1 October 2020
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Smartgloves comes in handy for motion capture

Rokoko, award-winning motion capture creator headquartered in Copenhagen and with a core team located in San Francisco, has introduced its new product : Smartgloves, a hand and finger tracking solution aiming to “capture every nuance of a hand in the most affordable way possible“. Rokoko explains that this new product is “durable enough for fight scenes, but precise enough for individual fingers”. The company adds that “the Smartgloves can capture the full spectrum of an actor’s hand performance, giving VFX, VR, game dev and digital artists a faster way to create better characters, and one less thing to animate.”

Rokoko are making the impossible possible for us,” said Brian Parnell, Founder/Director of No Matter Studios, in the press release. “The price is amazing, and the Smartgloves are incredibly fluid and responsive. They also work with virtually any 3D package out there, which is a huge time saver.”

Jakob Balslev, founder and CEO of Rokoko, gave us an insight into some of the challenges in the process of developing the Smartgloves that will make hand motion capture affordable and accessible for creators, developers and artists.

Jakob Balslev

Easy to use and affordable for everyone

Founded in 2014, Rokoko developed a motion capture product that would be easy to use anywhere, by anybody while being affordable. “Developing the suit, Smartsuit Pro, and gloves at the same time was the first big challenge”, said Jakob. “Body capture is more predictable, more reliable and easier to figure out, whereas fingers are moving fast and you risk getting a lot of drift if you use sensors like we do in the suit. We therefore decided to finalize production of the suit before the gloves and treat them as separate products”.

Furthermore, Rokoko’s mission is to make tools accessible for a maximum of people. “It was important to make this product affordable. Price of the competitors gloves start at $5000  US, which is way too much for most creators. We wanted to keep our product accessible for creators and developers that never had access before to this technology. The technology has advanced so much on its own, and we are riding a wave of advancement in sensor technology that is constantly being improved by manufacturers as well as some of the world’s  largest companies. We figured out a way to leverage the power of these standard components with our advanced kinematics algorithms and calibration practices on top. That way we keep the prices low but still produce professional quality capture that just keeps improving with every software update.”

The Rokoko Smartgloves are available for pre-order directly through Rokoko’s website for $895 per pair. Educational and academic institutions are eligible for a 10% discount upon request. The pre-order period will last until October 21; following the pre-order window, the retail price will be $995.

A sensor-based solution to track the fingers

There are two main ways to approach finger tracking, “Either you do it with an optical system or an inertial based system. The optical systems are great because you have an absolute position of the fingers. However, if you put them in a pocket and block the views of the cameras, you will lose the data. The inertial based system use sensors similar to the ones in smartphones. You don’t need an external system filming your fingers. The downside is that the sensors might drift overtime, but you never lose any data, no matter what you do with your hands and where you are, and you get constant and reliable stability.   We have always believed that the sensor-based approach is the best solution. The biggest challenge was getting the algorithms so accurate and advanced that the sensors would be stable over a long period of time with any external part of camera helping with the position. Fingers are moving so fast in an unpredictable way that can cause drifting. It took us a long time to figure out the perfect combination.”

The Smartgloves is composed of 7 sensors, one for each fingers, one on the back of the hand, and one on the wrist. It is noticeable that Rokoko added the last one where the competition did not. “We chose to add a sensor on the wrist because you can basically calculate the rest of the arm pretty accurately, if you know what the wrist is doing. So it is a way to integrate both with the suite but also to make the gloves ideal as input device for VR and AR. With the fingers and wrist, you have what you need to get accurate capture of the entire arm” said Jakob. All the sensors are connected to the hub that collects the data. The data generated can be exported wireless, processed and edited directly within the free-to-use Rokoko Studio as part of a larger digital scene or to be stored for later use. The data can also be live streames into other platforms, including Unity, Unreal Engine, MotionBuilder, Maya, Blender and more. To access the real-time plugins, you will need a Rokoko Studio Plus software subscription which is just $19 per month.

Up to 8 hours of battery life

The whole system is connected by a USB cable to a power bank system. “We embedded the electronic parts inside the textile because it is a lot more stable when you have wire connecting with sensors compared to a wireless solution. It is a way to make the product more robust and to give a smoother setup process. Once you have the suit on and connected to wifi, you can go anywhere you want as long as you are still within range of the wifi. No external parts are needed to use the suit. You can even connect the suit with a hotspot from your phone, therefore you don’t have any restrictions” mentioned Jakob Balslev.

The battery can run 6 to 8 hours with the full system. Jakob Balslev explains: “If we had to add a battery for each sensor it would get bigger and it would require more resources. We could not find any internal battery that would give even close to the results we are getting with the external battery we are using now“.

Motion capture for children ?

Jakob Balslev shared with us his graduation project from the National Film School of Denmark. A project that introduced him to motion capture and made him create his own system.

The idea was to use motion capture to make “live animation theater for children”. “When we founded Rokoko, we wanted to do a show where actors use motion capture, live render themselves, turn them into animated characters and in front of a children audience, and children could speak and interact with the characters”, Jakob Balslev says. “Kids are so much more intuitive. When you ask an adult to put a suit on, he will ask a lot of questions about how to move. Children just start moving the way they want, it is a lot more interesting.

Rokoko offers different sizes for the suit and gloves, but has not created a suit for children yet. However some people have experimented with taking the sensors out and placing them on children. Indeed the system is made for “human biped” and fit any size of the person carrying the sensors. “We don’t know exactly how big the demand is out there for a suit in children sizes, but we do have a lot of people asking for it so we might do it at some point”, concluded Jakob Balslev.

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