Digging into rigging: Mixamo's character service explored

Digging into rigging: Mixamo's character service explored
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

May 9th 2014 at 1:00PM

The long-serving Mixamo character service has just undergone its latest update. CEO Stefano Corazza gives Will Freeman a look at what it’s offering artists and developers

Before we discuss the update and new features, for our readers not familiar with Mixamo’s offering, what exactly is it, and what makes it distinct?

Generating animated 3D characters is still a labour-and-time intensive endeavour. And typically, access to customised assets is only feasible for those with the expertise and funds to work with expensive industry standard 3D software. Mixamo’s end-to-end services make the process of 3D character creation, rigging and animation accessible to artists of all skill levels. The combination of web technology, machine learning and animation artistry make Mixamo’s solution ideal for 3D production teams needing high quality animated characters in a matter of minutes, not days.

And now there’s the new update. Is there a general theme in terms of the direction the update takes your online offering? Or a mantra to the general way it improves what you offer developers?

In this launch, we are focused on and giving developers more freedom over content generation, releasing the first bi-directional character creator. This fits with Mixamo’s mission to democratise 3D character animation, so that a team of any size and means can rapidly get customised assets that can be tailored both technically and aesthetically to work within a range of games projects.

Fuse 1.0 is clearly a significant new element. What does that offer, and why is it important?

Fuse 1.0 takes all limitations off of character content creation. We now allow users to import and integrate their own assets with Fuse’s character creator system so that developers are no longer restricted to Mixamo’s style and content choices.

Now that developers have the ability to import unique IP to the Fuse system the number of possible character permutations is quite literally infinite. In a world where development cycles are getting shorter and budgets are shrinking, Fuse 1.0 can help to maximize modelling resources by combining a high degree of customisation with quality and expedited model creation.

The tool also includes improved level of detail functionality for adjusting the complexity of a 3D objects in the editor, correct? How does that better things for developers using Mixamo?

Making LODs is tedious, which is why we made ‘The Decimator’ easy to use in any pipeline that calls for polygonal optimisation. Every project has unique needs around poly counts, so we let the user set the needed percentage of reduction.

We released this product in an Early Access version, yet the functionality of The Decimator makes it possible to keep the quality high on models and get meshes into any game engine. Just another manual process that Mixamo streamlines so developers can devote time to more creative parts of game production.

 

What other new or improved features will make a real impact at games studios?

We just released a new optimised version of Face Plus, our real-time facial animation technology, always improving as we learn from users what features are important to them and how they are using Face Plus in their game development pipeline.

You’ve also introduced a new subscription model. Who does that target and why?

We are now providing the option of paying monthly for 12 months of service. People can check the Mixamo website for the latest prices. We decided to offer a monthly payment option because we believe that giving our users – many of whom are indie studios – more choice ultimately gives them more control. We are learning a lot by interacting with Mixamo users at our quarterly User Group meetings, in our community forum, via The Mixamo Blog and on Facebook and Twitter. And just like use cases for products, we are hearing that users have a range of needs when it comes to pricing. Monthly payments have proved wildly popular already.

You’ve described your technology as democratising 3D character animation. How have you done that while keeping the tools relevant to larger studios working on larger budget projects? Or are you just targeting the smaller teams?

Technology that streamlines 3D production is an asset to development teams regardless of size. We are seeing an overall trend in the industry to demand higher quality work but at quicker turnaround times and at fractions of the budgets that games like Halo 2 and Fable enjoyed. Especially at the triple-A studio level, there is no margin for mistakes on timing or gameplay late in the production cycle. Mixamo gives these teams the freedom to iterate rapidly, to fail fast at the beginning of a production instead of making costly adjustments in the middle or end of the development pipeline.

I think David Hubert, cinematic director for Eidos Montreal, said it best when he spoke at GDC about how his team is using Mixamo. His company values Mixamo’s online animation collection for getting motions onto placeholder models to work out timing so that planning around animation resources are allocated with confidence, not guesswork.

Why should artists be confident that using Mixamo can deliver distinct, unique results that match their game?

With the addition of the asset import feature in Fuse, Mixamo continues the tradition of developing software that is open to customisation at any point that works for the user’s needs. Because all our assets are royalty-free and easy to download in universal file types, developers can get what is needed from Mixamo and tweak it to the spec required for that particular production.

For example, developers can use any model to be rigged by Mixamo’s Auto-Rigger, and after our online technology has put in a full skeleton and done the weight-painting and skinning weights – in under two minutes – there is a choice to download or go on to apply Mixamo animations. Many of our users just use the Auto-Rigger and we actually see the majority of our All Access customers upload already-rigged models and leverage Mixamo’s automatic retargeting system to get quality motions on proprietary models. Again, if adjustments are needed to integrate a Mixamo motion with other animation content then it’s as easy as downloading the file and making edits to the animation data.

We even provide control rig scripts to run on models that have been rigged with the Auto-Rigger so that it is easy for even non-animators to tweak motions before putting the animated character into a game engine. We believe in giving control to the user, so we develop technology that is open at every step of the pipeline.

What’s next for Mixamo?

At the moment we are working to add even more freedom to customise in Fuse. A feature in development right now is the ability to adjust facial feature shapes to any mesh in Fuse, even to a user’s imported assets. Our end-goal with Fuse is to give developers the ability to import custom assets and characters in Fuse and automatically be able to download a set of blend shapes and the full body rigging with the 3D mesh. We keep working towards building a character pipeline that is a developers’ nirvana.