Issue: Volume: 25 Issue: 3 (March 2002)

Filmbox 3.5

By George Maestri

Kaydara has been a leader in the area of real-time motion capture for the past few years. Filmbox, its flagship product, is an essential tool for anyone creating motion capture or other types of real-time content. Version 3.0 built on a strong foundation with the addition of keyframe animation and nonlinear animation. Sub sequent versions, including the just-released 3.5, have added several more features in the areas of workflow and character animation.

The software runs on Windows NT/ 2000, SGI Irix, and Linux operating systems. It is also available for Mac OS X. I tested the Windows version. Users will notice a few interface changes. The righthand toolbar has been significantly reorganized. Many commands, such as skin and actor, have been moved to the top level, making workflow a lot quicker. The program also sports new manipulators for 3D translation, rotation, and scale. An other nice interface tweak is the ability to create selection sets for the fast pick of objects within a scene.

Filmbox is primarily a system for creating motion, so tasks such as modeling need to be accomplished in other packages. To facilitate this, Filmbox can import/export scene files from most of the major 3D packages, including, Alias|Wavefront's Maya, Discreet's 3ds max, and Newtek's LightWave.
Filmbox sports a new interface and allows animators to create keyframes along with motion capture.

I did a quick test by importing a Light Wave scene file containing a character de formed by a skeleton. In addition to the models, lights, and cameras, the character's skeletal deformations, animation, and textures came through without a hitch. This high level of compatibility makes it easy to model and set up characters in your favorite 3D package, run them through Filmbox for the motion capture session, then render them in real time in Filmbox or bring them back to the original package.

Setting up a character is easy. You can import pre-existing scene files, or just models, which can be rigged within Filmbox. The software offers a full featured skeletal and skinning system to define your characters. Expressions are available for customizing your rigs. Characters can be textured and lit using a number of lights and shaders. With a beefy OpenGL card, Filmbox can create such visual effects as textures, shadows, reflections, and even particle effects in real time.

Filmbox's big strength is as a motion capture system, and it can interface with both optical and magnetic varieties. The biggest challenge of motion capture is accurately mapping the motion of the performer to that of the character, as the two will never have exactly the same body dimensions. Filmbox offers a number of solutions to this sticky problem. These include the ability to automatically offset animation as well as define a floor plane to keep a character's feet firmly planted. These character mapping features can also be used to transfer animation between differing characters within the software. A walk motion on a tall character can be accurately mapped to a short character, for example.

With Version 3.0, Filmbox took a step out of the motion capture world by adding keyframe animation capability. Keyframing in Filmbox works as it does in most other packages, and the software supports both inverse and forward kinematics, which can be combined on the same joint.

Filmbox's new motion blending feature serves as the core of a nonlinear animation editor that lets you mix and blend motion clips from both motion capture and key frame animation. For tweaking animation, a feature called control sets lets you keyframe animation changes on top of an existing motion capture session.

Even with the addition of keyframing, the software's most important function remains the real-time creation of content. One nifty new feature is called character triggering, which allows animation on a character to be triggered from an input device such as a keyboard or joystick, offering an almost videogame level of interactivity, but with motion that you create yourself. This allows you to create real-time content without the hassle of a live performer in a motion capture suit. The operator simply plays back the canned motions by triggering them at the appropriate time.

Version 3.5 of Filmbox, announced at press time, includes additional character animation features such as facial mapping, facial keyframing, and phoneme re cognition. Other new features are a global timeline and enhanced support for live productions and virtual sets.

All in all, this is a strong upgrade. Film box has evolved from a motion capture system to a full fledged animation system that lets you create and manipulate motion regardless of where it originated.

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

Filmbox 3.5
Price: $5000
Minimum System Requirements: Windows NT/2000, Red Hat Linux, SGI Irix, Mac OS X; 128MB of RAM; 300MB of disk space; OpenGL graphics card with 8MB of RAM