Democratising mocap

Democratising mocap

By Jim Richardson

June 28th 2011 at 10:00AM

Motion Capture used to be the exclusive reserve of triple-A game budgets, but that's now changing, argues NaturalPoint co-founder Jim Richardson

The motion capture market is reaching a tipping point in maturation that, like most hardware-driven industries, is resulting in an exciting democratisation of the technology.

That which was previously exclusive to big budget productions and marquee studios is now available to indie game developers, community colleges – even hobbyist animators.

This democratisation process is the result of numerous factors, including the emergence of new vendors, improvements in product design, streamlined business models, and even advances in computer processing for handling mocap data. But just as important is the understanding that we, as technologists, can be collaborators in the creative process. Designing with this in mind is a core accelerant to the increase of technological accessibility.

A CLEAR MESSAGE

In addition to fair pricing and ease-of-use, vendor transparency is vital to the spread of mocap as a technology. Valuing transparency means posting your pricing online. Making raw, unedited sample data freely available. Getting your technology in front of people at trade shows. Providing free technical support.

Offering the community access to your architecture through SDKs. These practices are fundamental to how we market and support our products. We take these steps because, as consumers ourselves, it’s what we expect out of companies that we purchase from.

For many studios, the motion capture experience has been similar to Panavision cameras – only available for rental, and at a daunting price point. Enter the Red One camera, which can be purchased for less than a Panavision rental fee. Or go back even further and look at inkjet printers. It wasn’t too long ago that you went to a blueprint shop to have your drawings plotted or to have high resolution colour images printed on the laser printer. And we know where that story ends.

Agile new technology providers are now pushing mocap in the same direction that Red took digital cinematography. Price the product affordably, prioritise ease of use, and watch the market grow.

When we started selling our OptiTrack motion capture line in 2007, many believed that the potential market was too small, and that service bureaus were still the way to go. That motion capture was just too complicated, and the technology was too expensive. But we’ve identified a growing market for mocap. Customers just need reassurance that the technology really is approachable, and the price points are realistically manageable.

KINECTED MOCAP

With millions of units sold already, you can look to the success of Microsoft’s Kinect as the ultimate validation of our market’s potential. In the short time that Kinect has been on the market, numerous home-brew motion capture applications have sprung up. You can even pipe Kinect data directly into MotionBuilder, for basic body tracking at a price that nobody would believe a few years ago.

If you’re looking for production-quality data, your mileage may vary, but the fact that people are so hungry for motion capture is really exciting.

However, we don’t think of this democratisation process as only applying to indie developers and hobbyists. Even the largest studios are shifting their mocap paradigm.

Instead of reserving time at a single, massive motion capture facility, many satellite studios are creating their own capture systems – perfect for previsualisation and more flexible iteration throughout the entire production process. This workflow wasn't possible when mocap studios cost $250k, $500k, or more to build, but for $10-to-$20k, a radical shift in how large companies create content starts to make serious fiscal sense.

When you look at our now maturing motion capture market, you see natural a segmentation developing.

Technology is advancing very rapidly, and new businesses are taking advantage.

As a result, consumers finally have a choice – there is a clear difference between certain segments of the market in terms of price and performance, but the customer has the freedom to decide what fidelity they require, what motion capture goal they want to accomplish, and what product best addresses their needs.