If you have been a reader of my articles for the last 7 years or so, you know I have talked about Face Robot more than once. For those who don’t know, Face Robot was a facial rigging and animation system in Softimage, a 3D app acquired by Autodesk, and then retired from the market in 2014. Now, you may be wondering why am I even talking about Softimage and Face Robot in 2021. The reason is pretty simple: ever since Autodesk stopped selling Softimage I have been wondering when, if ever, they are going to bring Face Robot to Maya.
And so far, that has not happened.
Actually, Autodesk has not used any of the Softimage technology in the last 6 years (some people think Maya’s Bifrost system is based on Softimage ICE, but that’s not the case, although both work similarly), and I think it’s a shame.
Setting up a facial rig is very time consuming, but Face Robot made it very easy. All you had to do is point the different face areas (eyelids, tip of the nose, nostrils, lip corners, ears, etc.) and Face Robot created the different deformation regions on the face (and you can modify them for better control).
Also, animation was very organic. The facial setup created a rig for you that moved all the face parts in a very realistic way. For example, opening the jaw would actually deform the area around temple bones and ears. Deforming the lips would also deform the cheeks and nose, and moving the eyes automatically created eyelid secondary movement. Oh, and it also had an automatic lip-sync generator.
However, Face Robot also had some very nice features for micro-details in animation. For example, you had a control for “lip stickiness”. If you see when someone in real life is speaking, the lips stick and gradually open from the center to the corners. The same is also available for the eyes.
The reason Face Robot made such realistic facial animation is what I would call the “tissue tech”. The Face Robot facial solver actually calculated the movement of the tissue, not the bones. The result was something like “real skin sliding on top of bones/fat” which was really cool.
It’s funny to think how in 2014 we had a very robust facial animation system in a 3D app, and now in 2021 we are back to making facial rigs with tons of partial blend-shapes and hand-coded facial controllers.
Please Autodesk, bring Face Robot tech into Maya. Maybe a lot of artists will still make their facial rigs the old way, but Face Robot could really benefit solo animators and freelancers that need to work fast.