Talking Tom Cat, your nine lives are up. This weekend the fun new iPad and iPhone 3d face app Morfo 3D Face Booth is on sale for $1.99 on the App Store and its creators – Kelly Bailey and Mike Dussault, veterans of Valve Software – are coming out of hiding after over eight months of stealth development.
Morfo takes a photo from your iPhone or iPad camera and turn a person’s face into a full 3D object with expressive eyes, moving lips, and the ability to record dialogue. Before long you’ll be morphing faces into goth rockers, clowns, throwing wigs on them or even turning them into animals like a tiger or a dog. (The new FX show Wilfred, where Elijah Wood sees as dog as a man in a canine suit, might think about this app as a killer marketing gag).
Morfo’s 3D tech is impressive, fast and intuitive to use. That’s hardly surprising once you know who’s behind Sunspark Labs LLC, the 2-man operation that quietly launched the first version of Morfo for Windows 7 Phone last December. Sunspark was founded late last year by two long-time veterans of Valve Software, the creator of Half-Life. Kelly Bailey, one of Valve’s first employees, was a senior game designer and is best known for his music and sound effects work in the Half-Life series. His partner in Sunspark is Mike Dussault, a veteran Valve programmer who worked on tools like the Half-Life 2 SDK for mod developers. Previously Dussualt developed a 3D game engine called LithTech that competed against Epic’s Unreal and id’s Quake technology in the late 90s.
Bailey and Dussault are focused exclusively on the mobile space, where app development can take a matter of weeks, not the years required to build a triple-A blockbuster game. “Mobile is small, light, fast and the hardware is shockingly capable,” Bailey told me last week when I spoke with him via Skype. Dussault says Sunspark uses that rapid development time as an advantage to quickly iterate toward success. It’s a tactic they learned at Valve, where early and frequent play testing let designers quickly tweak games to work for the intended audience.
While users can play around with a series of pre-built faces in the app (including a cat), Morfo’s true functionality isn’t evident until you create yourself in 3D. “It’s amazing to see someone’s reaction when they put their own face in the app,” says Dussault. After creating your 3D face you can then record audio messages and videos that can be emailed to friends and family from inside the app.
I’ve spent a few days playing with Morfo and it’s a slick app. What I like about it is how quickly you can take a photo and bring it to life after you identify the eyes, nose and mouth. The expressiveness of the 3D faces reminds me of Ken Perlin’s face demos on his NYU page, which Valve used as inspiration for the character animation system in Half-Life.
Even with zero promotion Morfo has been catching on around the world. Dussault and Bailey say they just crossed a million downloads between the App Store and an earlier version that’s available for Windows Phone 7.