Long-Gestating Head-Mounted System Is Finally Near Launch

At SIGGRAPH today, Vicon announced that it is taking orders for the Cara head-mounted facial motion-capture system. Long in development, the Cara system is designed as a smart, standalone system for gathering high-quality facial performance data, as well as part of an end-to-end motion-capture workflow supplied by Vicon.

The Cara hardware consists of a head rig that's designed to hold up to four 720p 60fps Pico global-shutter cameras, a body-worn recording device, and various accessories. The head rig, Vicon's Phil Elderfield told StudioDaily, has been "the single most difficult thing to get right." The main challenge is delivering the advantages of a head-mounted system while maintaining the kind of physical openness that filmmakers and performers have come to expect as part of the motion-capture process. 

On a basic level, that means keeping the cameras as far as possible from the performer's face, so that eyelines can be maintained with the director and other actors. Vicon considered, then abandoned, some kind of onboard lighting to get more even illumination, which would make it easier to process the data. The lighting question may be tackled in a later version of the rig, but for now the idea is to keep distractions to a minimum. "We're trying to make all that stuff recede," Elderfield said, "and to keep the focus on the performance. And that has been hard."

Vicon wants to get it right because it realizes that, as yet, there is no de facto set of best practices for doing facial capture. If the hardware part of the equation is well implemented, then the data that comes out of the system is essentially process-agnostic. "This is a mini mocap system strapped to a head rig," Elderfield said. "At the capture level, we're trying to say, 'here's a modular system, with a head rig that you can attach four or fewer cameras to, and you capture four black-and-white, high-resolution images. If you want, you can take those away and do what you like with them.'" But Vicon is providing a post workflow for those who don't want to create their own.

Two different pieces of software are involved. CaraLive handles set-up, calibration, capture, control, and recording, as well as export of the final data. CaraPost handles frame-by-frame calibration, tracking, editing, and export of 3D points that represent markers on the face to third-party animation software. Inside CaraPost, users will be able to control semi-automated intervention tools to help fix up problems introduced by occluded or poorly tracked markers. 

Elderfield said development is still going on for CaraPost, but the hardware and CaraLive are complete and will be shipping once Vicon can get components in hand and ramp up manufacturing.