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  3. Avatar Morph Animation

Avatar Morph Animation

For the purposes of this tutorial, we will be using 3DS MAX. The process described in this document is based on the morph set used in the IMVU avatars.

Also, for the purposes of this tutorial, we will be using the Female04_Anime01_IdleStandingPoseMASTER.max file. However, the basics apply to any avatar MAX file that contains morph targets.

Morph Animations vs. Skeletal

In IMVU, you have the power to create your own actions as products. This includes both skeletal and morph animations. How cool is it that you can offer your own version of “lol” or make something entirely new out of “MonkeyDance”? IMVU offers you the tools to take your exported animation file and sell it to countless stunned and impressed IMVU users.

NOTE:

This tutorial is about building avatar MORPH animations. That means it is about making changes to the shape of a mesh over time. If you want to learn more about avatar skeletal animations, ie – how to make the bones move, please go to the Avatar Skeletal Animation tutorial. 

Retrieve the Idle Pose file

The first thing you need to do is get the avatar MAX file.

To learn more about which files you might want to download, please go to the Avatar Animation Files tutorial. 

IMVU strongly recommends you use the Female04_Anime01_IdleStandingPoseMASTER.max file to create your morph animations. This is because the Rigged Avatar does not contain a morpher modifier on the head. 

Start Max and open the Female04_Anime01_IdleStandingPoseMASTER.max file. The Idle Standing Pose MAX files are different from the Rigged avatar file so please verify that you are using the MAX file mentioned above.

 

Idle Pose Contents

The Idle Pose MAX files give you an avatar in the base pose that all of IMVU’s animations are built from. While the position of the avatar bones is important to skeletal animations, it doesn’t make a difference to facial morph animations.

Equally unimportant to facial morph animations is the inclusion of the glasses on the avatar head. The glasses exist only as an example of how to an avatar accessory ought to be set up. To learn more, please go to the Avatar Accessory Introduction.

How to animate in MAX

To learn how to animate anything in MAX, including morph targets, please go to the Animate In MAX Tutorial.

Action Types

There are three types of avatar Actions:

1. Idle Actions – these Actions play animations continuously. They are meant to be interrupted by the other types of animations.

2. Stance Actions – these are animations triggered by the joining of a seat. They are closely related to Idles in that they play continuously once the seat has been joined.

3. Triggered animations – these animations are played when activated by a trigger word like ‘wave’. They usually replace the morph channels being used in the Idle animation.

Knowing how an animation is going to be used in IMVU *before* you build it helps you build the right kind of animation and helps reduce iteration time.

Heads vs. Bodies

While it is possible to make and we encourage you to play with morph targets for body parts, we understand that this may not be the easiest thing in the world. So, although the tech and export requirements are the same, we will focus on facial morphs for now.

One Size Fits All

When you make a morph animation on the IMVU Female head, that same animation will apply to the IMVU Male head and vice versa. Although some of IMVU’s animations have been built specifically for one gender, the vast majority were just built using the female head.

The reason for this is that both heads contain the same morph target names.

How It All Works –
A Head is Built

First, the head mesh is built. Then, all of the morph targets are [painstakingly] built.

To learn more about how to build an Avatar Head, please go to the please go to the Avatar Head Tutorial. 

Next, all of the morph targets are linked to the head mesh and the head mesh is exported as an XMF file. At this stage, we have a head that has several embedded channels.

Each channel is named and contains data about where the vertices of that morph target live.

Animate The Head File

With a fully teched head built, animating that head is now possible. Typically, this means opening up some sort of master file that contains a head that has a morpher modifier applied underneath its weighting modifier. All of the morphs target necessary to animate are loaded in that modifier.

In IMVU’s case, that is the Female04_Anime01_IdleStandingPoseMASTER.max file.

To get access to the morph targets embedded in the master head, click on the head mesh. You will see the stack on the right hand side open up with three modifiers applied. The middle modifier is named ‘Morpher’.

Click on the ‘Morpher’ modifier and you will see the Channel List box expand. The Channel List contains all of the individual morph targets found in the head. Use the scroll bar on the left to scroll through the list of 79 morphs.

Each channel has a slider. The sliders go from 0 to 100 so, if your slider is set to 50, then 50% of that morph is applied.

