Finally, it was here. The webcam and Faceware. I was about to crest the plateau into facial motion capture. And I was doing it without looking like something from a bad sci fi movie. No special suit, no special rig mounted to the head. Just good old redneck webcamming to see for myself what this thing called Faceware plug-in for iClone was capable of.
When you are an animator there are so many i's to dot and t's to cross that by the time you get around to animating the facial expressions... you are exhausted. And possibly burned out a bit. It makes you wonder why you ever thought it was a good idea to become an animator. So many things to do and so little time to do them just compounded the frustration.
Facial animation was like the step child of an iClone project. It got lip service and very little else. Once a robust facial system was established it got even more complex and at times... tedious. We needed a facial capture system... that works. There was a lot of big talk, some hype and the usual forum based hyperbole so I was a bit uneasy as I installed Faceware and the iClone plug-in.
I was pleasantly surprised to see how easy Faceware was to setup and activate. I installed a Logitech C922 Pro Streaming camera on my Windows 10 desktop and Faceware recognized it with no problems. Faceware operation is straightforward. It tells you if it connected to iClone and you must Calibrate which seems to be no big deal. Hold still a few seconds and your closed mouth expression/pose is matched up to the onscreen iClone avatar.
Upon first use I noticed was it being anything but smooth and a glance over at the capture window on Faceware showed a dismal frame rate of 14 to 15... if I was lucky. To be fair I was sitting in a rather dark studio with minimal lighting as I did not have my video lights on. I was also backlit... another no-no if you are looking for fps. I just plopped the C922 on top of monitor and pointed it at me, so when you consider how ill prepared I was, the software was coping quite well. That little feeling of despair lightened up a bit.
I grabbed one of video lights and of course 3 out of 4 batteries were dead but all I needed was one to see how much brighter lighting would increase the frame rate. I stuffed the one working battery into a 4 X 3 desktop LCD video light and unceremoniously stuck it in front of me but not behind the camera as it probably should be.
Glanced over and the framerate had doubled to the 30s!!! With just one light. Of course, that light was so bright shining right into my face that I couldn't see you-know-what, but it was enough to know that proper placement with a couple of lights... a direct light and a key light to fight the shadows from the former light would solve the problem. I was in a good place now. Framerate could be managed. Particularly when you consider I am using an $85 (US) streaming webcam for this test. I deliberately did not get one of the recommended cameras as I wanted to see how it worked on an average webcam.
From here I dove straight into animating the iClone avatar facial expressions in real time. It moved as I moved and that was just cool. You have sliders to control amount of expression and other features. Even at 30 fps I was getting good results. That would improve as I improved the lighting and other aspects.
To be fair Faceware and the iClone Plug-in are pricey... for the consumer, but not so much for the professional user. At $699 (as of this writing) you get the plug-in for iClone and Faceware Realtime for iClone. That can certainly strain the budget or be out of reach of many home animators, but it's cost effective for professional work. Plus, this facial system works not only with iClone avatars but with a wide variety of characters from Daz to industry standard 3D custom characters.
Looking back there was not much of a learning curve. Jump straight in and get after it. Technically it was a breeze to work with, but great results can take a while as with all mocap... results are as good as the acting. That aside... the hardware aspect was easy to handle, and you will have to manage framerate with lighting and all the other tips they give you but that is all doable. Faceware Realtime for iClone is the real deal for facial mocap. Easy to setup, install and use, Faceware takes the tedious nature out of good facial animation.
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord is an international award winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. M.D. is currently working on VR projects and characters. You can learn more about MD at his website.