What seemed an anathema to animators everywhere not long ago, has, in my opinion, become the inevitable future for animation production. It shouldn't come as a surprise given improvements in Maya as well as decreasing costs for useful motion capture hardware. At first glance, it might seem that motion capture should replace animators, reducing the art and craft of animation to automation; but that is not the case for a number of reasons.
First, motion capture is not perfect. The data, once captured needs to be edited and cleaned up. This requires an animator who knows exactly what they are about. Even the best hardware still has little ticks and errors. Of course, the animator my download from several sources some very high quality motion capture data that has already been cleaned up. But that brings me to the next point:
One size certainly does not fit all perfectly. I'll give you an example:
This is an example of two motion capture files from the Carnegie Mellon Motion Capture Database. I combined a kick and cartwheel motion capture file using Maya's Time Editor and this was the result.
Then, using Maya's HIK functionality, I defined the skeleton as a character and then defined Claudine as a skeleton first and then a rig. I applied the kick and cartwheel .fbx to the Claudine rig and then baked the animation to the appropriate controls. This is what resulted:
Obviously, there are problems. There are numerous instances of Claudine intersecting geometry as well as her arms go all akimbo because primarily, the mocap file is applied to a primarily IK based rig (at least for the arms and legs). Also, the hands are static and her face is blank.
So the next step was to refine the animation:
Using hand keyframing and Maya's Animation layer editor, I corrected intersections and arm flipping, and I also was able to nail the hands to the boxes fairly well. I keyframed hand and face animation as those controls were not affected. That gave her a surprising amount of life.
The thing to keep in mind, however, is that I created this animation in a single afternoon.
But I'm sure you're thinking: "But Eric, it requires expensive hardware, complicated suits and large volumes of dedicated space to capture motion like that. That's what I used to think too.
It isn't true anymore.
I am in the preliminary stages of testing a Neuron Perception 3 motion capture rig. It is billed as the world's smallest motion capture solution, and they may not be far off. A week or two ago, I unpacked ours, installed the software on the Windows 8.1 pro partition of my 2015 MacBook Pro. Suited up my 17 year old son (who has NO motion capture training), and within about 20 minutes, was able to capture this in our fairly small den:
I didn't try to clean anything up; I was simply seeing if it would work on my laptop. It worked better than I'd hoped. The most difficult part of the process was activating the dongle that the software requires to run. I'm not sure why they have a dongle as the software requires the sensors and transceiver to be useful. But at $3,400 as of this writing, it is very affordable. It was a bit fiddly to fit the straps on my son, but everything is very well marked and labeled. Calibration was quick and easy and we were off to the races!
Is this the death of the animator? By no means!
We’ll use our Neuron Perception mocap in collaboration with our dance and theater department to develop much better performances and libraries of our very own. But our animation students will still need to know and, more importantly, be able to apply the principles of animation so as to leverage this new technology. I’ve found that motion capture allows the animator to create larger amounts of animation; but it requires the animator to know exactly how to apply those principles to effectively finish the animation.