Motion capture is the process of recording peoples movements and feeding the information into computers, allowing character rigs to replicate the movements of actors exactly, taking one more step towards computer generated characters that act like humans. Most studios will spend thousands building custom rooms with dozens of calibrated cameras and force their actors to wear skin-tight pokadot suits, but we managed it in Escape's own break out space, in our own clothes, for less than £100!
The key to the magic is the Xbox Kinect. The Kinect is an accessory for the Xbox 360 that allows gamers to use their body as a controller. It fires infra-red rays and lasers out across a room, and is able to calculate the displacement of the beams to determine where people are, and what movements they are making. This information is collected both as colour data and infra-red scans, which we can capture using free softaware called Brekel.
Brekel allows you to either save the information as BVH files, or export the skeleton straight into Motion Builder ready for animating or characterising! Now anyone who followed the Kinect around its release will know how quickly it was hacked, with programmers releasing their own programs for it just weeks after its release. Ironically, much like Brekel, most of these programs seemed to be utilising the incredibly powerful hardware of the Kinect more so than Microsoft have, who seem content with using it to destroy our childhood heroes.
We also used iPi, a software that isnt toally free, but is well worth getting if you want to capture point clouds to take into Houdini. I won't talk about how to use these products - you'll have to come on the course for that - but needless to say you could probably trawl the net for instructions if you're totally against getting professional tutorage.
Obviously the implications of anyone being able to buy a Kinect (second hand, £80, make sure you get a power cable for it, then just plug it into the back of your PC with a USB cable!) and use it for MOCAP are huge, especially for any young artists looking to create a shot that will really stand out on their reel. This became obvious last Thursday, when our current crop of students each had their turn infront of the Kinect. Recordings quickly went from walking and running to acrobatics and fighting, and some even took the time to grab some data for their end of course projects, which I'll post once they are presented. I was a little dissapointed nobody captured Street Fighter's Hadouken!!!, but we did get some Matrix style movements and some Tekken style fighting!