Since its adoption, motion capture has left a bad taste in the mouths of many. It’s perhaps a question of technical “age” — mocap processes have often been too rudimentary, too coarse, too data-intensive in the past. There have been too many people placing expectations of time and money on a technology too basic in its usability. For those fortunate enough to have the money and bandwidth for an in-house studio and staff, the experience is perhaps was a bit sweeter. For those still wrestling with file conversion, data clean-up, post-processing, and retargeting – their pain is felt far and wide.
An industry perspective
A lot of emphasis has been placed on the quality of data. But with all the fancy cameras and markerless technology, there’s still the predicament of creating a palatable, affordable processing pipeline for the captured data.
When asked by the Motion Capture Society what he thought of the future of “performance” capture, James Cameron said “I believe it will make fantasy filmmaking much more user-friendly for filmmakers, actors, and studios, and ultimately bring down costs. It’s just now possible to create photo-real human [computer-generated] characters, but it isn’t cost effective.” At the time, Cameron’s “performance capture” bill for the film Avatar was running him “several hundred million” dollars.
Interestingly enough, Cameron also comments that actors need not feel threatened, for the technology will never be a replacement for acting. Keyframe purists may find this resonate with their similar fear as motion capture becomes more and more accessible to smaller studios.
Regardless of the consumer-ifying of motion capture equipment, the big guys continue to keep their edge because they’ve got the dollar. They’ve got the space, the equipment, and the staff to convert the data into something usable.
Stock motion companies recognized this void for consumer level developers who want to compete with AAA studios’ top-quality animation, but don’t have the time or money to rent a studio (let alone buy one), or pay for pure keyframing. They began mass-producing cheap mocap data, available on websites and CDs. Unfortunately this didn’t help matters. The problem remains that the motion data is not difficult to obtain – it is rather the issue of effectively applying the motion data to your characters, according to the character specific geometry and personality. It is the re-purposing and cleaning stock motion that makes mass produced mocap just as intensive as keyframing in the first place.
Mixamo is attempting a different approach. We are aiming to truly democratize character creation and animation. Serving as the intermediate post-processor, Mixamo developed an online technology to bring big studio mocap resources to anyone with an internet connection. All in-house capture is cleaned and looped, and automatically retargets to your uploaded rig online. Yes, automatically retargeted, in real time. Once uploaded and mapped, your character is three clicks away from performing more motions than could fit on a stock motion disc. Take your pick – adjust, and customize the motion to your liking. But don’t be fooled, Mixamo customization is not a procedural trick. The controls are actually recalculating the characteristics of that particular motion based on multiple takes recorded for a range of variation.
This level of customization can be more than enough control for game developers, but many animators will find that a Mixamo motion is a piece of well-processed animation ready for their stylistic input – a moving canvas ready to perform their vision. For tight budgets and hard deadlines, the difference between spending a couple hours on getting a punch right for hero v. villain and adding a motion layer — to actually make your villain act “villainous” — could mean the difference between a convincing scene and a bad recreation of “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.” Like Cameron says, technology will never be a replacement for art.
So think about it… Take the director’s chair… With newer technologies, you can now get retargeting, looping, cleaning and customizing services at an average price point lower than a sushi lunch – which coincidentally you could be enjoying with all the time you saved.
Used all over the world, we truly believe that motion capture is an effective technology. Continuing to leverage motion technology, Mixamo is taking great strides in improving accessibility, usability, and affordability. Whether you’re an indie game developer looking for content or a AAA studio interested in rapid prototyping, we think you deserve more.