In April, Reallusion will release Cartoon Animator 4, the next iteration of their easy to learn, professional, 2d animation studio software, CrazyTalk Animator.
Cartoon Animator (formerly CrazyTalk Animator) is known for its quick results combined with pro features for the easiest approach and workflow since 2008. Cartoon Animator 4 will release next month with Smart IK, 3D Head Creator, and live performance capture (webcam facial mocap), to significantly elevate 2d animation production in the industry.
To learn more about the useful features packed into the latest version of the software, we invited animator Garry Pye to talk about his experience beta-testing the new software. Here’s Garry to tell you more about Cartoon Animator 4…
Cartoon Animator Review by Garry Pye
My name is Garry Pye and I have been involved with CrazyTalk Animator as both an animator and a content developer since version one of the software. What drew me to CrazyTalk Animator was the ease with which I was able to start animating almost immediately, yet it offered me a professional level of tools that would grow with me as my skills improved.
Here is a work-in-progress video of some of the features that will be available in Cartoon Animator 4:
I was excited to be invited as a beta tester for Cartoon Animator 4 (CTA4), the re-branded new generation of CrazyTalk Animator. A fact that I mention only because it is important to note that my review of this program is based on actual hands-on time spent working with the software, rather than just speculation based on teaser videos and promos that can be seen online.
As soon as I had the software installed, I madly clicked about and played with the new features like the Smart IK Editing, which offers lots of control over locking limbs in place and locking a character’s feet to the ground. It’s a feature which I find invaluable, as trying to get a character to bend over and pick up an object without their feet changing position had always been a frustrating task. And now the same can be done to hands, by locking them into position, making it easier than ever to have a character hang from a ledge without the need to monitor where his hand lies. As you can imagine, this translates to easier, faster, and more natural-looking animation that would otherwise take hours to keyframe properly.
Since version three of the software, users have had the option of importing and exporting character builds from Photoshop PSD files, allowing for the creative aspect of character design to be done outside the program itself. As a veteran harking back to the early days of version one, I still prefer to assemble my characters directly within Cartoon Animator 4, and this is most certainly an option as well. But for those who prefer the PSD templates, the automatic creation of IK (Inverse Kinematic) rigs for standard characters takes a lot of time out of the process, and is still available in CTA4 for both human and animal characters.
But Reallusion has advanced this feature as well, with the introduction of a custom IK rig for any creature, meaning that you can take a character, create your own bone structure and then capture a snapshot of your custom character rig and key your own motions, so that characters of every shape and size are now possible to rig.
360 Head Creator: Turn 2D into 3D Animation
All these new features make Cartoon Animator 4 a worthy successor to this 2d animation software series. But then we get to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. A brand new inclusion for this program that Reallusion refers to as “a new movement in animation.” And that, of course, is the 360 Head Creator which promises to “turn 2d into 3d animation.” So the big question is, does it? And I’m here to say “YES, it does. It most definitely does.”
With the 360 Head Creator, now your character can smoothly shift the angle of its face from far left to far right (and even completely around) with motion so smooth, that it compares with classic frame-by-frame hand-drawn cel animation. Yeah, the Disney kind! The first time I saw the demo, I was blown away. But the first time I saw one of my own characters in action, I near fell off my chair with excitement. This feature really breathes life into your characters in a believable way, letting you create the most subtle gestures simply by moving your mouse about. It really does have to be seen in order to be believed. Your character can scope the room in a single shot, with its head turning from looking at the ground and rotating all the way around, to looking to the sky in a single smooth movement.
Easy, Fast and Professional – Cartoon Animator 4
But no matter how good it looks, the most important question is “How hard is to do?”. At this point I have to put my hand up and say that when the CTA 3 characters were released with the previous CrazyTalk Animator 3, I was the LAST person to understand them or to be able to create solid characters. And even with practice, I struggled for a long time with facial puppetry. But once I got the hang of it, I was obsessed with it, but honestly anyone without my obsessive compulsive need to resolve problems may have given up earlier. So it is exciting for me to be able to say that I got a grasp on the new 360 Head Character construction almost immediately, and had my first 360 Head Character completed within days of testing Cartoon Animator 4.
So whether you have four, nine, or even twenty-five different head angles for your character, there is no need to draw new sprites for every angle. By drawing the forward facing angle of the face features, you can easily deform and transform these to reshape them into the correct angle, size, and perspective required for the other head angles.
From a 4-angle quick setup to a 25-angle setup, users can create 3d heads and have them turn faster than in any other software.
You can even copy and paste completed angles to other angles and simply flip or rotate features as required, rather than having to start from scratch for every angle. The onion skin feature also allows you to see layers compared with each other in order to make sure that you get your positioning accurate.
The feature of the 360 Head Creator that impressed me the most is the way you can treat one sprite as a parent and then have multiple sprites associated with it, all layered up to create a single feature – all layered like a sandwich. And the perfect example here is hair. Rather than having just Front Hair and Back Hair, you can have as many layers of hair as you want, and they can each be individually moved for each angle so that you can re-adjust the overall shape of the hair to suit each head position and then when the head rotates, each hair sprite changes position from one angle to the next in a smooth motion rather than flicking between sprites, making the overall hair appear to move as single unit. It is so simple, yet so effective.
Other Exciting Features: Masking and ‘Gizmo’
One final clever feature of the 360 Head Creator is the masking option. With a single button click you can determine whether a face component can overlap outside the head, like the nose on profile for example, or if the component will be masked by the outer edge of the head. So if you imagine flat eyes sewn on a hand puppet, as its head turns, the eye will appear to curve around the head out of sight. This feature is particularly useful when applied to shadows on a character’s face, beard, or even hair.
So once you’ve built your new character, how easy is it to manipulate? Reallusion has included a new gizmo, conveniently named “Gizmo” which you have to imagine as a handle that controls face movement. By dragging the gizmo around the screen with your mouse, and recording the movement, the face will track the gizmo’s position. And then you can go in and fine-tune your movement or expressions to accurately control your performance by using the Face Key Editor.
So in summary, is Cartoon Animator 4 worth your time and money? If you are a novice animator, just starting out, and have a keen interest in animation but don’t want to get bogged down in countless hours of tutorials and a daunting learning curve, then the answer is YES, because Cartoon Animator 4 is simple enough to be up and animating in a very short space of time. But if you are a seasoned animation pro who has worked with previous versions of this software, or are looking to move on from your your existing 2d animation software, then the answer is also yes, because Cartoon Animator 4 has a set of powerful tools that will help you get detailed and realistic results while building characters that move as good as they look.
Of course, like any software, the amount of effort you put in will provide the quality of the results you produce. But for me, Cartoon Animator 4 is an impressive leap forward in 2d animation for this software series, and I for one will be first in line the day it is released.