Mixamo delivers 3D facial animation capture via standard Webcam

Image via Mixamo
Image via Mixamo
Credit:

I’m sitting inside Mixamo’s San Francisco studio, and as I grimace and growl at the Webacam, the character on screen grimaces and growls right back in a way that is both hilarious and downright eerie. Those are my mannerisms in real-time now staring back at me in the form of an animated character.

The motion-capture game is about to change.

Forget the days of face sensors or markers, as thanks to Mixamo’s new Face Plus Unity plugin (utilizes the new Unity 4.3 blendshape technology), work that used to take weeks is now done in minutes, giving small to mid-size developers the ability to add facial animations to games at fractions of the cost and manpower.

And it’s as simple as I mentioned earlier, as anyone with a Webcam and this new tech can make characters wink, flirt, and smile within seconds of sitting down in front of a computer screen.

“If you ask a five-year-old if they like an animation, they can tell you if it looks good, looks creepy, or looks bad, but they would not have the technical knowledge to make it themselves,” said Stefano Corazza, Mixamo’s Co-Founder and CEO as I demoed the product. “We are trying to bridge that gap where anybody who has an eye or a sense of aesthetics will be able to create. If you eliminate the technological barrier, you’re democratizing the process of animation for everyone to create. That’s the idea behind the company.

“We’re trying to bring the revolution Google brought to search to animation. We want to be your one-stop shop from the starting point to our modeling and texture tool to rigging — which is the first automatic rigging service in the world — we have over 10,000 animations on our site that can be applied to any character, and now, we have our facial animation which we see as completing our spectrum of offerings. You can go from an unanimated mesh to a character who talks to you and moves around. That’s our vision.”

Image via Mixamo
Image via Mixamo
Credit:

Mixamo, which just hit the five-year mark as a company, revealed the Face Plus technology to the public for the first time today at Unite 2013, a product that is sure to cause some buzz among video game developers looking for a way to show more emotion through character faces.

“We’re going to provide people a solution to take an idea and put it in a game or even in a movie,” said Corazza. “If you look at where gaming is going right now, there is a huge movement to go back to more emotional storylines — great stories, great characters — that sense of atmosphere in the game and not just the beauty of the game or mechanics. It’s about getting the user engaged beyond just that, and facial animation is one of those things that can bring this raw emotion and helps you become really attached to the character you’re playing.

“And by taking the mo-cap straight into the engine and removing the need for markers, you can be real-time. Marker-less motion-capture is a hard problem that we’ve actually been working on for 15 years. Without the markers, you need to understand how the human face works in order to extract the emotion. We collected hundreds of different images of different people with different races, age, and skin color, then for each of them, we collected a bunch of different facial expressions. All of this combine into this magical mathematical equation that can figure out whether you’re happy or whether you’re angry, transferring it into real-time on your character.

“That’s what I call our secret sauce”

Face Plus is available today, and is included within the Mixamo All Access pass, which also includes unlimited access to Mixamo’s entire collection of 3-D characters, animations, and the Auto-Rigger.