Deep Dive Information

When you create a morph animation, what you are really doing is exporting an .XPF file that contains a list of channel percentages over time. For example, an exported smile animation might essentially look like this:

frame: 0
morph name: mouth.Smile.Exclusive
percentage: 0% 

frame:2
morph name: mouth.Smile.Exclusive
percentage: 100%

So, you want to change the percentage of the morph target over time.

To learn more about animating in MAX, please go to the Animate In MAX Tutorial. 

Note how at frame 0, the percentage of the smile was 0%. Then, at frame 2, the percentage of the smile was 100%. That is all your XPF file tells IMVU: what changes and when. If a head product did not contain a morph target named mouth.Smile.Exclusive, then no animation would be applied.

Use IMVU’s Morphs

IMVU has a centralized morph control system. This means that although you may be able to make your own emotion morphs in the 3D files we supply, those morphs will not show up in the live IMVU product. This is due to our having exported our heads with a given set of morphs. Although we do not currently support user created emotion morphs on the IMVU created heads, you CAN make your own heads with morphs that match the names on our heads.

To learn more about making your own head, please go to the Avatar Head Tutorial 

In the meantime, it is important to know what the morph names actually mean as they impact how they are played in the IMVU client.

Morph Naming Convention

The morph targets have a naming convention that dictates what kind of morph they are. This naming convention must be used or your morphs will not play back in IMVU. An example of a properly named morph target is leftBlink.Clamped where the .Clamped suffix is the morph type. The prefix of the name can be anything you like. Here is a breakdown of what the four morph types are and what they mean:

.Clamped – allows multiple morph animations to affect the channel but clamps the sum of their effects to 100%

.Average – allows mutlipe morph animations to affect the channel, averages the result.

.Exclusive – allows only one morph animations (the most recent one applied) to affect the channel, no cap on value (i.e. allows values greater than 100%)

.Additive – allows multiple animations to affect the channel, values are added together.

Morph Names

Below is the full list of morph names IMVU uses in its base avatar heads. There are 79 of them. These are the morph names available to you if you want to make a morph animation using the IMVU base avatar heads. See them in all their glory:

blink.Left.Lower.Clamped
blink.Left.Upper.Clamped
blink.Right.Lower.Clamped
blink.Right.Upper.Clamped
blink.Wide.Left.Average
blink.Wide.Right.Average

eyebrow.Left.Angry.Average
eyebrow.Left.Down.Average
eyebrows.Left.Center.Up.Average
eyebrows.Left.In.Average
eyebrows.Left.Mad.Average
eyebrows.Left.OuterDown.Average
eyebrows.Left.OuterUp.Average
eyebrows.Left.Sad.Average
eyebrows.Left.Up.Average

eyebrow.Right.Angry.Average
eyebrow.Right.Down.Average
eyebrows.Right.Center.Up.Average
eyebrows.Right.In.Average
eyebrows.Right.Mad.Average
eyebrows.Right.OuterDown.Average
eyebrows.Right.OuterUp.Average
eyebrows.Right.Sad.Average
eyebrows.Right.Up.Average

Eyes.Bugged.Left.Average
Eyes.Bugged.Right.Average
Eyes.POP.Left.Average
Eyes.POP.Right.Average
Eyes.Scale.Left.Average
Eyes.Scale.Right.Average

left.Eye.Down.Clamped
left.Eye.Left.Clamped
left.Eye.Right.Clamped
left.Eye.Up.Clamped

mouth.BigSmile.Exclusive
mouth.BigSmileLEFT.Exclusive
mouth.BigSmileRIGHT.Exclusive
mouth.Bite.Left.Exclusive
mouth.Bite.Right.Exclusive
mouth.CheekLEFT.Exclusive
mouth.CheekRIGHT.Exclusive
mouth.Cheeks.Exclusive
mouth.Down.Exclusive
mouth.F.Exclusive
mouth.Frown.Exclusive
mouth.FrownLEFT.Exclusive
mouth.FrownRIGHT.Exclusive

mouth.Grin.Exclusive
mouth.GrinLeft.Exclusive
mouth.GrinRight.Exclusive
mouth.JawDown.Exclusive
mouth.LeftSmirk.Exclusive
mouth.RightSmirk.Exclusive
mouth.MadLip.Exclusive
mouth.MadLipLEFT.Exclusive
mouth.MadLipRIGHT.Exclusive
mouth.Narrow.Exclusive
mouth.NarrowLeft.Exclusive
mouth.NarrowRight.Exclusive

