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A New Year: New Discoveries, More Progress

March 1, 2014


Hello, 2014! This is a long-belated post, but it will cover the past few weeks in review concerning progress with our favorite ASL avatar, Paula!

January 12th – 18th, 2014

The start of a new quarter with a new target: rather than pump out more unique expressions, let’s polish up the ones we currently have. The main focus on tidying up the existing expressions is to fix the eyebrows. With the way the brows are programmed, red spots “pop” suddenly through the skin texture when the brow assumes an extreme position. We will be exploring how exactly these brows are programmed later in the quarter. For now, it will be simple, manual tweaking to adjust issues, such as with this image (spot the reduced red spot by the brow!):



January 19th – 25th, 2014:

Another new plot is in the works: working on visemes! While an ASL speaker does not literally speak words with their mouth, they use facial expressions that mimic lip, brow, eye gaze, etc positions as if they were speaking out loud. These visemes punctuate their sentences and add life to their words in a subtle way, while affect/expression adds it in a more obvious matter. As it stands, our current avatar has trouble with the viseme “oo” in particular. The way the lips pucker and wrinkle is not as optimal as we’d like to be. For the next few weeks, I hope to work on “oo” and other visemes. January 26th – February 1st: Firstly, happy Lunar New Year! My family celebrates Lunar New Year, as we have Chinese blood, so I wish everyone a prosperous Year of the Metal Horse. Onto the important ASL information – I took a crack at forming “oo” and “uh” this week. They aren’t that pretty, but I am still getting a grasp at forming visemes with the expression builder. Visemes are very subtle, for the most part, so accurately portraying them without going overboard is hard. And again, concerning “oo” – Paula has a difficult time making that look natural, and we hope to fix that in the future if possible.



February 2nd – February 8th:

The work on visemes continues! I found a handy visual aide for common vowel-based visemes and have been using it to my advantage. This week, I worked on “AH”, “AW”, and three kinds of “OO” – soft, medium, and hard, since every time we say “OO” it isn’t like a cartoon trying to make a whistle or puckering up for a kiss. Forming OO in particular has continued to be a challenge, but I think I have gotten closer to our goal by breaking it into three different intensities. I have also begun to take renders in the side view to check how her mouth looks from other angles. Due to the way the “narrow”/pucker function of her lips works, she gains an overbite or underbite depending on how the toggles are pulled. I’ve been working on avoiding this in the future, mostly by manual manipulation. Here are the three “OO”s to demonstrate. Can you figure out which one is soft, which one is medium, and which one is hard?



February 9th – 15th:

More viseme work, and we have learned about the way brows are controlled. To control the brows, a gradient ramp is applied to a texture that controls the wrinkles. The gradient ramp works like a “mask” does in Photoshop – if the portion of the gradient is black, the texture underneath is 100% visible. If the gradient is white, the texture underneath is 100% invisible. By using this gradient, we can control what portion of the wrinkles will show at what time in a natural way. The controls are hitched onto the points of articulation on the brow bone, so depending on the position of those joints, more or less of the wrinkles will show. Genius, isn’t it? This is all done is MAXScript, too! We have code to check out. It’s a little mind-boggling to me, but I hope to look into it more in the future. For now, take a look at “AH” and “AW” tweaked!



February 16th – February 22nd:

A belated Happy Valentines Day to all! I hope everyone had a good holiday, or at least managed to snag some delicious discount chocolate after the fact. I have moved from vowels to consonants… almost. Currently, we have “EH” and “CH” on the roster. I soon hope to work on “W” and “PAH”, especially the latter because the slight shift of the eyebrows is incredibly important, regardless of how soft and subtle the motion is.



February 23rd – March 1st: It’s almost March! Let’s hope the snow will stop soon, or at least that we get a break from such bleak temperatures and awful wind. I took a short break from visemes to work on very small affects for Dr. Rosalee Wolfe’s upcoming work for a workshop on the first week of April. I still have to tweak the “surprised” eyebrows some, so for now, feel free to look at my puzzled brows (first image on this post at the top!) and irritated brows (right here).


Stay tuned for further progress on visemes and brows! Hopefully we can begin to work on lip wrinkles and facial textures as well as the snow begins to melt.


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