Back in late 2006 we gave an Editors' Choice gong to Crazy Talk Messenger 4.5, a facial animation program that had us laughing at the sight of our grimacing cartoon faces.
Oh, the faces you'll see
Reallusion has recently released the fifth generation of its Crazy Talk series. The basic animation process stays the same: import an image of anything with a face — human, animal, cyborg — fit a virtual wireframe around its contours, and give your peppy puppet something to say. Then sit back and prepare to be unnerved as the mutant creation springs to life.
There are some significant changes, however, beginning with the different versions on offer. The "Messenger" option has been ditched in favour of a product simply called Crazy Talk, which retails for AU$85.95. Also in the mix is the AU$235.95 Crazy Talk Pro. This version offers a heap more fine-tuning options for those who want absolute precision when animating their kelpie.
We focused on the Pro flavour for this review, but for more info on the differences between the two you can check out the feature comparison table here.
There are two big additions in the latest Crazy Talk: real-time puppeteering — which allows you to zero in on individual muscles of the face and manipulate them by moving the mouse — and nine facial profile styles that cater to non-human countenances. Also fresh in version five is the ability to export your creations as an FLV file optimised for YouTube, or in high-def at 720p and 1080p.
Thankfully, there has also been some feature culling. The naff greeting card templates that appeared in Messenger 4.5 have been ditched. A wise move in our minds, for they were cheesier than cheddar.
When loading Crazy Talk Pro for the first time, you'll be offered a bunch of video tutorials designed to help you learn the program fast. This helpful touch is one example of the impressive knowledge base offered by Reallusion. In addition to the text and video training resources on its own Web site, the company has a YouTube channel with over a hundred clips showing you how to achieve more complex effects. This level of user support is impressive, and will be a comfort to new users who feel a little overwhelmed.
The best thing about Crazy Talk is that it caters to all levels of expertise. As we noted in our Messenger 4.5 review, you don't need to have any experience with imaging software in order to create the freaky faces. With little guidance, your technophobic granny could create an animated parody of that nice young man who hands out the orange juice in the nursing home. On the other hand, budding animators won't find it too simplistic — they'll be too busy squinting at the ridiculously detailed customisation options. Below is an example of the expression tweaking options, which will keep pedantic types awake at their monitors until the dawn birdies twitter.
Tweaking facial expressions
Though we loved mucking around with Crazy Talk and found it a great program overall, there are a few downers to note. Firstly, there's no Mac version, which is a little odd given that designers and animators tend to gravitate toward Apple. You can run Crazy Talk on a Mac using software like Boot Camp or Parallels, but an OS X version would be much better for Mac users.
Video output options
The second downside is that no matter how much you tweak and tinker, your human characters will not look human. This is fine if you're not aiming for a realistic look — and hey, even Pixar can't make its humans look like Earth-dwelling people — but if you're expecting to create a flawless clone of yourself you'll probably be disappointed. Eyes and teeth are especially difficult to get right; there's a library of eyeballs and chompers you can use with your photos, but they look more than a little creepy when crammed into most faces.
One final drawback: you can only animate one person per photo, so don't expect to be recreating the Bohemian Rhapsody video clip within Crazy Talk. (Some savvy post-export manipulation in Final Cut Pro will do the trick, though.)
All up, CrazyTalk 5 is great fun to muck around with, but we can't help thinking that it's like a console game: you'll spend hours on it at first, but once the novelty wears off, it might sit on your hard drive untouched until enough time has passed for it to seem new again. Even so, the time you do spend using it will be a riot.
For an example of the freaky faces you can create in Crazy Talk, have a look at the review video at the top of this page.