This $2500 Suit Could Bring Motion Capture to the Masses
Danish firm Rokoko built the Smartsuit Pro, an affordable, easy-to-use solution for motion capture.
Jakob Baslev didn't take up badminton for professional networking, but when he went looking for a technical partner to bring his vision to life, he found what he was looking for in his local shuttlecock league.
Matias Søndergaard was working for a 3D printing company when Baslev, who had a filmmaking background, pitched him his idea: to revolutionize motion capture by building a suit that is easy to use, cost-effective, and sets filmmakers free from the studio. Together, they founded Rokoko. The result of their collaboration launches today, with the Smartsuit Pro available to the public for $2,495.
This could open up motion capture for music videos and independent films in a way that has never been possible before.
Traditional optical motion capture can yield some amazing storytelling moments—the most famous being Gollum from the original Lord of the Rings—but it is a cumbersome and complicated process. Motion capture requires many cameras recording a larger number of sensors on an actor, a stage with very controlled, even lighting, and a tremendous amount of data. Even once you have gone through the expense of building or renting a mocap stage, you still need an experienced team of experts to wrangle the data captured; system often gets confused about the data it is processing. For instance, if an actor waves their hand in front of their face, the system can get confused about the trackers mounted to the actor's arm: do they belong to the arm or the face? Anyone who has experimented with automated tracking software knows this problem well, and it's only exacerbated by the large volume of tracking required for good mocap.
After talking his film school into building a motion capture stage, Baslev was familiar with these problems firsthand and knew there had to be a better way. Working with Søndergaard, they formed a team of 13 people split between Copenhagen and San Francisco. They built the Smartsuit Pro to offer everything you need for motion capture—without the need for an expensive, complicated stage.
The key is a network of 19 sensors built into the suit itself, like a nervous system. These sensors—acceleration, direction, and relative position, similar to the sensors you have in your smartphone—are wired together to a hub in the lower back of the suit that connects via WiFi or cellular signal to transmit data.
The key is a network of 19 sensors built into the suit itself, like a nervous system.
If you hook up the Smartsuit over WiFi to your network, it can interface live with game engines like Unity and Unreal, but also with VFX tools like Maya and Motion Builder. For After Effects users, the system is capable of recording to the .fbx format, which can bring the 3D motion data straight into AE for animating.
The company also supports an extensive SDK for users to build new application interfaces. Because the suit records sensor data, and not images, the files remain very small and highly accurate. Three minutes of full motion recording typically comes in under 100mb.
In addition to allowing filmmakers to avoid the expense of a stage, the other huge benefit to Smartsuit is the freedom it gives you to work in a variety of locations and lighting conditions.
While hard, contrasty direct light often makes traditional mocap difficult, the company was able to demonstrate their realtime unity integration while standing in a darkened room next to the bright light of a window. Since the Smartsuit has its sensors built in—thus doesn't rely on camera capture—it had no problem accurately mirroring the performers' movements in the game engine. This frees up the filmmakers for shooting in a wide variety of real locations while adding in motion capture characters. As such, this tool could open up motion capture as a powerful option for music videos and independent films in a way that has never been possible before.
Filmmakers can shoot in a wide variety of real locations while adding in motion capture characters.
Additionally, the suit is easy to maintain: just remove the sensors by unzipping their storage pouches and put it in the washing machine like a sports jersey. Rokoko's future plans include the eventual release of gloves for finger tracking, bringing the total data points up to 33. The company also plans on developing the tool as a full-body interface for VR applications in addition to developing further integration with the gaming and motion picture industries.
- 19 data points
- Wifi connect
- Rotation, Acceleration, and movement
- Machine washable
- Small file sizes and .fbx recording