Mixamo's ambition to make character creation and animation available to all

Accessible animation

Accessibility and democratisation are the key buzzwords of tools firms in the games industry, perhaps in part started by Unity’s mission years ago which has helped make it one of the leading tech companies for devs.

Now Mixamo is championing accessibility, this time in the realm of game animations. The firm has begun changing its entire business model, including its pricing (see ‘Price is right’, below), while offering a number of animations from its vast library for free, too.

One of its latest ventures is a new workflow that uses Microsoft’s Kinect for Windows V2 to bring 3D character models into its modular character creation toolkit Fuse, which can then be put into the character rigger and have animations added.

Using the Kinect along with scanning software such as Body Labs’ free-to-download BodySnap, developers can scan in their own bodies and import them into Fuse, which can then be used to customise the limbs, head and facial features for alterations, as well as add layers of clothing.

After this, characters can be exported for use in a game engine, such as Unity, Unreal Engine 4 and Source Engine, and is also compatible games such as Garry’s Mod and Team Fortress 2, for those ‘prosumers’ who may want to take advantage of the tech themselves.

Digging into rigging

Speaking to Develop, Mixamo product manager Tyler Georgeson says there are two ways to take a scan of yourself and import that on to a skeleton for use in-game.

“If you do it from Fuse directly, we actually know where all the joints are going to be placed because the UVs are all totally consistent,” he explains.

“If you use the standard auto rigger we have available on our website, it uses a machine learning algorithm that figures out where to place the joints for the skeleton based on volumetric data. So to proximate that with some user input, you just have to put five markers, on the elbows, wrists, chin, groin, knees, and it’ll start it up within two minutes.”

He adds that for his example model (pictured left and above), 280 blend shapes were created.

“All the texturing within Fuse is driven by Substance Designer by Allegorithmic,” he explains. “All the clothing and even the skin texturing itself is just one entire sbsar file. Which is great because it’s all parametric because you don’t need to worry about doing any hand texturing. If you’re a developer, that’s fantastic.”

Going back to that accessibility, Georgeson says this and Mixamo’s library can help open up character creation and animation to a plethora of developers, including hobbyists.

The whole process from start to finish of scanning to putting a new character model in-game based on the person scanned can take just a matter of hours.

Quick and easy

Georgeson says his character was uploaded directly to Fuse, and he was animating it within a couple of minutes. From here, he was able to update it to include 50 facial blendshapes, which could take days to a week to generate otherwise.

“With BodyLabs it took about an hour for them to generate the model on their cloud-based service,” says Georgeson, explaining the entire process from scan to importing it to the game. “Once you download the obj file and you drop it into Fuse, and it takes about 30 seconds to import.

“Then you can push and pull as much as you want within Fuse, put on textures, light clothing, hair, beard, whatever you want to do, upload to Mixamo, which will take another two minutes. If you want a rig, you can buy animations or you can just download the T pose, that will take 30 seconds. Then wait for Unity to start up, and just drop it in there. And it’s easy enough for me to just drop it in the assets, then drop it in my game hierarchy. Then if I want it in my game, fire up an animation controller within Unity andaway you go.”

Art producer Brent Jentzsch says this process shows that Fuse has flexibility beyond just pre-set characters, and can be used to play around with your own assets. And with use of Mixamo plug-ins such as Face Plus, characters with full animations can be made even quicker than ever.

“Whether it’s something you’ve scanned yourself or whether it’s a character you’re creating on your own, but you want to use Fuse for the customisations, being able to push and pull body parts, all the different clothing, that real-time texturing you get inside of there, that really speeds up the process.

“Plus one of the great things we’ve also added to Fuse is you can export your characters after you rig it on the Mixamo site, when you export your character, you can get the facial blend shapes you need for the facial animation and for use with our Face Plus plug-in.”

For those interested in dropping characters into games such as Garry’s Mod or Steam tools such as Source Filmmaker, Georgeson admits it can take some extra work as Source uses its own proprietary mode formats, but anticipates this could change in future with the rumoured release of Source Engine 2.

“In their new model viewer they support not just dmx and mdl files, which are their own proprietary formats, but also obj and fbx, and those are industry standard, and that’s where the real bottleneck is in getting into the Source engine,” he says.

“So if Source 2 is coming soon, and fbx works directly in it, that’s icing on the cake.”

Democratising animation

Georgeson hopes with such tools and methods, as well as Mixamo’s existing library of pre-built animations, that the firm will find a large audience and continue to build its community for the benefit of everyone.

He highlights the fact that developers are writing tools guides for others within the community and sharing general knowledge about animating and rigging.

“What I want from Mixamo is to be accessible at all levels. If we can grow a large-base community that’s all the better for everybody,” he states.

“It helps guide our development because we get a lot of good feedback, and if we can create tools that are useful at every level, for the hobbyist, indie developer or the pro studio, everybody wins.”

Price is right

In an effort to increase accessibility to its suite of animation services, Mixamo recently launched a new pricing strategy to appeal to individual animators, indies and larger studios alike.

The new model includes pay-per-use for animations and auto-rigging sessions, as well as three pricing tiers targeting a variety of developers.

Starter – $25 per month or $250 per year
Aimed at beginners and new users, subscribers will get five animations per month and access to Fuse Basic, with unlimited auto-rigging of Fuse characters.

Indie – $50 per month or $500 per year
Animators will get ten animations per month, access to Fuse, unlimited auto-rigging of Fuse characters and full access to Face Plus and Mixamo’s level of detail services Decimator and Skeleton.

All Access – $150 per month or $1,500 per year
Subscribers in this tier will have access to 50 animations per month, plus everything in the previous tiers. Those who sign up for the annual fee will have unlimited access to animations.

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