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Expo Notes: CrazyTalk7 can make anyone look insane

Reallusion's CrazyTalk 7, formerly a PC-only program that arrived on the Mac in 2012, debuted a Mac version of its flagship facial animation product on the Expo floor with a popular ambassador, Oscar the cat.

Oscar, a personable gray feline, talks by lip-syncing to your recorded voice or a script, rolls his eyes, and assumes a myriad of facial expressions, thanks to some easy-to-use auto-motion technology. The program lets you take a digital image and bring it to life by creating a talking avatar puppet of your photo.

Animation programs can be intimidating to the uninitiated. However, CrazyTalk7, with its extremely visual interface and drag-and-drop operation, is a lot more fun and seems easier to learn than other timeline-based animation products. There is a timeline, of course, but you don't have to use it until you're ready to really get in and fine-tune your work. For what this product does, most people will likely let the program handle the details for them.

Just import an image--it can be a standard JPEG or a photo from your phone, for example--click to specify the facial features you want to animate, especially the eyes and mouth. A face facsimile at the right-hand corner of the window guides you to where to placed the points.

To have your character speak, you can record audio, import an audio file, or use the Mac's text-to-speech technology to create the character's soundtrack. The program reads the audio file and determines the lip shapes to add to the character. The software's built-in phoneme library can interpret a wide range of vocals. While a timeline gives you deeper control over the lip-syncing, you can also leave it up to the program.

A facial puppeteering tool lets you select from various facial presets and use your mouse to apply the different expressions, thus animating the still image. A library of preset expressions ships with the program. When you're done, export as an image or as a video.

CrazyTalk 7, which won Macworld's Best of Show award, is available on the Mac App Store for $30. Visit the CrazyTalk booth at Macworld's Appolooza or the company's website. A companion iPad and iPhone app will be available in the next few months.

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