This past September, mo-cap creator Rokoko introduced its highly efficient and responsive Smartgloves, a hand- and finger-tracking solution that’s billed as a very affordable tool that captures every nuance of a hand. Artists can slip on the Smartgloves and use a variety of 3D packages available on the market to track movement and generate data that can be exported, processed and edited directly with the free-to-use Rokoko Studio software, and livestreamed into other platforms, including Unity, Unreal Engine, MotionBuilder, Maya and Blender, to name a few. The gloves, which are priced under $1,000, are made of a premium textile and leather material, with seven embedded sensors placed to avoid restricting movement in performance capture. We recently caught up with company’s founder Jakob Balslev to find out a bit more about these Smartgloves and how they can help artists working in VFX and animation.
Animation Magazine: Can you tell us a little bit about the origins of Rokoko?
Jakob Balslev: In film school, I got the chance to see how powerful a tool motion capture could be. The ability to capture all the subtleties of human motion, from intentions to emotions, and then translate that into an animated universe in real time just gave me a thousand ideas of what I wanted to create. However, the hardware and software tools you needed to do this were completely inaccessible and suffering from the same core issues: Too expensive, too hard to work with, and too time consuming and cumbersome to implement into a fast-moving creative flow. So that’s what we set out to change. Rokoko was founded in 2014 with the mission of making high-end motion capture and 3D character animation tools accessible to all creators.
As a company, we began by focusing on the hardware side. We created the Smartsuit Pro, an inertial motion-capture suit that solved the three main issues of motion capture: It’s affordable ($2,495 for a full system), you can operate it single-handedly without extensive technical expertise and training, and you can use it anywhere.
Since then, we have launched our Smartgloves for finger tracking, and with our facial motion-capture solution for iPhone X (a solution for Android is coming soon), we have an entire full performance-capture product line that is affordable and intuitive to all creators. The next step is bringing this same level of accessibility to the software tools. That’s what will happen with Rokoko Studio 2.0.
What would you say is your company’s key achievement?
Hardware is hard, and in hindsight, the decision to start by solving that problem before the software side of things was risky for a young startup with limited resources and experience.
The fact that today we offer a full performance-capture toolset that is being used by thousands of creators across 75 countries with body capture (Smartsuit Pro), hand/finger tracking (Smartgloves) and face capture (Facecap) is, in my mind, our biggest achievement so far.
We’ve solved the issue we faced back at film school and made the solution we wish existed back when we initially had a creative vision, but no access to the tools. In a few years, I hope to say that we’ve done the same to replace the expensive and inaccessible software tools that are standing in the way of creators today.
Can you give us a sneak peek of Rokoko Studio 2.0?
Studio was born as a visualization tool for our own hardware tools, but with 2.0 we will turn it into something entirely different. It can be broken down into the following points:
- Input/output agnostic: We’ve built a whole new file format tailored for animation assets and will open up Studio so that you can use any hardware input device you’d like to create assets, not just our own solutions. We have also bult real-time native plugins for all major 3D tools, so you can stream your data directly onto your custom characters in Unreal, Unity, Maya, MotionBuilder, Blender, Houdini, Cinema 4D, iClone and Cartoon Animator.
- Animation tools: We’ll be adding a bunch of animation tools that previously have been restricted to the big and expensive engines. Like a retargeting tool, an animation graph editor, an IK solver and much more. That means that you can edit and adjust your recordings in Studio, but you can also create keyframe animations from scratch.
- Team collaboration and asset management: The last and maybe most transformative piece of this puzzle is that we will start cloud hosting all the assets you create and the work you do in real time. That means that teams in different locations will be able to be in a scene at the same time and work collaboratively there — like you do in Google Docs or a tool like Figma. You will be able to access all your assets from any device, as long as you log into Studio. You’ll also be able to upload all your previous assets (regardless of how they were created) and save and manage them there, like an advanced Google Drive. Our Motion Library tools are also available to help search and organize them.
- New and improved gloves: Another milestone coming in 2021 will be a major upgrade to our Smartgloves technology. For five years, we’ve been researching the optimal way to combine the freedom you get with sensor-based solutions (i.e., you don’t need line of sight from a camera, can track fingers in your pockets, etc.) with the absolute position of optical systems (i.e., no drift over time). What no one knows is that this technology is already in the Smartgloves; we just haven’t activated it yet. When our software upgrade is ready, we’ll turn it on and there will no longer be any drift or limit on how and when you can use them. This is exactly what the interactive (XR) world has been waiting for. An affordable, precise way to interact with virtual worlds. It should be pretty transformative.
How do we see the 3D/CG landscape evolving over the next few years and what role do we want to play in it?
Like we’ve seen with text editing, 2D design and a bunch of other areas over the last years, the trend is that it’s all becoming cloud driven and collaborative. You need to be able to work together and access your files from anywhere, either at the same time or asynchronously. It’s about time the same thing happens in 3D content creation. We hope Rokoko Studio will be the place creative teams can animate together.
For more info, visit www.rokoko.com.