LifeStudio: Head 2.5 Review                      By Pete Draper for 3D World

Developer: LifeMode Interactive
Minimum Spec: Windows 98, 2000 or XP, 3ds max plug-in: Minimum spec as issued by Discreet.
Main Features: Library of expressions
Curve animation editing
Available SDK for real-time development
“Macro Muscle” technology
Slider-driven feature amendments
3ds max importer and exporter
3ds max muscle set up plug-in

With all the other facial animation software that has been released in the past year or so, this one now stands out as a contender; the main reason for this is the quality of the assets that are generated, and its ease of use to produce them.  Initially, we are presented with a standalone program with a UI laid out in order to design our initial head. One is produced as a sample on loading the program.  Amending the presented head is a simple matter, but it is best to start out with the default un-textured model. The main reason for this is so we can add our own textures a bit at a time and blend them together using sliders, which is easy to use.  Utilising some of the provided unwrapped wire textures, we can create our own in a 2D paint package and use it within LifeStudio: Head.  A good feature is the ability to preview a texture on the head when loading it in by simply clicking once on the texture file. Sculpting the shape of the head is also as simple; you just amend sliders to amend the (large amount of) features of the character’s head and you’re ready to go into the animation stage.

Animation is quite straight-forward. After importing an audio track, phonemes and visemes are generated and the animation is displayed as a series of function curves within the Sequencer timeline. These curves can be amended by simply editing their strengths, repositioning them and blending them together by using multiple tracks, and can be dragged and dropped onto the timeline from a large library of expressions, animation clips, basic movements and visemes.  Textures can be blended through the animation to exaggerate creasing of the skin or when used to blend between heads.  The head animation itself is quite convincing, especially when blending and tweaking the expressions in the library to breathe a little more life to the character, but some amendment to the extrapolated lip synch animation is required to get it right when using some audio tracks.

It is also possible for the user to create their own mesh and integrate the muscle set into it, so it can share the animations with the supplied heads.

The 3ds max plug-in is very simply to use. After exporting the head model and its additional assets (including a baked and unwrapped texture of the head, we can use these assets within the plug-in to replicate the head and animation within our 3ds max scene.  The geometry does need a little tweaking afterwards however as it is not fully welded down the back of the head.  The included introductory video overviews also make life easier when working with the product.

Overall, its functionality is good and the UI is a good leap in the right direction.  LS:HEAD contains some terrific features including multiple texture mixing, non-linear animation controlled by curves, unwrapped texture export, a large library of assets and a simple to use 3ds max plug-in.

LifeMode Interactive are planning a major UK software release to coincide with London’s Digital Arts World 2003 exhibition in October.