The response we get from our Unity asset, SALSA with RandomEyes, is kind of funny. People either think, "Wow, that's awesome!" or "Hrmmm, it's OK, but not very accurate." - primarily focusing on the lip-sync aspect of the Unity package. Unfortunately, the group wanting Pixar results doesn't really understand what the asset package is and why it really is so awesome.
Lip synchronization basically has two camps of implementation. First, there is "jaw-chomping" - a basic animation of an opened and closed state to simulate lip-sync. It's cheap and easy, a dime-a-dozen implementation that gets the basic idea across, but not much more. And then there's the opposite side of that coin, phoneme-mapping - creating mouth shapes for speech sounds and then mapping those shapes to specific points in a waveform to produce some very nice, accurate synchronization. Phoneme-mapping is very time consuming, requiring the creation of dozens of mouth shapes for each model. Then, the complexity and time-suck continues into the mapping process, and this is all compounded by the general cost of currently available commercial packages ($$$). Not really a very indie-friendly solution.
We wanted Unity lip-sync that looked good but needed to be easy to implement, two requirements that didn't match up with available options. We wanted our cake - and we wanted to eat it too -- a quest for something in the middle of "jaw-chomping" and phoneme mapping. Our needs were further complicated because our initial development model was really a 2D asset, making the desired result more of a procedural animation of 2D cells than "movement". This is really how and why the development idea took root. We had a slightly different problem and were able to look at it in a new light.
Unable to find a canned solution on the Unity Asset Store that yielded great results but required little effort to implement, Mike slapped his minnowy fins into high-gear and created a basic solution for the requirements. The initial result was fun and cool - and best of all, looked really good! We had a lot of fun watching our 3D robot model with the 2D facial features recite things like Einstein's Theory of Relativity. I looked at Mike and said, "This would be a great asset for other developers!" Thus began the road to SALSA. After a lot of tuning, tweaking, and experimentation, the good result got better. And, as is the nature of "progression", 2D animation automation was converted to work with 3D. We chose to work with blend shapes for 3D lip synchronization due to their ease of implementation and the awesome morph blending that is possible between shapes. Blend shape capability was also a new feature to Unity 4.3 and we wanted to take advantage of it!
Focusing on breathing life into character models, it seemed only natural to take the lip synchronization process and apply it to eye-movement. After all, nothing really portrays 'life' like the eyes do...and "Poof!" RandomEyes was born. Initially, we intended to release RandomEyes as a separate product. But later decided to include it with SALSA for added value. We really wanted this package to be a must-have for anyone that wanted an easy way to give their characters some life, easily and inexpensively.
A lot of effort was expended to prep our little asset package to leave the hatchery. We wanted an easy, but powerful Custom Inspector for direct configuration, but also needed a good API for programmatic access. And, no product is really complete without a nice, professional piece of documentation - a detailed manual - not a text-based read.me file! After a lot of spit-and-polish, version 1.0 was released to the Asset Store in April of 2014. And as they say, the rest is history. SALSA with RandomEyes has expanded in features to accomodate the suggestions of our early adopters and fans of the product. And we still have quite a few ideas to enhance and grow the product.
The end result is SALSA with RandomEyes, providing great-looking results for very little effort. If you're an indie developer who wants to spice up your game or application characters, but don't have a big budget or a huge amount of time, both SALSA and RandomEyes may be an awesome bang for your minimal buck. However, if you want Pixar results on a dime budget, with minimal effort...sorry, we're not your Asset Store solution. ;)
Simple Automated Lip Sync Approximation
~ We look forward to seeing what you create! ~