A dozen years ago there were few options available for facial performance capture and projects relied on in-house artists
or facial capture services. As the industry evolved, Image Metrics and Cubic Motion surfaced as two of the key services
offering a good solution to a labor-intensive task. But such services came at a formidable price that was often far out
of reach for smaller studios or individuals. In today’s market, there are several do-it-yourself (D.I.Y.) options that have leveled the
playing field. The question is, how good are the results in comparison to the savings?
Both processes are considered markerless facial performance capture. The turnkey solution means the work is outsourced,
resulting in fully animated facial capture files that can be dropped directly into a project with little to no additional tweaking. Recent
developments allow companies such as Di-O-Matic to offer software for an affordable one-time purchase fee that can do the work
in-house at a much cheaper price, producing mid-quality facial animation in minutes that can be used as is or tweaked as needed,
giving you the option to pick the best solution for your budget.
Facial capture services such as Image Metrics and Cubic
Motion are plug and play services where the captured data
is modified by the service before it’s returned to the client.
While the capture processes of high-end and D.I.Y. facial capture
are similar, it’s the modification process that affects the
final price. For example, Image Metrics facial capture data is
gathered by the company’s software and their crew of artists
tweak the raw information to a higher quality before delivery.
The client receives facial animation that is either strong
enough to work with as is, or it may require adjustment before
inserting into the pipeline. Image Metrics’ services start
at $1,000 per minute ($16.6 per second). Hardware rental of
the Head Mounted Camera System (HMC) runs $300 per day
or it can be purchased for $15,000, and a wireless transmitter
or receiver can be added for an additional $450 per day, or
purchased for $12,000. It’s efficient and it saves the client a
lot of work, but the cost can be prohibitive for small facilities
D.I.Y. for the Budget Conscious
By comparison, the cost savings of doing the work yourself
can be considerable. Some game companies confronted with
lower sales which need to monitor their budgets carefully, or
freelance artists working alone or in small teams, are seeking
alternative solutions such as Di-O-Matic’s Maskarad. Departing
from the service model, Maskarad is a one-time purchase
to be used in-house for any number of projects, be it 300
seconds or 300 hours, and the price is just $1,500. The default
quality of the automatic markerless facial capture is similar to
that of Cubic Motion or Image Metrics, but it’s up to the user
to enhance the animation curves to the desired level of quality.
Often times no tweaking is needed, particularly if a character
is seen at a distance or where simplistic facial animation is all that is required. The cost is much less because you aren’t
paying an expert to refine the data at a per second charge.
Maskarad can take any reasonable video recording, HD,
non-HD or webcam video and convert the facial movements
into animation curve data, providing about 80 percent quality
without any additional work. The process is simple: Open the
software and video and hit “track.” There is no need for setup,
markers, or to define facial features like eyebrows. It’s fully
compatible with all the leading 3D software such as Maya,
Max and Softimage. Key markets are gaming and animation
studios, direct-to-DVD projects, TV series, game cinematics
and rendered animations.
The Question of Quality
But do D.I.Y. softwares work? According to senior interactive
designer/developer Dave Luciew of Concurrent Technologies
Corporation (CTC) and co-founder of Mara3D, Maskarad
works extremely well. CTC has been using the Di-OMatic
line since 2007, receiving the Pennsylvania Technology
Product of the Year Award “thanks in part to the efficiency
we were able to achieve using Di-O-Matic tools,” says Luciew.
“Just by running a high def video performance through Maskarad
we were able to get really high quality facial animation.
We still ended up tweaking it a bit, but we literally had hundreds
of animations to complete and Maskarad saved us a lot
of time, a lot of money, and allowed us to get results we would
not have been able to achieve in the time frame.
“We used Maskarad batch to process all the video clips from
a common directory. We put the settings in place and pointed
it to that folder and it just processed all the animation, delivering
a high quality first pass that we used to create the final animations.”
There were several cases where Luciew was able to
use the raw data with no need for additional tweaking because
it was acceptable for the context. “Even as a first pass solution,
we still had the complete face animated and the complete
performance capture with all of the timing, and it was really
only limited by what we were able to do artistically, it wasn’t
the technology. It was great, and it really saved us a lot of time.”
Of course, no in-house solution can compare with the facial
capture of a film like Avatar where the animation requires so
much detailed data collecting it requires well over a hundred
markers; the comparison simply isn’t equal. But for simpler animations,
the D.I.Y. methods can save tens of thousands of dollars.