Interview with Rob Thornely, FireFly Studios

What do you think LIFESTUDIO:HEAD adds to your development process?

Life Studio: Head allows us to create highly individual facial models and animate them all in one package. These faces are created parametrically and can be as varied as your imagination.
We can export the models and their associated animation directly to our game engine or any of the industry standard 3D packages. Whatever character you create the program automatically generates 3 high quality levels of detail all of which seamlessly adopt the same animation data. The faces can be edited and saved at any stage and because of its' parametric nature it is simple and quick to make changes either on an incredibly subtle scale or more drastically. The program interface and design is so straightforward we were getting results in no time.

What's its major strengths and is there any particular feature you wish you could add?

Whilst there are lots of ways to model faces in 3d and several dedicated packages to either model or animate them, we have found Life Studio particularly useful because it offers modelling, texturing and animation all in one well designed package.
On the animation front, it has preset muscles and does not rely on morph targets or motion capture data to create animation. This removes a lot of the time consuming drudgery artists have traditionally had to do setting up a model before ever getting to animate. It also means changes can be made to the character design without destroying the animation. The muscle system offers far more complex expressions than almost any amount of morph targets could deliver. Animators are free to do what they do best: animate, rather than sit in front of a camera trying to act. Motion capture facial movements always need a lot of post capture fixing and can be difficult to edit. In LifeStudio:Head animation sequences are built up by blending fully editable clips on unlimited tracks in a similar manner to any film editing package. Extensive clip libraries and expressions are included and the program can even generate lip syncing from audio files. Animation can be saved and loaded onto any character in either the game engine or 3D package or LifeStudio can simply create it's own video files.
In the modelling part of the package it is possible to create a face of any age, race, sex, size or weight from a default model. Levels of detail are automatically generated and will adopt the same animation as the high detail head. The model is pre-mapped but textures are created like every other thing in the package: parametrically. This is great because it is easy for any artist to instantly see the changes they make and to blend an infinite array of textures to create a unique complexion. The program includes a large library of texture components and you can add to this to your heart's desire.


Are you using it to input real people's faces into your game or just made up ones?

Well, although our characters are totally fictional we do tend to try to blend features of well known people to create a unique character. It's easier for the designer for instance to describe his intention by comparing the character to an actor as a starting point. It is perfectly feasible to use Life Studio to create a very good likeness of anyone. On the other hand, within limits it is also possible to stylize your characters and make them cartoonier.

How easy are such systems to plug into your art pipeline?
LifeStudio:Head is a stand-alone product which ships with plug-ins for 3dsMax and Maya and allows the import of props and export of models and animation and textures. We use 3dsMax and have been impressed with the programs ease of use and stability. Within 3dsMax the model can have further modifications and still retain its animation, typically we would apply materials to the model, specularity, bump and so forth and create hair with another plug-in. All of this works well and final render quality can be excellent for pre-rendered sequences. Or just as easily the models, or usually their lower detail counterparts can be exported to our 3D engine and displayed real-time. For any job requiring multiple high quality heads, such as FMV groups LifeStudio can be a real time saver as it is extremely quick to make a variety of heads and animation samples can be loaded directly onto any head in the scene.

Have you evaluated any other similar technologies and if so, what did you reckon to them?

We have also used Famous Faces and Eyematic FaceStation, now made by Digimation on our previous games. Whilst both programs had strengths neither could offer the creation as well as animation of a head that LifeStudio:Head does. We also find that the muscle system suits the way we like to animate. In a game like Stronghold 2 facial acting plays an important part in driving the story. Most facial solutions cannot provide us with the quality we need to do this. With LifeStudio:Head we can create highly detailed, realistic faces full of character and then breath life into them. If you need your villains and heroes to be believable beings not just puppets then this is the way to go.