Develop looks at Ikinema's WebAnimate middleware
What is it?: WebAnimate
Price: Free (for now)
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IKinema’s self titled core animation and IK technology is established, well regarded, and ideal for the high end games typical of triple-A.
But, with the increasing number of smaller studios taking a foothold in the industry, and a continuing emphasis on better equipping today’s hobbyists and students for tomorrow’s industry, Ikinema identified a gap in the market that it has moved to fill.
Microstudios and beginners remain starved of specifically tailored animation middleware solutions, but with WebAnimate they now have a new option to consider.
“WebAnimate is a browser-based software for animation,” explains IKinema’s CEO Alexandre Pechev. “It allows for the import of mo-cap data in BVH format, import of FBX models and assets, retargeting and customisation of mo-cap data, key-framing, and finally export to FBX. WebAnimate is intended to give all basic tools and functionalities that an animator or game designer might need.”
A comprehensive package, then, and one soon to benefit from the addition of C3D support, meaning it will serve as a significant boon to the ongoing trend that has seen motion capture technology democratised across the creative industries.
“Retargeting, and in general motion capture rework, is currently considered as a high-end area,” offers Pechev. “Hence the tools are not affordable by the general community. With the games industry changing, we have recognised the need for low-cost and affordable solutions that still produce high-quality output.
“WebAnimate also provides a platform for the use of the thousands of free motion capture files available out there that can be utilised, and reused by small studios and hobbyists.”
Built around an uncomplicated, user-friendly pipeline, by its creator’s own admission, WebAnimate is somewhat comparable to MotionBuilder. However, unlike the Autodesk technology, the markedly simpler WebAnimate only concerns itself with the core functions of animation, retargeting and customisation of motion capture data.
However, WebAnimate is conceived to be anything but limited.
“WebAnimate also supports any model and is not restricted to humans. We are also extending the features to general FK-IK animation and rigging, making it a more generic animation tool, but still simpler in comparison to other products,” says Pechev.
IKinema’s new technology also strives to offer integration and compatibility with as many platforms and systems as possible. As well as interfacing with mo-cap data through the import of FBX and BVH files, and via the forthcoming C3D support, the team behind WebAnimate is currently working on bringing its interfaces to Vicon, Xsens, and Kinect for real-time streaming to the tool for pre-viz and live or realtime retargeting.
Building a solution offering the ability to retarget and customise animation and mo-cap as quickly and easily as possible wasn’t without challenge, of course, and integrating 3D rendering technology Vision with the IKinema engine proved a defining milestone in the creation of WebAnimate.
Moving forward Pechev and his team have a further challenge. They hope to make the tool applicable to Mac, Linux and mobile platforms. It is a mammoth task that is likely to present numerous challenges, but one that will further democratise retargeting and mo-cap middleware.
Presently the WebAnimte technology is free, and IKinema’s plan is to see that some aspect of the tool will remain this way indefinitely. The current strategy for ongoing free use will see the option to save scenes and animation in the IKinema format for reuse, or allow for a certain degree of uncharged animation export use per month.
Eventually a monthly subscription or pay-per-export model is to be introduced, but for now, WebAnimate offers those at the lower echelons of the game development ecosystem an animation solution that gives them access to techniques and technology that may normally be some way out of their reach, and all without cost.