Mon­strous As­sign­ment

Animation Magazine - - Opportunities -

Mo­tion cap­ture has been a quite in­volved task ever since its in­cep­tion. Fre­quently, it in­volved an ar­ray of ex­pen­sive spe­cial­ized cam­eras, set up around a des­ig­nated vol­ume, all cal­i­brated and aligned just so. Peo­ple have been at­tempt­ing to stream­line this with al­go­rithms us­ing mul­ti­ple dig­i­tal cam­eras with and with­out ac­tual track mark­ers. And there are oth­ers who use sen­sors equipped with mag­nets and ac­celerom­e­ters for cam­era-less mo­tion cap­ture.

Xsens is in the lat­ter group — us­ing MEMS in­er­tial sen­sor tech­nol­ogy. MEMS means Mi­cro Elec­tro Me­chan­i­cal Sys­tems — tiny ma­chines with com­po­nents be­tween 1 and 100 mi­crom­e­ters in size. The whole sys­tem fits into a sen­sor slightly smaller than a match­box, and it mea­sures in­er­tia and ori­en­ta­tion. Com­bine a bunch of those to­gether placed in key spots and you have the mo­tion of a skele­ton, cap­tured via either a self-con­tained suit with sen­sors (MVN Link) or a lighter strap-based sys­tem with a fancy Ly­cra shirt (MVN Awinda).

I got to try out the MVN Awinda. The whole thing fits in a back­pack. There are straps to go around your limbs, legs and head, and shirts in mul­ti­ple sizes. Seven­teen sen­sors slide into small pock­ets on the straps, and there are charg­ers that fit all the sen­sors to recharge after a long six-hour day of mo­tion cap­tur­ing. Setup was fast and gen­er­ally trou­ble free. A USB re­ceiver lo­cates the sen­sors and pro­vides re­al­time feed­back in the Xsens soft­ware.

I got solid data with very lit­tle drift, and the strength of the sig­nal al­lowed me to walk from one end of the house to the other and back again.

And fi­nally, at GDC this year, Xsens an­nounced an ac­ces­si­ble price struc­ture for ed­u­ca­tion, small busi­nesses, and in­die projects. You in­vest in the hard­ware, the soft­ware is pro­vided for no ex­tra cost. To qual­ify, your busi­ness needs to make less than three-quar­ters of a mil­lion bucks! look­ing into it last year. But, this time, I was check­ing out the in­te­gra­tion with Real­lu­sion’s CrazyTalk An­i­ma­tor 3.

For those of you new to the Neu­ron, it was orig­i­nally funded through a Kick­starter, and has since caught on as a light­weight, por­ta­ble sys­tem for grab­bing mo­tion with very lit­tle prep time. The pro sys­tem I had a chance to play with has 32 sen­sors in­clud­ing ones for fin­ger move­ment (a fea­ture cur­rently lack­ing in the Xsens so­lu­tions). Like the Xsens Awinda, the Neu­ron is strap-based and fits into a case the size of a lunch­box. Be­cause of the num­ber and mi­nus­cule size of the sen­sors, setup is slightly slower, and the Neu­ron needs a bit more love than the Xsens to get ev­ery­thing cal­i­brated. The sen­sors are in­cred­i­bly sen­si­tive to mag­netic fields, so it’s smart to break ev­ery­thing down after a ses­sion and get the sen­sors back into their pro­tec­tive car­ry­ing case.

That said, once you get ev­ery­thing up and run­ning (sup­port is very at­ten­tive to cus­tomers), you have re­al­time feed­back in the pack­aged soft­ware — or you can tie it into Real­lu­sion’s iClone and feed the data di­rectly into char­ac­ters for pre­vis, games or full an­i­ma­tion.

What you may not re­al­ize is that Real­lu­sion’s CrazyTalk An­i­ma­tor 3 Pipe­line Edi­tion also can use the data and pro­vide re­al­time feed­back on 2D char­ac­ters. Be­cause the bone-hi­er­ar­chy sys­tem that CTA3 uses to de­form im­ages mim­ics the struc­ture we are used to in 3D an­i­ma­tion pro­grams to de­form meshes, the data is trans­ferrable to the 2D realm. So, whether you are mak­ing car­toons, or sprite-based video games, the mo­tion-cap­ture route is a quick way to pro­to­type things out, or po­ten­tially use as fi­nal an­i­ma­tion.

To­gether, the Per­cep­tion Neu­ron and Real­lu­sion’s iClone and/or CrazyTalk An­i­ma­tion 3, hit per­for­mance and price points that can pro­vide most am­bi­tious an­i­ma­tors and sto­ry­tellers tools to start bring­ing their ideas to life with­out nec­es­sar­ily the need for a stu­dio be­hind them. Todd Sheri­dan Perry is a vis­ual-ef­fects su­per­vi­sor and dig­i­tal artist who has worked on fea­tures in­clud­ing The Lord of the Rings: The Two Tow­ers, Speed Racer, 2012, Fi­nal Des­ti­na­tion 5 and Avengers: Age of Ul­tron. You can reach him at todd@tea­spoon­vfx.com.

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