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IKinema gives wings to Vicon's Pegasus

Escaping reality might be the dream – but increased realism is the expectation, certainly when it comes to animation in film and games

As a result, the team at Vicon is constantly looking for better ways to capture motion data and accurately transfer it to animated characters. They chose IKinema to help them develop a new way of working – enabling customers to make better creative decisions, faster, and earlier in the production process. The result is Pegasus, the first off-the-shelf retargeter and real-time streamer designed to stream directly onto assets in game and engineering visualisation engines.

The Challenge: on-set real-time previsualisation

Vicon has a clear vision: to enable real-time visualisation in as compelling and representative a way as possible, and to do this directly within the game engine. This is the rationale behind Pegasus, explains Vicon Head of Product Management Derek Potter. “We want something that is standalone, covers multiple markets – in the first instance entertainment and engineering – and is our own product,” he says. “We need something that Vicon products, including Tracker for engineering and Blade for entertainment, can stream data into and then stream the data out to a game engine.” With IKinema’s help, he says, they are now able to deliver the realism their customers are striving for, and deliver it in real-time.

However, with realism comes complexity and cost. Or rather, it did. “Conventional real-time animation techniques are hampered by the data-realism trade-off because data requirements increase proportionally to the cube of the number of animation points used,” explains IKinema founder Alexandre Pechev. “IKinema’s patented algorithms change this relationship to linear, allowing vast improvements in realism with low compute requirements. No other companydoes this.”

Pegasus and Pegasus Advanced

IKinema and Vicon worked on Pegasus for about a year before launching at Siggraph 2014. However, the trends behind it started a few years earlier, and it was the increasing convergence of film and game technology that really sowed the seed for what became Pegasus.

As the games industry started to adopt motion capture technology to improve the level of realism in animation, so the film industry started to take note of what was going on in games: “People in film were saying ‘wow, that’s pretty cool – look, you can bump into something and it moves, you can interact with the environment, you have dynamic lighting’. The obvious succession to that was ‘well let’s use game engines in film previs’.” Given the relationship Vicon already had with IKinema, it was natural to explore where else IKinema’s solver might help their customers. And so Pegasustook shape.

“Previously, customers would have to spend time and money developing their own solutions. With Pegasus, they’re by-passing all that by tapping into technology developed by IKinema, the leader in real-time inverse kinematics,”

However, the opportunity went beyond the entertainment sphere. “Engineering customers also have a need for interactive, real-time visualisation in game engines and other third party visualisation applications,” explains Potter. Warren Lester, Product Manager for Engineering at Vicon adds: “We have slightly different needs though – we don’t need such subtle representations of movement.”

As a result, Vicon and IKinema also developed Pegasus Advanced, which allows engineering clients to solve the entire character – using data from a small set of markers – within Pegasus before streaming out to the visualisation product or a game engine. In contrast, for entertainment, the solve is done in Blade using a higher marker count. The whole skeleton is then taken into Pegasus and the joints are retargeted onto the target character.

Surprisingly, Potter is finding entertainment customers are now looking at Pegasus Advanced and seeing an opportunity to use the low fidelity version to quickly test ideas. “Some entertainment customers are going ‘hmm, if I had a couple of rigid bodies, six little plates that I could quickly attach to myself in my office with a small six camera set-up, for example, that would be really interesting,” he observes.

Why IKinema

“Previously, customers would have to spend time and money developing their own solutions. With Pegasus, they’re by-passing all that by tapping into technology developed by IKinema, the leader in real-time inverse kinematics,” explains Potter. He describes Pegasus as unique, pointing out that it is the only off-the-shelf solution that streams real-time motion capture data onto assets in the game engine.

It wasn’t just IKinema’s experience with game engines that appealed to Vicon, it was also that they offered a post production as well as live motion capture solution. “Action in Maya uses exactly the same engine and solver as Pegasus so it would be possible, not only to previsualise in real-time through Pegasus into your game engine, but also to take that same data, if you record it, and pass it through Maya and get the same results offline,” he explains. “It became clear that IKinema was a very good fit for what we were trying to achieve.”

Potter says working with Alex and his team was like working with an internal team – communication was easy. And it was their past experience that strongly influenced the decision to work with them again on Pegasus: “It was yes – the IP, yes – the technology, but it was also Alex himself – and his team,” he says. “They’re really passionate about the stuff they do, and that very much helps us all get excited about what we’re doing.”

You must also choose either Action for Maya or Action for MotionBuilder as a part of the package.

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