The “Nixon Effect” Was Invented Here

We call this technique of the animation of portrait photos “The Nixon Effect,” for the first one we did for a private party. Since then, it has been used to come up with several custom characters that are unique and compelling to watch.

CHOPS with Nixon mouthNixon PortraitWe started out with a publicly available portrait of Nixon on the left, and by working with the digital photos, we mapped his lips and mouth onto the texture map for CHOPS. Then we made a “hole” in the picture where CHOPS mouth could be lined up to speak. The portrait with the hole is then overlaid and the mouth shows underneath.

This method can be used with any professionally photographed portrait of a corporate executive or party host, and can be developed within about a week. Just supply a photograph that works and the rest is up to us, at no additional charge for a custom character (as long as you are not looking to make it an exclusive character for your own copyright).

Nixon EffectThe quality of the professional photography can be important when it comes to this effect. Good images have good strong eye contact and are well-lit, to be most effective. Adding a picture frame prop around a flat video screen or projection material completes the illusion of the photo talking.

The effect is a little weird and funny, when the perfectly still photo portrait starts talking and interacting. At this private party where “Nixon” was booked, the party planner provided a gilded frame mounted onto a flat panel plasma screen, surrounded by a blue drape. An actor hired to be a front man dressed up as “Deep Throat” to finish off the presentation. The theme of the party was “Politically Incorrect,” and Nixon’s office was “bugged” with inflated insects.

Nixon comes alive with an old speech to demonstrate this effect

In order to make this clip, we played an old Nixon speech and let our system do the lip sync from the sounds of the voice, automatically.

Edison demo fileWe posted this animation on Aniboom to demonstrate the technique with an old black and white photo

Gary Jesch provides the voice for Thomas A. Edison’s portrait in live animation, in a variation of the same method. Some call this the “Clutch Cargo” effect as seen on Conan’s Late Night Show, however, for us, there is no video studio or camera equipment involved.

This method allows us to provide unique characters without having to develop them in 3D Max, and incurring the costs of modeling, rigging and animation. In most cases, we can include the costs of developing this in the overall performance fee. Another interesting aspect of this presentation is how we can use a plasma or LCD screen mounted on its side in “portrait” mode, creating another look for a standard video display.

Puppeteering is also very easy, since there are no movements or eye tracking to do, and only a few expressions where the mouth action is showing some emotion.

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