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Fri, Jul 29 2011 20:00:34 UTC

Interview with Mixamo

Today we have an interview with Oliver Barraza, Technical Community Manager at Mixamo, a site providing auto-rigging and animation functions for 3D characters.

Could you briefly introduce yourself and what you do at Mixamo?

My name is Oliver Barraza, I am the Technical Community Development Manager at Mixamo. I handle a little bit of everything. Mainly I do community outreach and technical support for 3d applications and games engines. We have so many different kinds of people using our service for any number of things, I always have a new challenge to solve.

What is Mixamo and what does it bring to its users?

Mixamo is a web based animation service that allows users to customize and automatically apply animations chosen from an ever expanding catalog to their character's unique skeleton. Mixamo then automatically maps and characterizes the uploaded character skeleton and applies real-time retargeting to transfer the motion data onto it. This technology, effectively brings a huge collection of motion capture to a users finger tips any time, day or night, and without the hassle of having to retarget the motion data yourself.

We have also just entered Beta with our latest release, the ''Auto-Rigger'', a powerful computer learning web based service that can generate a skeleton for any humanoid character and then weight that skeleton to the mesh in a matter of minutes.

Could you describe a typical use of Mixamo in a modeler's workflow?

Sure. One of our goals is to keep the creativity of the characters in the hands of the modeler. The boring part in many cases is the rigging and weighting of a model for animation and posing. We offer a service called the Auto-Rigger which will generate a skeleton and apply the weights automatically, and with high accuracy. During modeling it's a great way to test the deformations on the mesh and totally free to preview on the website with any of our motions.

Once the modeler is done with his character he can upload the final mesh and textures to Mixamo.com, have a rig generated and weighted to his character. He can then purchase his rigged character and create his own animations or apply animation directly from our huge collection of customizable motions, in real-time and on the website. It's a fantastic service for game developers working on titles containing 3d characters.

Why should someone use the auto-rigger and motions from Mixamo than do it by hand?

Time: We save time by offering a 24 hour web service that can not only auto rig your character in a few minutes but we can also retarget and apply motion capture animation in seconds. All of this happening right over your browser. This same process can take days or weeks depending on the number of characters and animations needed. We got you covered in minutes.

Skill: Not everyone knows how to rig or animate. Some time a low level developer may be creating a game and can't afford an animator and rigger. Modelers with little to no rigging or animations skills might be creating a little game for their own demo or a personal project, maybe even trying to make an indie game. We can get you from the modeling stage and into the end product in minutes.

Mixamo supports characters from many different modelers and game editors, do you have stats on which is most popular?

Right now some of the most popular modeling software being used by our users are, 3DS Max, Maya and Blender. We do support the uploading .fbx and .obj files so we support almost anything 3d package that also supports theses.

Unity3d is our most popular engine. Mainly because we have an extension for Unity3d called the ''Mixamo Animation Store'' plugin. It can be found in the Unity3d Asset Store and it works just like the website only everything happens in the Unity3d editor. There is also a large number of UDK users, even some Trinigy and XNA developers.

The web-based character editor is very interesting, can you talk about the technology behind it?

We can't give away all our secrets, lets just say the Standard one was built in house based off some work developed at Sanford University while our CEO and Lead Engineer were developing markerless motion capture. The Pro character generator was created by our partner Evolver. We wanted to integrate their powerful system into Mixamo to give our uses who can't afford a modeler or don't have the skills themselves the ability to generate their own characters.

How many motions do you have and how often do you add new ones?

Realistically we have somewhere around 2100+ motions, however, these are then turned into something we call a motion model. This is what gives the user the ability to customize a motion by editing the range sliders and combining motions. We update motions every two weeks and should be nearly doubling our current content within this year.

Can you describe your process of getting new motions on the site?

First we capture the motions and since a motion model is many different takes all linked together we sometimes need to capture 20+ times to get one model right. Then when the capture is done we send the data to our animators. There they retarget and clean the data, making any edits or tweeks that are needed. Once that is accepted and given the OK we can push the animations live to the site. It's as simple as adding a little data like name, price, tags, etc. and then with one click it all gets pushed live for our users.

You recently started a character contest, can you talk about that?

Yes one of our goals is to help support the 3d art and indie games community. We see lots of people out there working on these great projects and yet they don't have any funding. This contest is a place where people can submit there awesome characters they already have for a chance to win a large cash prize and tons of free motions from Mixamo.com. People can also create new models for entry. Really we just want to help spread the word about our service, find some amazing users we might want to contact and work with in the future and help support the winners to continue to do what they love.

What kind of user feedback have you been getting on Mixamo and the contest?

Great, people love Mixamo. People who understand the time and effort it takes to accomplish these tasks really see the value in us. Obviously we are not perfect for everyone and this is a very new and different business model so we get all kinds of feedback. We generally get encouraging feedback that lets us know we're moving in the right direction and with every advancement people seem to love our service more and more.

The contest is also getting some great feedback even outside the US. like in China and France they are showing some interest it is. All and all it's very exciting. We hope to run some more contests in the future; not only to promote new features but continue to help the communities that are one of the main reasons we exist.

Is there anything new in the work you can talk about?

Yes, as a matter of fact there is. We are currently working on something we are calling the ''Motion Packs''. It's a great new feature that allows users to test entire motion sets (packages made for different things like First Person Shooter or Basic Locomotion) right on the website by interacting with it in real time. Users will be able to use the keyboard to move the character as if it were in the game or selectively preview the different states of a character's animation; things like moving, jumping, crawling, dying and many many more. It's a new and different way of selling motions that are ready and customizable for game designers.

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