Interview: Mixamo

Interview: Mixamo
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

February 22nd 2012 at 9:30AM

The animation company lifts the lid on it's Auto-Rigging technology

Can you take us through what the Auto-Rigger is, what it does and who it is for?
The Mixamo Auto-Rigger is the first online service developed to automatically rig 3D characters. It is designed specifically for game developers. 
The Auto-Rigger is one of the first large-scale applications of 'smart algorithms' to cater towards 3D character animation.
These smart algorithms are derived from Machine Learning mathematical theory, which allow a huge leap forward in automating less creative and time consuming tasks for game developers and character designers/animators.
Here are some videos of the Auto-Rigger in action - taking a character with multiple meshes, rigging it and using it in Unity and Unreal.

What benefits does this system offer developers over rival services or in-house work?

First and foremost, the Mixamo Auto-Rigger is the first online rigging service. We found that in-house work takes anywhere from one-to-four days to rig a high-end character for a single resolution.
The Mixamo Auto-Rigger calculates skinning weights in less than a minute, providing the user with 80 per cent to 100 per cent of the final rigging depending on the complexities of the character. From users feedback we estimated a 10x increase in overall efficiency for the user and a 10x cost saving.
Once the character is rigged, Mixamo offers thousands of 3D animations that can be applied in real time.

Why is the service based online?
Mixamo.com is based online for three reasons. The technology that we provide is computationally intensive, thus requiring a cloud computing approach that utilises many CPUs for any given Auto-Rigger request.
The second reason is simply for the real-time effect. Not only is Mixamo.com available for users anywhere, anytime, we are also able to connect with our users and ensure we are constantly improving and optimising according to our customers’ feedback.
The third reason is that being online allows Mixamo.com to provide a more prompt and pro-active support network for our users.

What challenges defined the creation of the Auto-Rigger?
The initial challenge that we identified was the lack of a decently engineered solution to the rigging process. The primary development initiative was to then create something very robust yet flexible at the same time. At the moment, our service works quite flawlessly with standard human/humanoid characters but we are constantly improving and expanding it with every release.



How do you hope the Auto-Rigger will be adopted and used by developers? Do you intend to make long-term customers or drop in and out of projects as required?
We believe that our users will not only trust the Auto-Rigger to meet their production rigging needs but also to integrate it as part of the creative and iterative process. Because users can upload their mesh, rig it, and preview it in 3D online, they are provided with an incredible opportunity to create and test at will. This is something completely revolutionary and wholly respective of the game development process. We have also re-engineered our payment options to facilitate customers with short and long-term projects by providing both subscription and pay-as-you-go options.

How adaptable is the Auto-Rigger tech? Can it for example implement 3D easily, or be re-deployed into scenes already animated?
Every 3D animation comes with a specific 3D skeleton to which it is associated. In order to integrate better with existing workflows, the Mixamo Auto-Rigger provides both FK and IK rigs.
3ds Max users can download an auto-rigged character and automatically convert it into a 3ds Max Biped system for animation (video here). Game developers who would like to use the auto-rigged character with the Mixamo animation library can download the character and FK animations automatically applied and instantly integrate them into the game engine of their choice (here's an example with Unity). This month we are also releasing for free automatic scripts for Maya and 3dsMax that create a complete control rig ready to be animated.

How do you think the animation industry is faring today, and where do you think it will be in five years? Where will Mixamo be in five years?
I think the animation industry is going through a major democratisation process where game development is becoming easier, less technical, and ultimately more accessible. It is, and will continue to be, exciting to see new ideas and fresh game design emerging thanks to this shift.
As for Mixamo we are aiming at creating a complete end-to-end service for 3D character animation. We will add more support for creatures and animals in the future months to expand the service, ultimately making game development and content creation a fun, real-time experience.



Was there anything else you wanted to discuss?

I want to encourage the community to try the Mixamo Auto-Rigger and send us feedback. We are constantly perfecting the service and iterating on user data. Our ultimate purpose is to listen to the needs of the community and respond with meaningful tools that truly support end-to-end game development. By making character animation easier and easier we will move towards consumer applications.

For more information visit Mixamo's Auto-Rigging website.