mouth.OH.Exclusive
mouth.Open.Exclusive
mouth.Pucker.Exclusive
mouth.Scream.Exclusive
mouth.Smile.Exclusive
mouth.SmileLeft.Exclusive
mouth.SmileRight.Exclusive
mouth.TongueDown.Exclusive
mouth.TongueLEFT.Exclusive
mouth.TongueOut.Exclusive
mouth.TongueRIGHT.Exclusive
mouth.TongueTHIN.Exclusive
mouth.TongueUp.Exclusive

mouth.Up.Exclusive
mouth.Wide.Exclusive
mouth.WideLeft.Exclusive
mouth.WideRight.Exclusive

nose.Flare.Exclusive
nose.FlareLeft.Exclusive
nose.FlareRight.Exclusive
nose.Long.Exclusive

right.Eye.Down.Clamped
right.Eye.Left.Clamped
right.Eye.Right.Clamped
right.Eye.Up.Clamped

There is an 80th morph target, Face.Average, but that is not used for animation. To learn more about how to utilize this morph target, please go to the Avatar Heads Tutorial.

Making Your Own

Any animation morphs you make for the IMVU heads that do not follow the above naming will not show up in the live product. If you plan to make your own morphs as opposed to using the ones that are baked into the IdlePose Heads (ie – the list above), you need to build your own head file.

To learn how to build your own head file, please go to the the Avatar Heads Tutorial.

Blend In / Blend Out

Although this section focuses on a feature found in the Create Mode Editor, it is important to keep in mind while building your animation. 

As discussed below, the frame controls in the Create Mode Editor allow you to loop your animations. However, they also allow you to blend whatever animation is playing into your animation. This is very handy for morph animations as a non-blended jump from one morph animation to another can leave unpleasant artifacts for a few frames.

Vogue Animations

Vogues are single frame or low frame animations that have very small file sizes. These animations rely on the blend in/out functionality of the Create Mode Editor to work properly in IMVU. Now, by no means are Vogues required to be simple expressions – but, regardless of the expression you are making, it is still just an expression. Think of it as a snapshot of an avatar statue’s face….or an avatar stuck in an icy, frozen tundra surrounded by once fresh dreams that are only now beginning to thaw.

By exporting this simple morph animation, you pretty much guarantee that your animation file size will be quite small. Small file size is really, really good. You should want your file sizes to be as small as possible. Once you’ve gotten your animation exported, simply play with the blend in/out and loop duration functionalities in the Create Mode Editor to get your Action product just right.

You can loop a 2 frame animation for 30 frames and (at 30 frames per second) end up with a 2 second animation of your avatar’s facial animation. Very cool and very cheap to download. Cheap download = wonderful customer experience.

The only drawback to using Vogues is the aesthetically unappealing look of linear translation. However, this is more of a skeletal animation issue. Using Vogues for Morph animations is always OK.

File Size Budget

The win for doing vogues is keeping your overall animation size down. Please keep in mind that the more morph targets you animate and longer the duration of your animation, the larger your Action product is going to be.

The larger your file, the longer it is going to take to load during a conversation. Please be as discerning as you can about where you spend your animation budget. We want you to be successful and it will be hard to be successful if your products take too long to download.

Catalog Snapshot

If you are creating an animation as a final product, please remember to take a 100×80 pixel Catalog snapshot. To learn more about catalog snapshots, please go to the catalog snapshot tutorial.

Export

Once you have built your animation, you must export it as an .XPF file. .XPF is a Cal3D file format that is installed in MAX when you install the Create Mode Editor. .XPF files are what the IMVU Create Mode Editor recognizes as morph animation files.

In order to export your Morph Animation file, select the main head mesh. In the case of the Female04_Anime01_IdleStandingPoseMASTER.max, the head mesh is called ‘female01.Anime01.Head’. In the case of Male03_Anime01_IdleStandingPoseMASTER.max, the head mesh is called ‘AnimeHead.Male01’. With the head mesh selected, choose Export in the file menu. Scroll to the .xpf file format, name your file (remembering to manually type in the .xpf at the end of the name) and click Save.

In the Cal3D window that appears, verify the actual time values of the animation. Although they are almost always exactly the numbers they need to be, you should still check that the start and end frame numbers match what you intended to export, and make sure the frames per second is set to 30. Click finish.

Animation file: EXPORTED!

 

What’s Next?

Now you’re ready to bring your xpf into the Create Mode to make an Action. To learn how, go to the Editor – Actions Tab Tutorial.

Updated on September 24, 2018

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