Alexandre Pechev, CEO of IKinema, explains how WebAnimate can help independent studios and individuals working on games, films, and mobile projects to realise realistic and believable animation for free
In December 2011, IKinema announced the public beta of WebAnimate – an all-in-one platform that can professionally retarget and customise animation through a browser.
Based on the same IKinema technology that major studios like Framestore and 20th Century Fox trust, WebAnimate’s built-in toolset allows users to fashion rigs, manipulate bones, retarget/customise motion-capture data and animation all in the span of a few minutes. The software looks set to simplify the motion capture workflows for professional production studios and bring real-time motion editing within the reach of home users.
Over the course of the next year, users can expect to see new features added to WebAnimate. The introductory version of the platform will allow for the retargeting of motion capture data to models from standard formats such as bvh, FBX, and in the near future, c3d. Artists can use this platform to quickly port motion capture data from cloud or local sources directly to their models. They can also tap into the vast number of free mocap files that reside online. And because IKinema’s solver works off of a browser, users are able to animate or retarget from anywhere.
Alexandre Pechev Interview
3D World: When did development start on WebAnimate and what was the thinking behind making it free? Alexandre: We have been working on WebAnimate for less than a year, however WebAnimate is based on the core IKinema engine which has been in development for several years now. This considerably simplified the task! We have a long list of features that we would like to add to the platform and until we are convinced that a majority of these features are in place, we will keep it for free.
The tool is for the community and we would like to engage with the potential users of WebAnimate, to understand their needs. Some aspects of WebAnimate would be always free but we are still working on the final business model.
3D World: What have you found the most challenging part of creating WebAnimate? Alexandre: Converting IKinema’s solver engine into an animation pipeline was the most challenging aspect. Now that we have the core engine in place, we can create new features from existing IKinema functionalities like marker solving, general rigging for human and non-human characters, streaming from motion-capture systems and Kinect, automatic balance and so on.
3D World: How does WebAnimate differ to other software like MotionBuilder? And are features from other mocap packages going to be added? Alexandre: WebAnimate is a much simpler application than MotionBuilder. Having said that, WebAnimate is a very powerful application as it includes our core IKinema solvers. The IKinema marker solver and the retargeting engine enable Webanimate to perform at similar and even greater levels than MotionBuilder, especially when we include our stretch-IK engine and streaming data in real-time from Vicon and Xsens. Furthermore, we are now adding the general rigging engine so WebAnimate can be used for key-framing animation. Key differences are that we support animation and retargeting on any creature, human and non-human. We are bringing our streaming interfaces from motion-capture systems and Kinect for real-time retargeting, but still we will not include any scripting features and SDK for integration of third party extensions. We would like the users of WebAnimate to end up being the small studios and individuals who need to quickly access a tool and test their ideas or on their work for small animation or game projects. MotionBuilder would be always the high-end tool; we would like to provide another tool for the rest of the community, and in this respect we do not see an overlap.
Being in the browser, we would like to extend the features and provide abilities for shared-screen use. This would make remote demonstration and collaboration work easily achievable.
3D World: How will WebAnimate help to streamline pipelines? Alexandre: There are several ways this tool can be utilised. For example, studios can make use of free motion-capture data available online and port to their characters. Existing key-framed animation can be ported on new models and customized. Motion-capture data can be retargeted and customised to new characters and environments. In the next version, models can be converted to rigs and animated directly in WebAnimate. The tool can be also used as a generic mocap and FBX viewer in the browser.
3D World: What take up do you expect to see from studios, both large and small/indie? Alexandre: The gaming industry is changing and many users expect to get access to high-quality tools for very little cost. Examples range from Unreal to Unity. The latter company, for example, has recently reported 750K registered developers; this clearly indicates the popularity of this new business approach. WebAnimate can find applications beyond gaming, DAZ3D and Second Life are other examples where avatars need animation with interest in using mocap data.
3D World: WebAnimate is currently free, and brings animation to the masses, but for how long? Alexandre: Some aspects of WebAnimate will be always available for free and the future charge model will be affordable. We are considering two charging options – charge on exported data with several bands and free plans and low-cost monthly subscriptions. The WebAnimate’s proprietary format for storing the scenes will be always free.
3D World: In your view, what’s the most exciting up-coming feature? Alexandre: Working in collaboration via WebAnimate. All other features are “standard” but virtual collaboration would open up new opportunities for allowing remote demonstration and/or collaborative work over internet on the same scene/animation. This would be like Skype for animation.
3D World: What other exciting developments are happening at IKinema in 2012? Alexandre: In 2012, we will be launching a new version of our Maya plug-in with stretch IK as a standard feature, better support and import of motion-capture data into Maya and integration of IKinema middleware into various third-party animation products.
WebAnimate is high on the list and we are planning to enrich it with many, if not all, of the planned features.
We are also packaging better our run-time engine for the mobile platforms market, Android and iOS.
3D World: What’s the roadmap for IKinema and what else are you working on at the moment? Alexandre: Long term, we are looking in two directions: IKinema and physics for run-time animation synthesis and Mesh IK. The latter is very exciting and potentially very interesting. For decades, bones are used to drive the meshes but we are very keen to apply the traditional rigging, retargeting and motion-capture techniques available today and familiar to everyone but directly to the mesh in real time due to the speed of IKinema IP. This we find very, very exciting.
With WebAnimate you can apply mocap data to your characters, rework mocap data, load assets, pass animation from one character to another, customise and export to your game or a movie project
Pricing and availability
WebAnimate is available now for Windows with a Mac and Linux version to follow next year.
It will remain free of charge while in its beta period. After that, users will only be charged when their animations or poses are exported for commercial use. However, it will always be free to try out and experiment within WebAnimate, as well as store or use the scenes you create in a proprietary format.