3rd Party Software – The Great Assistant to the Digital Animator

Being an animator, I find new tools to aid me in my work every day. The other day, I found a program for 3D modeling and animation called FaceGen. Basically this is a texture-mapping program for human faces. You can take a photograph of someone, designate the location of the eyes, mouth, nose and chin, and click a button. The program then recognizes the face and maps it onto a 3D mesh that matches the photograph pretty closely. From there, the user can tweak the model to his or her liking, adjusting things like eye size and position, nose length, mouth shape, or pretty much anything else you can think of.

Another great program for animators (traditional, flash or 3D) that I highly recommend is Magpie Pro. Magpie is a lip-syncing software that allows an animator to designate the mouth movements for their animation ahead of time, creating a reference sheet (called a “dope sheet”) to guide the animator when arranging said mouth movements in the animation. I had used the original Magpie throughout my time at school, as it was freeware and could be used without licensing. Now, however, they have taken down the freeware version and come out with Magpie Pro, which costs about $250 per license, but adds tons of new features that I didn’t even think were possible using software. For instance, one thing you can do with the new Magpie Pro is instruct the software to recognize audio and create a basic lip sync for you. From there the animator can tweak it, fixing any of the weird glitches that may arise. Another cool feature is the ability to import custom “actors,” so if you have a 3D model with mouth shapes already modeled in, you can put it in the program and preview the lip sync right there, on your model, without having to go plug it into your 3D program. The same also works for Flash, except instead of a model, you can import your actor as a .psd file, using layers for the different mouth movements. Then, you can export the animation you created into the animation program of your choice.

In the most recent project I have been working on, the Magpie Pro demo has been a great time-saver. I highly recommend either of these programs to anyone who has even a passing interest in animation, whether it be 3D animation, 2D traditional animation, 2D flash animation or even stop-motion.