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Faceware launches facial animation tools line-up

Thursday, May 31st, 2012 | Posted by Jim Thacker

Faceware has officially launched its professional line-up of 3D facial animation tools: the software packages Faceware Analyzer and Faceware Retargeter, and its HMCS Head-Mounted Camera System.

The new product line-up makes the facial animation technology used on projects including The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Red Dead Redemption available in off-the-shelf form.

Cutting the cost of facial animation
The software packages form a two-part markerless facial performance capture pipeline: Analyzer processes live footage of an actor’s face, while Retargeter controls how its output drives the animation of a CG character.

Faceware has adopted an interesting pricing strategy: both software packages can be downloaded for free, but the process of generating the Analyzer IMPD file required for import into Retargeter is performed remotely on the company’s servers, with users paying per frame converted.

Rates start at $1,000 per minute of footage, though volume discounts can bring that down to $850 per minute.

Faceware claims that by partially automating the process of generating a blocking pass, the system cuts the time required for facial animation to a third of that of pure hand animation.

Although not required to use the software, the company also sells its own Head-Mounted Camera System, complete with an active LED lighting bar, freeing actors to move around on set.

The system is offered in wired or wireless configurations, the latter capable of capturing six actors simultaneously with a range of up to a quarter of a mile.

Prices for the wired systems start at $15,000, while the wireless versions start at $25,000. The systems may also be rented for either $300 or $750 per day.

From service to software
None of the products is strictly new: Analyzer, the most recent, was launched last December. However, today’s announcement marks Faceware’s first major public push since it was spun off from parent firm Image Metrics earlier this year. Image Metrics continues to offer the same technology as a service provider.

According to Faceware VP for Business Development Peter Busch, productising the technology has halved the cost to end users.

The decision to make Analyzer available as a software package rather than a custom service also means that reference footage does not need to be sent off site. Instead, only the less commercially sensitive tracking data need be transmitted to the company’s servers.

The workflow also allows studios to control how much time is spent preparing the analysis for each video source, enabling them to prioritise more important characters.

Taken together, Faceware hopes these factors will enable the technology to penetrate beyond its current core markets of videogame development – where it has been used on 45 AAA titles – and feature film work, increasing its uptake at smaller facilities, and on more time-pressured jobs such as ads and trailers.

Future developments
The company also discussed its roadmap for the next six months, which includes the addition of a live link to Maya and 3ds Max to Analyzer, enabling users to see the impact of repositioning tracking points on the source video footage in 3D without having to generate a full solve.

Retargeter will gain a real-time solver and automated crowd facial solving.

Faceware is also working on calculator tool for its website that will enable users to estimate the total cost of a job more accurately in advance, in much the same way as you would at an online render farm.

Try for yourself
Analyzer and Retargeter are available as free downloads from Faceware’s website. Analyzer requires a 64-bit Windows OS, while Retargeter is available as a plugin for Maya, 3ds Max, Softimage or MotionBuilder.

Faceware also provides a library of over 100 sample IMPD files that new users can use to test Retargeter.

You can read the official press release for today’s announcement below.

PRESS RELEASE (Excerpts)
Faceware Technologies, Inc, a leading provider of 3D facial animation software for the video game, film, television and commercial industries, today announced that it has launched its Faceware Professional Product Line, a low-cost, start-to-finish facial animation tool suite built to capture, analyze and create realistic facial performances 3-10x faster than hand keying that same performance. The Faceware Professional Product Line, which until now has only been in production testing at select studios, includes completely updated versions of the Faceware Head-Mounted Camera System (HMCS) and Faceware Retargeter, and a brand new product called Faceware Analyzer. This marks the first time Faceware has offered all of its internal technologies for use in studios.

The Faceware Professional Product Line has its roots in the Company’s extensive knowledge and research in computer vision techniques in facial and gesture recognition, and from the Company’s vast experience in providing facial animation services on groundbreaking projects such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Wolfman, the Grand Theft Auto series, Red Dead Redemption, Halo: Reach and many others.

The Faceware Professional Product Line consists of technologies to handle every step in the facial animation process: video capture, performance analysis, and facial animation creation:

CAPTURE: The Faceware Head-Mounted Camera System (HMCS) consists of a durable helmet, bracing, camera mount and camera, and works in tandem with MoCap suits to capture data-rich facial video complete with time code. Now in its 5th generation, the HMCS is capable of capturing up to 7 million pixels per second for incredible performance fidelity. It is available for rent or purchase.

ANALYZE: Faceware Analyzer is a new product offering from Faceware Technologies. It allows customers to analyze facial performances captured with the HMCS or other video capturing technology for a small processing fee only. The animator “trains” Faceware Analyzer to learn about the actor’s specific appearance and performance, and the software uses that information to analyze every frame of the video. All tracking is handled on site, so no assets or IP leave the studio. Once the shot is tracked, computer vision algorithms parameterize the data to examine every pixel of facial data in the performance and to create an IMPD file that can then be used in Faceware Retargeter.

CREATE: The updated Faceware Retargeter is a free tool that takes the IMPD file created in Analyzer and transfers the data onto the 3D model. With a newly designed front end and a handful of new features, Faceware Retargeter creates a more complete blocking of the animation and gives animators more time to polish the performance with realistic facial movements. The Retargeter can be used on any type of facial rig, and plugs into many different software packages (Maya, 3ds Max, Softimage, MotionBuilder), letting the animator work in a familiar environment and workflow.

Faceware Analyzer and Retargeter are free to evaluate and can be downloaded directly from Faceware’s website. Both come with a free IMPD Performance Library and Rig Library, to help users get up to speed faster. The Faceware HMCS is available for rent or purchase.

Visit Faceware’s website

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