you can use for practice when syncing your animations. The animations are also fun to watch. The CD also contains Maya 4.5 Personal Learning Edition, but the current version is Maya 5, which you can download here.

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Modeling for Animation, by Alias Software. DVD. Price: $34.99.
Modeling, by Alias Software. DVD. Price: $34.99

Drawing and Anatomy Books

Drawing the Human Head, by Watson-Guptill Publications. 157 pages. List Price: $19.95
Drawing the Head and Figure, by Perigree Books. 120 pages. List Price: $10.95
Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist, by Oxford Press. 288 pages. List Price: $29.95.

About the Author

Jason Osipa has been working as a professional 3D facial animator and modeler since 1996. He has served as the Supervising Technical Artist at Mainframe Entertainment, and has taught CG animation and production at the Vancouver Film School. He currently works at Maxis, makers of The Sims.

Created: June 5, 2003
Revised: November 6, 2003