Going inside the Rokoko Smartsuit Pro.
The following post was written by guest reviewer Sky Nite.
Rokoko’s mission is to “democratize motion capture." As an indie VR game developer and Unity software educator, that’s the kind of mission I can get behind.
However, can a small company from Denmark deliver on that promise with its $2,500 mocap suit?
I was excited to find out.
The Rokoko Smartsuit Pro uses 19 Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) sensors to track your full body, minus the fingers. They describe their IMUs as “9DOF”, a term which refers to the presence of an accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer in order to deliver full spatial and rotational tracking.
For $2,500 you receive the sleek black nylon suit in your choice of size (S, M, L, XL), the 19 IMUs already placed inside the suit, a cable to attach the suit to your computer for setup, a nice carrying case, and a hanging suit-bag with hanger. The suit also requires a 5000 mAh battery which you have to buy separately (they cost about $30).
The Rokoko Smartsuit fills an interesting place in the motion capture spectrum. IMU-based mocap suits range from $500 - $10,000+, and camera-based systems start around $2000 on the lowest end, and usually cost upwards of $15,000. IMU-based systems are very portable and easy to set up, but at the cost of exact positional accuracy. In contrast, camera-based systems provide more accurate positional data (meaning less animation cleanup needed for multi-person animation interactions) but take much more time and space to set up.
This is all to say that when looking at a mocap solution, your decision will be based on capture quality, budget, and setup constraints. IMU-based solutions are generally your best bet unless you can afford a dedicated capture studio and/or a team to set it up.
As we’ll see, the Rokoko Smartsuit provides professional quality animation for a budget-conscious price, and in a package that makes a great user experience.
The setup for the Rokoko Smartsuit is extremely simple.
First, you download Rokoko Studio from their website. Then you plug the suit into your computer and follow the prompts to connect it to your wifi router (for best results, you’re supposed to connect your computer directly to the router via an ethernet cable). Once that’s done, you just connect the suit to a battery, slip on the suit, tighten the straps, do a calibration pose, and start recording animations via the Rokoko Studio software. The initial setup took me less than 10 minutes, and now going from “I have an idea for an animation” to recording takes about 5 minutes.
Of note, the calibration requires only 1 pose (hands held to sides with feet shoulder width apart, head forward). Once calibrated, the suit didn’t seem to need recalibrating while using it, although I would occasionally do so just to be safe. Calibration by default gives you 3 seconds to get in position, followed by 2 seconds of holding still.
When recording animation with the Rokoko Smartsuit, you need to keep your distance from any magnetic sources, since they can cause artifacts with the capture data. The Rokoko Studio software has a visualization of the suits sensors and shows if any of them are getting magnetic interference.
With that said, here’s a video showing the setup and motion capture:
Using the mocap suit with external production software is very easy.
Rokoko Studio exports in FBX, BVH, and CSV formats. These formats play nicely with many 3D programs. For Unity users, using the animation is as simple as exporting an FBX file, dragging that file into your project, changing the animation file’s rig to “Humanoid” instead of “Generic”, and assigning the animation to a rigged humanoid character (plenty of which are available on the Unity asset store and other 3D marketplaces).
For fun, I used the suit to record a dance freestyle and imported it into Unity. What’s better than a dancing spaceman? 8 dancing spacemen!
Note: Rokoko has plugins for Unity and Motionbuilder that allow you to see and record your motion capture in those applications in real-time, rather than recording in Rokoko Studio then exporting. This can be used to expedite the production process, or in the case of Unity could allow a developer to use the Rokoko Smartsuit as an input device. Because of the price tag, I haven't seen this done yet, but the capability is there.
Rokoko’s software and hardware are still evolving. On the hardware front, they are releasing motion capture gloves at some point this year.
Their software evolution is the most exciting, however, since software updates improve the experience of users who already bought the suit. One area of particular interest is their work on filters that correct for capture artifacts. Sometimes when changing direction particularly fast or getting too close to a magnetic source, the mocap data will stutter, creating a visual artifact (kind of like a popping). These kinds of errors can be corrected manually using an animator (i.e. what is known as “animation cleanup”).
Currently, the Rokoko Studio software has a number of filters that can be adjusted to fix these artifacts in a way that can potentially save an animator having to keyframe smooth in another application. However, they are working with machine learning and other techniques to try to automate the error correction, which could be hugely helpful.
Overall, the Rokoko Smartsuit Pro and its attached software are a great product. So, is it the right product for you? Well, if low cost is your only factor in making a decision, the Perception Neuron is $1000 cheaper (at least at the time of this writing), and has the added benefit of hand capture. However, for that extra $1000 you are getting a large jump in quality. Taking the suit on and off is much quicker (~6 min total vs ~45 min).
The sensor placement is more obvious. You don’t have to worry about the sensors getting demagnetized. The capture quality is noticeably smoother. And perhaps best of all, Rokoko uses software to fix the “tippy toe” issue that can occur translating mocap data to Unity. With future software, their mocap may become even more refined.
So, if you’re on a shoestring budget and okay with AA quality mocap and 45 minutes of set-up + take downtime, the Perception Neuron can be a good choice. However, if you need quick setup and near-AAA quality mocap, but are still budget conscious, the Rokoko Smartsuit is a great choice.