12 Weeks with Nightmare Puppeteer, Week 7: Motion Capture and New Updates

Sep 14, 2021 at 06:30 am by -gToon

This is the seventh episode of a series that will last for 12 weeks where I will learn Nightmare Puppeteer and attempt to create short animated scenes. Along the way, I’ll share with you my discoveries, my mistakes, and my successes using this remarkable game engine. 
“Nightmare Puppeteer takes the approach of puppetry where you do something with your hands, 
but instead of using your hands, you are pressing keys on your keyboard….it’s an animation engine”
-M dot Strange
NP is a Game
It’s important to point out that Nightmare Puppeteer is a game and not a 3D application. The gameplay is focused on creating characters, animations, and scenes within the game. And as M dot Strange points out “it’s an animation engine”. Also, the game is built upon the Unity Engine which means it has qualities that only a game made in Unity has (unique shaders and effects, for example). 
New Updates to Nightmare Puppeteer
Last week I shared a zoom call with the creator of Nightmare Puppeteer, m dot strange, and he told me that several users had requested the addition of motion capture to the game. Two days later he integrated the Kinect2 to capture live-motion inside of NP. He also shared told me that he added four motion animation sets and discussed with me the possibility of importing your own scenes into Nightmare Puppeteer. All of these updates are in addition to fixing bugs that were reported to him. Needless to say, I was delighted with the updates and bought a used Kinect2 on eBay for $40 (including shipping). 
New Way to Communicate with M dot Strange
M dot told me that he set up a Telegram (messaging site) account to be able to talk directly with his fans and users of Nightmare Puppeteer. You can learn about Telegram here then check out the invitation to M dot’s group here
I spent a few hours with about 12 members of the Telegram group chatting about Nightmare Puppeteer. M dot strange told us that he bought several sets from the Unity Marketplace to include in the next NP update. I requested that he had a public restroom scene (and included link to Unity Marketplace page). He loved the suggestion and bought it immediately. Other sets that he plans to include are: 
  • Japanese Town
  • Post Apocalyptic Scene
  • Abandoned Psychiatric Hospital
  • News Studio
  • Convenience Store
  • Pharmacy
  • Toilet Scene
M dot and I discussed the possibility that users of Nightmare Puppeteer should be able to buy their own scene at the Unity Asset Store and then import it to the game by themselves. He liked the idea very much and is looking for ways to implement that feature. For now, he said the new scenes should be in the game in two weeks. I’m also going to suggest a graveyard scene since it’s coming on Halloween very shortly. :
Motion Capture with the Kinect2
The Kinect was original created for the Xbox back in 2010 for gamers. But technology likes to mutate and so many animators found they could use the device for cheap motion capture. So much so that  “Microsoft now considers non-gaming applications, such as in robotics, medicine, and health care, the primary market for Kinect”.
In 2014, Microsoft released the Kinect2 for Windows, which has become extremely popular. This is the version m dot strange used (the SDK is publicly available) to motion capture in Nightmare Puppeteer. Here is the short video m dot released on how to set up your Kinect2 with NP. I’ll add some of my own comments on setup afterward. 
I followed the instructions in the video and installed everything in my Omen 15 laptop since there was more space in my garage workshop than at my main workstation in the bedroom. Unfortunately, the specs for my Omen 15 were not beefy enough to get it to work. Important to check the Windows 10 requirements before you buy the Kinect2 as it does require a better-than-average computer. Note that it is possible to use a Kinect2 on a Mac, but the installation steps look pretty daunting. For now, I’ll stick with installing on Windows 10
Notes on Kinect2 Installation and Capture
After receiving my Kinect2 from eBay, I realized that I didn’t get an adapter for the Kinect2 so that it can plug into the USB port on my Windows workstation. Doah! Easy find on Amazon for $10. Once that arrived, I was able to plug in power to the Kinect2 and then use the Xbox to Windows USB adapter to plug into one of my 3.0 USB ports (best to use 3.0 as it’s much faster). I also mounted the Kinect2 on an old mic stand (the Kinect has a mic stand fixture on the bottom) which made it perfectly placed to capture full-body motion. 
It’s important to follow M dot’s instructions in installing the Windows Kinect 2 SDK before you plug in the actual device. You can run the tests in the Kinect2 browser to see if there are any problems showing up. Everything looked green except for the USB ports which showed a caution. I forged ahead and fired up NP, grabbed a character, chose a scene. Then I hit “exit”, pushed the new Kinect2 button, and saw text at the bottom of the screen that said, “Kinect on for actor one”. Hit exit again to go back to the scene. The actor was still at first, but once I got up from the computer and stepped back into full-body capture position (about 6 feet away from the mounted Kinect2), the actor immediately started responding to my physical actions. Here is the raw result: 
I was very pleased with the results, although I noticed that the character was standing above the floor in the scene and that there was no body collision (hands passed through body). Perhaps these are small bugs. I’ll report them to M dot. Also, I only tested the motion capture in the Nothingness Scene. There may be issues in other scenes like the car driving scene. Will I have to sit down during the capture session? I’ll be testing these situations and will report on them in future articles. 
Other Updates to Nightmare Puppeteer
Mdot has added a great adjustment to NP: the scene you were working on last (after you quit the game), will come up first when you start the game up again. This saves a lot of time clicking through scenes to get to the one you were working on. There’s also a Dark Nothingness scene which allows you to create more dynamic lighting using light props from the level editor. Here’s an example: 
M dot made it easier to import DAZ Studio characters into NP. He created a short tutorial illustrating the process. You can find it here. 
I am psyched about the new updates to NP. They make it easier and more effective when using the game to created video scenes. I recently shot a short intro to a movie series I’ve created on Youtube called, “The World Beyond”, in Nightmare Puppeteer. It’s simple, but I really enjoyed creating it using NP. 

Next up: Scene creation/editing using Motion Capture

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