Every once in a while a site emerges from the primordial Internet ooze that changes the way I think about things. Pandora changed my notion of Internet radio. YouTube has changed video forever. Facebook made me believe I could stay connected to old friends without the stress of writing periodic in-depth e-mails (which I never did).
Thanks to a mention in the recent Unity newsletter, I think I may have discovered another game-changing site, at least as far as indie game development is concerned. The site is Mixamo, which offers nothing less than the ability to create “production-quality 3D character animations in a fraction of the time that traditional mo-cap and keyframing requires.” Oh, and you can use your own skeleton. Crazy, right?
Mixamo is a Web-based application that allows you to upload a skeleton, choose from a growing library of animations, apply them to your skeleton, customize them quickly using a series of sliders, save them to a shopping cart, and buy them on an a la carte basis. Animations cost anywhere from $25 to $119.
For an indie developer with limited resources and animation skills, this is potentially a game changer. Animation is a seriously specialized skill, and paying $50 for a ready-made animation to play with is much more appealing that hiring a freelance animator who is sure to charge hundreds of dollars at least.
Certainly Mixamo has some limitations, including the fact that it only supports biped animations. No animals, monsters, or hybrids here, as far as I can tell, though I don’t know how the system would handle a non-standard skeleton (with, say, an extra leg joint — for a minotaur or something).
Let’s face it, animating human characters is hard. Hiring people to do the work is expensive. Now, thanks to some seemingly brilliant programmers, a great idea, and the wonder of the Internet, another barrier to video game development appears to be crumbling away. Very exciting indeed.