Company Profile – iPi Soft is a Russian motion capture company based in Moscow. Co-founded by two graduates of the Moscow Physics and Technology Institute, Michael Nikonov and Pavel Sorokin, iPi Soft is focused on bringing motion capture to animation enthusiasts with the ease of a Kinect camera.
Wanda’s Take: iPi Soft has made motion capture portable and easy to use. I had a firsthand demonstration of the company’s tools over coffee in a café. Within a few minutes Michael was able to quickly set up his laptop and the Kinect camera, and was immediately able to demonstrate how the system works. He captured his motions, which were then placed on top of a CG character. Total time,15 minutes.
Michael capturing his motion in café.
Aside from the ease of use, what makes this so appealing is that it allows artists to become the actual actors in their own animations. From indie games to machinima, the iPi technology is currently being implemented to create some fantastic animations. Check out Danse Kabyle and then the Making Of:
GBR: Can you explain what iPi Software does, and how it differs from other motion capture solutions?
Michael Nikonov: iPi Desktop Motion Capture (iPi Mocap), now with Kinect support, is a markerless motion capture software tool that uses sophisticated image processing and computer vision algorithms to recognize and track the human body. The system is designed for use with inexpensive, off-the-shelf equipment such as PlayStation Eye cameras, Kinect cameras or webcams. iPi Soft Mocap brings an affordable professional solution for capturing accurate animation data, without the need for expensive facility space, clumsy sensor suits with reflective markers or a team of technicians.
Introduced last year, iPi Soft Motion Capture is a scalable solution – available in both an “Express” single Kinect camera version and a more powerful “Standard,” up-to-six PlayStation Eye cameras version – as a viable, “go to” desktop solution that brings a totally new workflow paradigm to videogame developers, filmmakers, CG animators, broadcast motion graphics designers, military, hobbyists and other vertical markets. Captured animations do not exhibit artifacts like jitter or foot skate and can be exported in popular animation formats including FBX, BVH and COLLADA. iPi Mocap is compatible with many leading game engines, 3D software applications and animation rigs, including MAXON CINEMA 4D, Autodesk Maya, Autodesk 3D Studio Max, DAZ 3D DAZ Studio, Poser, Valve Source Engine, Unreal Engine, Unity and others. The iPi Mocap system also includes an integrated motion transfer engine and supports accurate motion retargeting for custom rigs.
In December the company announced support for dual Kinect cameras, enabling the PC to track motion from two different angles.
GBR: How are customers currently using the iPi solution?
Michael Nikonov: The majority of iPi Mocap users are creative professionals involved in previz, animation and the creation of CG and videogame characters. The community of iPi mocap users includes both professionals from different industries and amateur animators. Examples of projects created using iPi Mocap include two online machinima animated films Clear Skies 3 and Civil Protection: The Tunnel.
GBR: Can you explain the idea of performance-based motion capture, that iPi Software seems to do well?
Michael Nikonov: With motion capture we digitize movement of a human skeleton so that it can be applied to a 3D character and rendered as part of a video game or a computer generated movie. Despite the incredible diversity of virtual worlds created by video game designers, humanoid characters still stay in the center of storytelling in the overwhelming majority of video games. Achieving believable character motion is a great challenge in video games. The human eye is very sensitive to the details of human motion. Due to the interactive nature of 3D video games, you cannot just record a traditional 2D video of an actor and place it into a 3D video game. If you ever played 3D video games you should understand what I mean. This is where motion capture comes handy. Motion capture is an important expressive medium in the age of video games.
GBR: What do you see for the future of motion capture?
Michael Nikonov: I believe that in the future we will learn to adopt easy to use, accurate and affordable motion capture systems, just like we did with consumer digital video cameras. Motion capture is as important for CG and video games as the video camera is for traditional film making. The general trend is to use ubiquitous devices (like personal computers and smart phones) to do more and more of what used to be done using specialized devices. Today our smartphone replaces the music player, photo camera and navigator. Similarly, a personal computer with an off-the-shelf digital camera can successfully replace a specialized mocap sensor suit and custom mocap cameras. We will be using exactly the same devices for playing video games and creating content for video games. As we are showing, you can already use game console accessories like Kinect and PlayStation Eye for motion capture.
High-end motion capture will use optical markerless technology. In the future hi-res cameras will make it possible to capture full-body animation and face animation at the same time. The process of motion capture will look more like the process of making a modern TV show – actors and directors will just concentrate on creative process without thinking about technology.
GBR: What are the company’s plans for growth?
Michael Nikonov: In the future iPi Soft plans to create motion capture solutions optimized for medical and industrial applications, therefore expanding the market for iPi Mocap. We also plan to release more advanced solutions for our professional customers in the animation industry.
GBR: What segments of the market is iPi Soft presently focused on?
Michael Nikonov: At this stage we are concentrating on building an accurate, easy to use and affordable mocap solution for small studios and individual animators. By “affordable” I mean sub-$1000 price point for our software that works with inexpensive off-the shelf cameras (so that the total cost of cameras and accessories is less than $200). Existing competitive solutions for motion capture are much more expensive and not as portable. We believe that motion capture should be a personal tool for any animator. It’s like going from mainframe computers to PCs.
GBR: What strategic partnerships and reseller channels is the company engaged in to broaden market share?
Michael Nikonov: We sell our software online and we offer 30-days free trial download. So it should be easy for users from all countries to download and evaluate our software. We also have resellers in Japan, USA, Germany and South Korea. In fact, our resellers Zero C Seven (Japan) and 3Dcamvfx (USA) do a very good job of helping the customers get started with markerless motion capture. We have good relationships with many game engine developers, including Valve Software, Crytek and Unity and they are very cooperative in helping us to optimize our software for compatibility with their game engines.