At Crazy Minnow Studio, we are proud owners of a couple of iPi Express edition licenses. We're using the Kinect to capture mocap data and we're generally very excited about this technology. Compared to other solutions we've tried, we've been able to (relatively easily) capture some basic motions that we've used in some of our promos for SALSA With RandomEyes.
Recently (about 30 days ago) we discovered a new player in the mocap arena, Perception Neuron from Noitom. Neuron is currently wrapping up their Kickstarter campaign and have blasted past their $250,000 goal. So, why are we so excited about this technology? Read on...
When we first discovered the iPi solution, we were hugely surprised and happy to see what sorts of results could be achieved without spending hours or days editing mocap data after capture. The iPi solution does a very good job of anchoring feet and reducing jitter for the overall capture with a few mouse clicks. Other solutions we've tried required a lot of after-capture editing to produce usable mocap data. And, as mentioned above, we're using Kinect as the capture device. Kinect introduces some anomalous functionality in and of itself. Lighting and positioning of the Kinect is paramount for a good capture. And, beyond that, framerate is first and foremost a necessity for smooth animations. We've found that getting a good framerate can be fiddly and requires pretty good hardware. One thing we noticed was, screen-sharing software and video drivers can have a drastic negative effect on framerate, so a best practice for us is to perform a fresh system boot to ensure there's no lingering applications interfering with our process.
With iPi (and the limitations of our current setups -- single Kinect paired with the Express Edition of iPi) we've been limited to simple captures, but were pretty confident that the system would be able to expand with our needs in the future. All we'd need to do would be to add another Kinect and elevate our iPi license to allow for full rotation and multiple actors. The $$$ cost for expansion is not cheap for an indie studio (~$100/Kinect and ~$400 for the license upgrade -- iPi has a very good upgrade policy that is basically the difference between license levels). Presumably, we'd still have the same challenges with Kinect captures, maybe even moreso.
Enter Perception Neuron. Now, as a disclaimer, our excitement for Neuron is purely based on speculation at this point since we don't yet have one in our minnowy little fins. However, the concept on paper appears to be hugely liberating for mocap junkies. We've backed the campaign for a couple of 20-N packages and can't wait to try them out. Neuron has a few things going for it that are huge limitations to the camera capture systems iPi and others use. New challenges may be prevalent with this technology such as calibration drift, but that remains to be seen as well. Noitom appears to be putting a lot of effort into minimizing drift and latency (more important for VR usage).
Neuron uses IMU (inertial measurement unit) devices to capture movement data and requires positioning on the body similarly to marker-based capture systems. The system comes with Neuron packs, body straps, and a wifi-enabled hub. Recently, the project surpased two of its stretch goals, adding a simple remote control (or a tactile feedback unit) and on-board SD storage. Most recently, Noitom announced as a 3rd and final stretch goal, they would give the remote control and tactile feedback unit to its backers since the support has been so good over the campaign. No arguments from us on this instant stretch goal reward!!!
What makes the Neuron so exciting? There are quite a few things. First, it's wireless, so captured movement is only constrained by connectivity to a wireless access-point/router. And that requirement goes away with the on-board SD storage. Now you can go anywhere to capture data. All you need is a battery pack. No longer are you restricted to a 7' x 7' capture volume. Complete freedom to jump, spin, lie down, dive, walk, skip, and run! Let your imagination wander.
Next, the Neurons are adaptive, meaning their placement can be adjusted or reconfigured based on the type of capture you're doing -- especially if you opt for a smaller Neuron pack. Need to concentrate on hand/finger movement? Move the Neurons to the fingers and get finely articulated capture. In fact, the Neuron package can also be used for Virtual Reality (VR) input, which is where the tactile feedback Neurons come into play.
In addition to the above, capture full rotations, multiple actors, and track a character tool (or two), such as a weapon. And the price for this package (20-N) is about the cost of a Kinect with the Express Edition of iPi. You can get a 10-N pack for about half the price -- you'd be more restricted in what you capture, but still able to capture at least what iPi does currently and be a lot more flexible. Don't get us wrong, we still think iPi is a great piece of software and very capable -- we're just excited for the new capabilities that Neuron potentially offers.
Perception Neuron is not only for game development mocap. It conceivably has potential uses in medicine, research, film, VR, etc. We can't wait to see how a project like this contributes to advancing science and technology. And, of course, time will tell if the proof is in the pudding and this technology pans out to be all that and a bag of chips! But we remain hopeful and excited for what we believe will be a breakthrough in motion capture, especially for small indie studios.
Perception Neuron is expected to ship around the middle of February. We look forward to providing a proper hands-on review at that time!
UPDATE (2014-09-14): Perception Neuron finished their Kickstarter campaign with over $571,000 in backer funds, more than doubling their $250,000 initial goal and meeting all stretch goals set by @noitomocap. -crazyD