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IntroductionThere is a concept in artificial intelligence called "the uncanny valley." The idea is that somewhere between going from robot to human, there is a valley where "almost human" appears strange. You have a negative emotional response to such a creature.
Things like robots and stuffed animals and cartoons look clearly not human, while some animation (like, for example, in the movie Polar Express), prosthetics, and the animatronics you see at Disneyland look kind of human. That grey area, where something goes from not quite human to human, is the uncanny valley. CrazyTalk, an application that will sync photos with voices, creates videos that sit in the uncanny valley. They are fun to make, for sure, but also somewhat weird.
Once you get started with CrazyTalk a wizard walks you through selecting a photo and then choosing key points on the face.
One cool thing is that the software is pretty good at finding where the mouth and eyes are in an image. I hardly had to move the dots at all.
Once you have your photo loaded, you can use the built-in mask editor to clear out the background and, if you want, put in your own background. This is a feature I wish more multimedia software included.
The final step is to edit the script. In CrazyTalk, a script is the list of audio and facial expressions that go along with your animated photo. You can either put in text-to-audio or record your own audio. At key points, you can choose facial expressions and CrazyTalk will animate the face.
That's pretty much it. The realness of your animation comes down to how much time you put into scripting. You can also do some really advanced work with the eyes and mouth. For example, when the photo talks, do you want the teeth to display? What color should the back of the mouth be? All of these are editable in CrazyTalk.
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Price to ValueRating What's Hot:
$149 is a bit more than you pay for your average shareware program, but this isn't your average shareware program. I'd classify CrazyTalk as a prosumer-level product. It's good enough for commercial use, but has a low enough bar that any power user could enjoy it.
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Installation & SetupRating What's Hot:
CrazyTalk installed correctly and without issue in Windows XP, Windows Vista 32-bit, and Windows Vista 64-bit. It does not need to run in elevated mode in Vista and seems to behave with all of my other installed software.One nice thing was that CrazyTalk includes a few sample scripts and images. I was able to animate some photos without recording any audio right out of the box. Of course I wanted to record my own audio, but I appreciate the head start.
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User InterfaceRating What's Hot:
Overall, the user interface is very good. It's easy on the eyes and mostly intuitive. The interface has good defaults so you need not worry about getting all the knobs turned in the right direction before getting some use out of the product. There is also a nice scale between easy features and advanced features.
There are few things more annoying than software that decides to re-invent the File -> Open and File -> Save functionality. When it came time to save my creation, I actually had to open the help file to figure out how to save. There is no Save button, but rather Update and Add buttons that save your image to one of a gallery of templates.
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Product FeaturesRating What's Hot:
Once you've created a CrazyTalk you are happy with, there are a number of output options, broken into the categories Messenger, Greeting, Web, Media, and Mobile. The actual file formats are CAB, EXE, MHT, AVI, and the some mobile-device-specific formats. None of these formats are web-friendly--more about that later.
After using CrazyTalk for a while, I wanted to share my creations on a graphics Internet forum. Unfortunately, CrazyTalk can only output video and not Flash. Video sort of works, but you have to embed a player and get by all the warnings. It's somewhat surprising to me that this feature is missing, because CrazyTalk includes output formats for some really obscure mobile phone platforms. I was so surprised by the lack of Flash output I emailed support; 24 hours later they confirmed there was no way to output to Flash but suggested the use of a third-party tool to convert AVI to Flash. That works, I suppose, but I don't want to go buy a tool just for this application.
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Help & SupportRating What's Hot:
There is a classic-style Windows help file that seems fairly complete. The parent company, Reallusion, hosts a CrazyTalk forum that has a little traffic. Unfortunately there is no section for user samples. I was hoping to see what others had created.
The help file did not seem to include an index. I went to look for Save in the index and it's empty; you can browse the contents or use full-text search.
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The obvious and biggest missing feature is the lack of Flash support. Interactive and animated web content is in Flash these days, and for the developers of CrazyTalk to forego Flash support just makes no sense.
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I had a neat chance to put CrazyTalk into action a few weekends ago. I was attending a 150-person LAN party where the master of ceremonies was making frequent announcements on the state of the tournaments. I pulled the photographer aside and we took a photo of the MC. Then I loaded it into CrazyTalk and animated a few of the announcements. Once we had something that looked good, we put it on the projectors and sent the video to the 20-foot screens. It was a crowd-pleaser, to say the least.
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