When I received CrazyTalk 4.5 to review, I thought the "crazy" was for its high price. A specialty app that only does digital face manipulations couldn't be worth that price. A week later, as I wrapped up my CrazyTalk 4.5 review, I gave it a five star rating. I like software that does its job well.
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The concept with CrazyTalk 4.5 is easy to understand. Start with a still picture of a face, let CrazyTalk 4.5 animate it, and then distribute the clip however you want.
My interests focus on making movies. No matter how short or long the production, my movies open with some sort of neat visual effect and end with credits. What I like about CrazyTalk 4.5 is the animations, which are easy to make and fit well in many of my movies.
If you're ready to play around with CrazyTalk 4.5, I'll give you a few tips. The face doesn't need to be that of a cute child who is already pretty animated. Instead, start with a picture of an animal, then scan an image from one of those oldie-but-goodie, copyright-free books, like the cat used in this review. Perhaps you could use a pumpkin face. Put life into an old gargoyle or painting. How about animating the face of a clock? I can think of so many things to try in CrazyTalk 4.5.
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Price to Value
Rating What's Hot: In order to justify shelling out $150 for CrazyTalk 4.5, it had to be great. I found that it was worth it.
What's Not: For many users, a $150 price tag, for a single function utility like CrazyTalk 4.5, is a bit too much.
Ask for it as your next birthday or holiday present.
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Installation & Setup
Rating What's Hot: There's a downloadable 15 day trial version of CrazyTalk 4.5.
It watermarks the project , doesn't allow saving of scripts, models or faces, and has limited options. It's just enough to assess the product. The requirements as per the website are:
Pentium III 500 MHz (Pentium III 800 MHz or higher recommended).
DirectX 9 & WMEncoder 9 are required for WMV exporting.
What's Not: Some viewers will need an Active X control to be setup the first time they open an embedded one. It's a text to Speech (TTS) Component.
The software is ITS Component V1.0.1409.1 from Reallusion Inc., 3D animation and text to speech software. Unlike the quick active-X installations we're used to, this one takes a longer time to setup.
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Rating What's Hot: I was lukewarm about CrazyTalk 4.5 at the start of my review, having seen a number of crude attempts to do facial animation.
Installation and setup had a couple bumps. However, my attitude abruptly changed the moment I opened the app for the first time and started playing with the model.
It was one of those 'WOW' moments. The interface was comfortable, easy, fun, and powerful. Within minutes I changed some settings and exported a project to an HTML web page with an embedded video (wmv) file.
The initial experience was with the built-in models and settings. I wondered how easy would be to use something personal, such as a picture of a grandkid or the neighbor's cute new puppy. It turned out to be just as easy as opening the picture and letting CrazyTalk 4.5 figure it all out. You can spend lots of time tweaking the settings with all the optional features included.
The working window is large enough to get a great preview of your project. The menus of options are well thought out, making the user feel comfortable from the beginning.
Underneath the ease and sleekness of the interface lies a very large assortment of customized choices. You can tweak things forever. The difficulty comes when you try to hold back the project from your viewers; you'll find yourself so eager to show it that you'll minimize changes.
What's Not: On the flip side of the user who develops the CrazyTalk 4.5 clip are the many viewers. The first time they access such an embedded clip, they need to install a CrazyTalk4 ActiveX Control Module. The message says it's from C3D, an unverified publisher, and asks if you trust it enough to allow the installation.
However, that's only for clips that need the control. Exporting to a media file (video clip) moves the talking head into a normal video environment, where viewers won't need the ActiveX control.
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Rating What's Hot: There is an assortment of models such as people, animals, cartoons, objects, and paintings to get you started and inspire you to get your own. After my first session with CrazyTalk 4.5, I found myself walking around Chicago with my camera, looking for full-frontal faces of any kind to bring home to new projects.
In addition to the usual graphics apps features for changing brightness, contrast, and color levels, there are facial objects to pick, such as teeth and eyes. Don't stop at just a selection of teeth. Use the image manipulation options to make them the right intensity for the selected model. Then select happy, sad, mad, fun, or other facial expressions.
Use the background mask editor to highlight the portion of the image you want transparent and bring in your own background image. Use a video frame snapshot to have the CrazyTalk clip blend into your movie project.
Audio features let you change the text and let the model read your customized words with a text to speech converter from Microsoft. Add background audio (think music) and change the relative volume of the reading and music. Use the audio recording feature to capture from your microphone or sound card.
The timeline feature makes movie-makers from all software avenues feel right at home. Arrange your full featured emotion-packed project here.
Outputs include a wide array of options: instant messengers, greeting cards, website pages, video clips and mobile devices such as cell phones. For video files, you can save to AVI, RM, WMV, still image sequences, animated GIFs, and audio WAV files.
What's Not: The text to speech editor, the background audio, and the audio recorder are limited to 30 second files when using the CrazyTalk 4.5 trial version. The full version supports much longer audio tracks.
The recorder saves files as mono, even those being saved from the stereo mix option of the sound card.
Output options don't easily support making widescreen 16:9 clips for use in a video project.
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Rating What's Hot: The wide array of CrazyTalk 4.5 output options include full DV-AVI files, perfect for making high quality clips for movie projects. As usual, when using utilities like this, I selected my Panasonic DV codec for compression when exporting to an AVI file. That is the same quality as the footage recorded on a mini-DV camcorder tape.
What's Not: I ran into a number of instances of freezing, hanging, or total app crashing. This occurred, sometimes, when I pressed the Advanced Facial Settings button on my XP laptop.
The app stopped working on my Vista system when I pressed the voice morphing option. That might have occurred because it was Halloween and I opted to have Microsoft Anna sound like a monster; but then it happened again when I tried to open a saved script. I restarted the app and tried again. The issues resolved themselves but left me with an uncomfortable feeling about doing a really big project.
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Help & Support
Rating What's Hot: The built-in Help file (F1 key) is excellent. Use it. There is also a fairly active online forum for CrazyTalk 4.5 related issues.
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When making movies, one is always choosing between standard 4:3 and widescreen 16:9 mode. The world of high definition and widescreen is here, but CrazyTalk 4.5's export options only support standard 4:3. The exported clips can be made to work, but it's not as easy and neat a process as it could be if the widescreen option was an optional setting.
The text to speech editor preview always starts at the beginning of the text. Listening to Microsoft Anna read the first 20 lines just to hear what line 21 sounds like (over and over) is enough to make you turn off the volume. How about starting the preview from the point of the cursor.
Also in the text to speech feature, I couldn't find a way to re-open the existing text of a script; I ended up using Notepad to save the script and copy/paste it into CrazyTalk. I thought that double-clicking the voice track of a saved script would let me start with the already saved text, but the dialog window always started blank.
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After showing my first CrazyTalk 4.5 clips to my wife, family, and friends, I was quickly deluged with requests for more.
That's the problem with success; everyone wants to share in it by asking you to do more work. Take the applause, enjoy it, and go make more.