Issue: Volume: 23 Issue: 4 (April 2000)

REVIEWS: Filmbox 2.0

By George Maestri

Motion capture is used frequently in the visual effects industry as a way to animate digital characters. Although the process looks easy-a performance actor dons a sensor suit and moves around a stage while his movements drive those of a virtual character on the computer screen-in truth it can be downright hard to do. Issues concerning size discrepancies between the performance actor and the virtual character, as well as snafus such as virtual feet going through the floor, bad data, and occluded markers on the act or all throw monkey wrenches at the mo tion-capture crew.
Filmbox offers a new interface and now handles multiple characters within a scene.

The newest version of Kaydara's Film box, Version 2.0, helps solve most of these hairy problems. The software, which began shipping in December, consists of four modules. Filmbox Animation is a character-animation system for creating, editing, and blending motion-capture and keyframe animation. Filmbox Motioncapture enables real-time capture, editing, and blending of motion data. Filmbox Online combines animation, motion-capture, and tracking tools with real-time input/output functionality for controlling and editing 3D, video, camera control, motion control, and audio. And, new to Version 2.0, Filmbox Matchmove provides precise camera tracking.

You can use Filmbox in two ways. As a stand-alone keyframe animation tool, you start by importing your character model in the FBX format. This is a custom format for which Kaydara provides plug-ins for several major 3D packages.

Although you can certainly use Filmbox as a key frame animation tool, its biggest strengths are in real-time applications, particularly motion capture and digital puppetry. To that end, Filmbox provides robust support for a range of motion-capture devices, including mechanical, magnetic, and real-time optical systems.

Kaydara has introduced several improvements into the Motioncapture module. Device support is expanded to include most major mechanical, magnetic, and optical sys tems. Also, a new tool called the Char acter Mapping System helps considerably with character setup, enabling users to match the markers on the performance act or to those on the virtual character. While the actor stands with arms outstretched, palms down, the individual markers on his suit are assigned to those on the character, enabling it to move along with the actor. For spots that don't match up-for instance, if the actor has proportions different from the character's, or if the motion-capture process occurs over several days and the markers on the actor have shifted slightly-Film box offers the ability to re pos ition and fine-tune the markers at any time.

The software's Character Mapping System also incorporates Kaydara's HumanIK inverse kinematics to automatically solve traditional problems in motion capture such as varying character size, bone length, and skeleton construction. This simplifies the motion-capture process, as IK can handle joints like elbows and knees, reducing the number of sensors required during the capture session. Another nice feature is floor constraints, which keep the character's feet from penetrating the floor.

The new version of Online, meanwhile, features real-time video I/O, which enables you to send Filmbox output directly to broadcast. It must be noted, however, that the quality of the produced images is directly related to the quality and speed of the OpenGL card in your machine. An NT machine with the fastest processor available and a high-end Intergraph card, or an SGI Onyx, is probably your best bet.

As noted previously, a new module in Version 2.0 is Matchmove, which works in two ways. First, it operates as a standalone 2D tracking system to match the software's 3D camera to a 2D moving image. This means the software automatically selects the points in the 2D scene to track, which saves a ton of time and enables real-time operation.

Also new to Filmbox is a user interface that's more streamlined, thereby improving overall workflow and giving users quicker access to key controls.

Overall, Kaydara made a nice set of improvements to the modules in Version 2.0. And the addition of Matchmove provides a powerful means for synchronizing 3D and 2D cameras and video/audio elements. In short, Filmbox is now an especially good choice of program for anyone involved with motion capture.

George Maestri is a writer and animator living in Los Angeles.

Price: Filmbox Animation, $4995; Filmbox Matchmove, $9995; Filmbox Motioncapture, $11,995; Filmbox Online, $29,995
Minimum system requirements: Windows NT 4.0; recent OpenGL accelerator card; SGI Octane or Onyx with Irix 6.5 or higher; 128MB of memory