At SIGGRAPH, Mova, a San Francisco-based motion-capture studio, unveiled its new Contour Reality Capture System, which allows film and game makers to use digital cameras to capture and depict full-motion, photorealistic computer-generated characters and other imagery. Movas booth at SIGGRAPH is #1027.
"Mova Contour takes us from motion capture to reality capture," said Steve Perlman, founder/president of Mova.
Contour employs two separate-yet-synchronized camera systems to simultaneously record visual and geometric information of the subject. These two sets of data are combined to result in a high-resolution 3D digital image. With this innovative, markerless, optics-based process, every subtle detail of a human performance from an arching eyebrow to widening eyes to a sly smile is recorded in realtime.
"Contours promise is enormous; the notion that the human face, in all its subtleties could be mapped in real time, and with such density of surface information opens up so many possibilities for both two- and three-dimensional image makers and storytellers. I can't wait to get my hands on it," said David Fincher (ZODIAC), who plans on using Contour next year on THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, based on the F.Scott Fitzgerald short story about a man (played by Brad Pitt) who ages backwards.
Contours high-definition, 3D, volumetric representation of the action can be imported, modified, manipulated or retargeted to other characters using off-the-shelf CGI animation software. Contour can import true human behavior in all its distinct complexity into the virtual realm and works well with both marker-based motion capture and key frame animation systems.
"Contour lets us move from conventional point-of-view cinematography to true volumetric cinematography, where scenes are captured in the round," Perlman notes. "Up till now, the filling in of the round the ability to see the subject from alternate angles has been done largely by hand. Marker-based motion capture is a great way to record the positions of points in space, but if your purpose is to capture a deformable surface, like a human face, connecting all those dots and filling in all the space between them is a very labor-intensive task."
Traditional marker-based motion capture is used to create incredibly realistic performances for skeletal captures, but was never designed to capture the intricacies of soft tissue motion, like pursing lips or billowing fabric. Contour captures the motion of any 3D surface, deformable or not, with sub-millimeter precision at up to 120 frames second, at a resolution of more than 100,000 polygons per frame.
"Contour is a breakthrough technology for digital effects production," said Digital Domain svp/exec producer Ed Ulbrich. "Performances can now be captured in 3D as they are performed, eliminating much of the post-production work required in the past. It isnt just capturing dots in space anymore; its an actual live-action volumetric capture. This brings photoreal, computer-generated, human performance within reach of a wide range of feature film, videogame and advertising applications. Contour opens up a new world of creative possibilities for directors."
"Contour promises a future of vastly improved facial animation for the videogame business," says John Riccitiello, ceo of Bioware/Pandemic Studios, managing director/co-founder of Elevation Partners, and former president/coo of Electronic Arts. "The new generation of game systems is powerful enough to deliver photoreal facial animation. Contour promises to deliver this potential for the gaming industry."
"The subtlety and detail of Contour is way beyond anything Ive ever seen," said Stephen Regelous, founder of Massive Software. "Contour is the most advanced technology I know of for creating photorealistic human facial animation."
"Contour is the first system we've seen that provides such high-resolution motion data in a practical production environment, and SOFTIMAGE|XSI and Face Robot are the ideal production tools for working with Contour," said Marc Stevens, vp/gm of Softimage Co., a subsidiary of Avid Technology, Inc. "The high-quality motion data provided by Contour will allow Face Robot to produce facial animation with unprecedented realism. Together, our systems will enable a powerful new end-to-end facial animation pipeline for both film and game production."
Contours performance is enabled in part by a collaboration with graphics processing pioneer NVIDIA. "Generally, NVIDIA GPUs are used to accelerate the rendering and display of 3D scenes. However, in the Contour system, NVIDIA GPUs are being used for the first time to accelerate the capture of 3D scenes, bringing details of the real world into the digital realm with unprecedented fidelity," said Jeff Brown, gm of professional products at NVIDIA.
Through a collaboration between Mova and VICON, Contours markerless capture system was designed to be used simultaneously with the VICON MX-series marker-based capture system. This makes it possible for Contours cameras to capture high-resolution surface motion, such as facial, skin and cloth motion, while VICONs MX40 cameras capture high-precision marker motion, such as skeletal and prop motion.
"Mova and Steve Perlman, who also runs Movas parent company Rearden Llc., have a long history of innovation in entertainment technology, and the development of Contour is no exception," said Brian Nilles, ceo, VICON US. "The innovation by the team at Mova is quickly coalescing into the most profound improvement in CG facial animation since our own MX40 camera. For CG animation that requires both the performer and CG character to be the same, the Mova Contour system should provide a clear and significant step toward the holy grail of a photorealistic final product. We are proud to be both collaborator, and integrator for Movas work with the VICON system."
Contour is compatible with popular animation software and hardware systems, including SOFTIMAGE|XSI, SOFTIMAGE|Face Robot, Autodesk Maya, Autodesk MotionBuilder, Autodesk 3ds Max, all Vicon software and the VICON MX family of motion capture hardware. Contour data can also be exported as OBJ, C3D or Autodesk Point Cache 2 files and synchronizes with SMPTE time-codes.
Mova will offer Contour Reality Capture Services in the 4th quarter of 2006 throughout the world.
"Vocal performances have long been embraced by animation," Perlman says. "What were doing is making it possible for physical performances to be genuine enough to be embraced in the same way. In the parlance of computer graphics, the Uncanny Valley is a perceptual zone where a computer-generated faces approach photorealism just enough to be eerie. Contour is the first technology to successfully cross the Uncanny Valley and open the door to a whole new realm of creative opportunities".
San Francisco-based Mova was founded in 2004 by Rearden Companies to provide 3-D motion capture services using their VICON MX-40 marker-based system, and has worked on such projects as the Electronic Arts titles THE GODFATHER and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and Universal Vivendis ERAGON. Movas sister company, Ice Blink Studios, which Perlman co-founded with Doug Chiang (production designer, THE POLAR EXPRESS), also is closely tied to mocap production, having provided visual effects and art direction for Sony Pictures motion capture animated feature, MONSTER HOUSE and complete art and production design for Warner Bros. upcoming mocap feature BEOWULF.