Face Plus Gives Digital Characters Heart and Soul
With Face Plus, any game dev, marketer or indie filmmaker can create expressive animated characters using an ordinary webcam. At $1,500, the Mixamo software isn't for the typical hobbyist, but it's far less expensive than similar animation tools. "The face of a character, and especially the eyes, are the first things people look at when playing a game," noted new media artist Mark Skwarek.
Mixamo on Wednesday launched Face Plus, a new tool that lets developers and filmmakers convert human facial expressions recorded by a webcam into high-fidelity 3D animation to enliven their digital characters.
Face Plus works with any ordinary webcam, making it possible to produce short scenes, commercials or games that feature animated characters without having to bring actors into a studio.
The technology is designed to help developers in the game industry fulfill consumer desires for deeper emotional engagement. It will be especially useful for game makers who have been prohibited from using advanced facial recognition features because of high software and equipment costs, Mixamo said.
The feature is available with Mixamo's US$1,500 per year All Access package.
Bringing New Life to Characters
Developers are always looking for innovative ways to bring life to on-screen characters, said Trip Chowdhry, senior analyst for Global Equities Research.
"Large-scale companies like Zynga have a lot of resources and an established platform, but in the gaming industry, consumers are fickle and always looking for the next big thing," he told TechNewsWorld. "They need a way to draw consumers in."
With Face Plus, Mixamo is homing in on one of the easiest ways to captivate those gamers, said Mark Skwarek, new media artist and professor at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University.
"There's a lot to be said for the quote that the 'eyes are the gateway to the soul,'" he told TechNewsWorld.
"The face of a character, and especially the eyes, are the first things people look at when playing a game. You can get away with a lot on the rest of the character, but people really focus on the face," said Skwarek, "so when you start adding real expressions to that, it adds a very heightened level of immersion to the experience."
Leveling the Playing Field
One of the most significant advantages to Face Plus is that it can provide that level of immersion at a much lower cost than was previously possible, Skwarek pointed out.
"This will democratize the field of capture," he said. "That is really exciting, because the industry is moving dramatically towards motion capture and the bar is getting set very high as to what developers can do with that. The price tag might still be a little high for the average person, but it's much cheaper than the tens of thousands of dollars that this might cost now. It can really help some indie developers get their hands on the technology and level the playing field."
There are limitations to the Face Plus technology, Skwarek acknowledged. For one, certain lighting conditions could make capturing the right expression difficult. In addition, creating scenes that auto lock one character's gaze onto another's could be difficult.
Still, the possibilities Face Plus has to offer are huge, said Skwarek. It eventually could be worked into a chatting application like Gchat or into a social network like Facebook in order to add a little zest to a profile image, for instance.
Its humanizing effect could make long-distance communication easier and even help eliminate problems such as cyberbullying, Skwarek suggested.
"There are a lot of different applications where this could humanize an ambiguous, detached name on a page," he added. "There's a lot of talk about how technology brings us farther apart, but technology like this could help bring another level of connection and immersion. It could create somewhat of an augmented reality, where all of a sudden you can get a feel for the person you're chatting with," he noted. "It's a lot harder to be mean to someone when you can see their real-life expressions."