Jon, from Mixamo, discusses streamlining 3D character animation
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Interviewer: I’m here at the Austin Game Developers Conference and with me today is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself?
Jon: My name is Jon Burns. I’m Product Marketing Manager for Mixamo.
Interviewer: What is Mixamo?
Jon: So, Mixamo is an online 3D character animation service. We’re the first to offer basically a character animation service on the web.
Interviewer: And so, how would a developer actually use this service? Is it something where they just tell you that they need something done and you guys do it, or how does it exactly work?
Jon: Yeah, so basically, like game artists or designers or animators, they can go to our site and create a free account, and it’s almost like a web tool product where you can basically browse through our collection of motions, which are building every day and expanding on.
And what you can do is essentially upload your own characters, your own 3D models, to our site, and then what we do is we automatically retarget our motions or our skeleton to your own character. And then bake our motions onto your own characters, either onto your controller or to your skeleton itself, depending on what you prefer.
And really what you do from there is we offer real time customization controls that you can do right on the website with a 3D viewer, and then when you’re happy with whatever you’ve customized and created, you can bake the motion onto your character and download it right into your pipeline.
Interviewer: How long does the whole process take then? Say, for example, you have a character and you want to have a running animation or something else.
Jon: So, the process of uploading a character, selecting a running cycle and then customizing it and downloading it, I could do that in less than three minutes, basically. So, depending on what running cycle, if we have the cycle that you like up on our site, it really is animation in minutes.
And then, depending on what your product needs are, if you want to talk to us in person, we run a motion capture studio, and so we’re happy to work with developer studios on projects and do custom work for them That turn-around time to get the perfect running cycle for you would be a week turn-around time.
Interviewer: What are the trade-offs of using this? Is there any quality degradation, or what are other issues that can pop up if they try to use this? Otherwise, it seems like it really expedites the whole process.
Jon: Yeah, it definitely does. So, quality-wise we have our own motion capture studio. We’re using the top of the line equipment, and so we really pride ourselves on the quality of our data. We’re definitely not in stock motion at all. In stock motion the problem with that is you have to basically clean the data yourself and retarget it to your character. So, we take all that pain away.
The only thing I can say about what we don’t offer is we’re also not a full-fledged premium House of Moves motion capture studio, so we don’t have a basketball court size studio that we can capture NBA teams playing ball or anything. But, what we’re trying to do is hybridize key frame animation and motion capture processes into this online service.
What we found and what our clients are basically discovering now is that it’s really a new way to do animation for characters that saves you a bunch of time and, therefore, a bunch of money. Really, I guess the only limit is if our motions don’t meet your specific needs, then we can do the custom work for you, and it’s a little bit longer turn-around.
Interviewer: How much would it then cost if I want to get a character in and I want to have all these animations for my game that I need to put out really quickly?
Jon: Yeah, the pricing structure right now, so because we’re online it’s sort of a pay per download. It’s almost like an iTunes model where you pick and choose what you like, and then you customize the animations online and then you download them.
You only pay when you download, so you can basically do as much customization as you want online. You have your own profile, your own account where you can do that, and then you download it and that’s when you pay.
But we’re also open to if it’s a game studio with a specific project in mind and a specific set of motions. Right now, we’re working with some studios that have these custom motions that they like, and we’ll do a different deal where it’s basically pay us up front and we’ll do the custom work and then you can have as many downloads as you want of those motions.
Interviewer: About platforms, where can people use this? There’s Torque 3D, I think, or Unity 3D. There’s the Torque engine. There’s Flash. Where can these models be used for the game?
Jon: Yeah, we’re working with – some of our partners are actually Unity and we’re talking with Garage Games, so hopefully we’ll be partnered with them soon, the emergent guys, the gamer guys. And so, really from our perspective our technology plugs directly into any of the game platforms out there.
Like Unity and Mixamo animation, is a pretty compelling component for iPhone game devs because we speed up the animation production process, and obviously Unity is an awesome platform for that.
Interviewer: Have you seen this used in iPhone games yet, or can you talk about some of the games that this has been used in?
Jon: Yeah, I can’t give specifics, but we’re actually finishing up a game by Fluid Image. It’s going to be an iPhone game that hopefully is done within the next month or so, and we’ll be able to talk more about it then. But, needless to say, it will be kind of an interesting game.
And then with our other clients, we’re working on a PC title Xbox, but none of them are announced right now. So, I’m bursting to talk to people about it because that’s my job but I can’t yet.
Interviewer: What about Blender and some of the other tools that indie game developers use to model stuff? Will you guys be offering support for that?
Jon: Yeah, yeah, we’re actually partnered with and working very closely with Evolver, and they offer a 3D character creation tool, basically. It creates pretty awesome tool characters, and those characters upload seamlessly into Mixamo and download, and it just works perfectly, so those guys.
And then, we’re in pretty close discussions with the Poser guys and Dash 3D, so nothing that we announce yet, but we’re hopeful that in the next month or so we’ll be able to put out some pretty cool announcements on that.
Interviewer: So, what’s next in store then for the animations and where you guys are going to go with your project, your product?
Jon: Yeah, so it’s all about the technology. We just rolled out fully articulated figure support which is pretty big for the industry. We’re looking into facial animation, of course. That’s huge right now, but one of the cooler things that only Mixamo can offer really is we have markerless motion capture technology that we’re planning on using for animals and quadrupeds. So, stay tuned.
Interviewer: When are the animals coming out because I know that’s really popular with a lot of casual gamers?
Jon: Yeah, yeah, so this is to the audience, but if you guys are interested in animals, get in touch with me, please because we’re trying to figure out how much of a need is there. We’re hoping to roll out dog motions, horse motions in the next couple of months.
Interviewer: Nice. Where can developers get started?
Jon: Yeah, yeah, so go to Mixamo.com and create your free account. You can email me directly or call me. I’m assuming you’ll get to my info or something and really just have a conversation with us about your project or what you’re looking for. We’re totally flexible. We’re very nimble because we just launched in August, so we’re very much in startup mode.
It’s a web service, so go up online and check out our motions. Let us know what you think. We’re always looking to improve and download a bunch of motions for your games.
Interviewer: Thank you very much.