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3D Animation Meets the Internet

Today, after nearly two years of hard work, I am glad to announce that PixCap’s first-ever public beta will be released this September. It took us longer than we hoped, but plenty of lessons were learned along the way, and we became a lot more knowledgeable about the 3D industry than when we first started.

One of the things that stood out most is how similar the 3D industry is 20 years ago and today. While many industries have shifted towards cloud-based solutions and the browser, the 3D industry remains mostly desktop-based and offline. Compare and contrast this with the 2D design industry, which has witnessed tremendous change in the past 10 years. A market once dominated by Adobe is now a diverse industry that caters to different customer segments and needs, offering collaboration and simpler 2D creation (Figma and Canva respectively) that also involves non-designers in the creative process. Kevin Kwok, formerly at Greylock- investor of Figma, has written a great article that breaks this down in far more detail.

So why has the 3D industry been “slow” to move online? We think there are 3 key factors at play:

New Technology

If you’ve ever seen a 3D scene on the browser before, you’re probably aware that it is powered by a technology called WebGL. WebGL is considered to be relatively new (released in 2011) and performance still lags behind most desktop-based applications. WebGPU is in the works but many browsers still do not have WebGPU support. It’s going to take a few years before browsers support ray tracing, for instance. Large incumbents such as Autodesk can be risk-averse and may only consider adopting a technology after it fully matures.


That said, WebGL is quickly rising in popularity and browsers are becoming more powerful each year. Sketchfab’s meteoric growth as a web-based 3D marketplace is one example of the advantages and possibilities that an online-based 3D platform brings.

 

 

Resistance from existing 3D artists and animators


3D artists are known to be quite loyal to their tools and several have expressed skepticism (or marvel, depending on who you ask) on the capabilities of web-based software. Responses ranging from “Can the browser do that?” to “Why would I want to work on a 3D scene with someone at the same time?” to “Real-time collaborative 3D is the future!” have us constantly scratching our heads.

 



Collaborative tools including Figma and Google docs seem to receive similar feedback in the early stages.
“When Figma, a cloud and web-based design tool, was launched five years ago, it raised several eyebrows. While some marveled at the innovative idea of design software in the browser, some reacted very harshly. Dylan Field, co-founder, and CEO of Figma recalls how some people had told them that if Figma was the future of design, they would change their career!” – article

As of 2021, Figma is valued at $10 billion and has more than 5m registered users.
“The uniqueness of Figma can be attributed to the fact that it is primarily a web-based design tool with cloud support and real-time collaboration.”

At PixCap, we believe 3D will one day become collaborative just like word editing and 2D design.

3D is tough

The 3D pipeline is fragmented and complex, involving several steps such as modeling, texturing, rigging, animating, lighting, rendering, etc. Each step takes months just to learn the nuances, not to mention code. Various software has become industry standard by specializing in parts of the pipeline (e.g. Zbrush for modeling and sculpting, Cinema4D for mograph, Blender/Maya for general purpose, etc). At PixCap, we decided to focus on animation because it is arguably the most difficult step that also happens to involve a lot of feedback and iteration, making a simpler and collaborative solution much more valuable.


A big reason why it took us this long to release a public beta is that we underestimated the time it took to build a working 3D editor from scratch. And as it turns out, writing 3D and graphics code is a lot more specific and math-intensive than most dev roles, making engineering and hiring all the more challenging. We managed to assemble an amazing team that shares the same vision for 3D, but doing so took us about a year of hiring!

 

While engineers and designers have all sorts of tools to enable them to work well as a team, 3D artists are still behind when it comes to working collaboratively. No single tool has yet to tackle commenting, sharing, storing and editing 3D content all in one place.

Introducing PixCap

When my co-founder, Cyril, and I started PixCap, we knew we were going to build software related to 3D animated content, but we had no idea how hard it would be. From graph editor rendering to animation layers, IK (inverse kinematics), autosaving, and plenty of edge cases, getting to this milestone hasn’t been straightforward. 3D animators and artists have high expectations for their software and winning them over don’t happen overnight! After “dogfooding” PixCap for the past 9 months to closed beta users, we’re now confident that we’ve reached a level of quality that meets their standards.

One of the most exciting features we’re proud to release is AI motion capture. PixCap’s AI motion capture allows users to use any image or video source and capture the 3D poses directly in our platform for editing and animating. On top of body motion, PixCap also captures finger poses–a key feature that many motion capture suits do not provide. One major benefit of using video sources instead of motion capture suits is the ability to capture motion from any video i.e. Youtube and TikTok. Replicating action stunts, martial arts, and dance moves in videos are common animation use cases that would otherwise be difficult to act out in a motion capture suit (or increasingly, VR-based motion trackers).

It turns out that AI motion capture with editing happens to be PixCap’s unique and most used feature, with users animating 3-5x faster compared to industry-standard tools like Maya! We also spent months carefully designing a simple and robust editor to reduce the learning curve down to hours compared to weeks for industry-standard software.

What’s Next

While building a browser-based 3D editor with AI motion capture is exciting, we’re even more excited by the possibilities that collaborative and community-based 3D software can unlock. We’re not quite at real-time collaboration yet, but it’s in our roadmap.

Here are some things that we’re really excited about for 2021-2022:

  • October 2021: Community animations
  • December 2021: Shared libraries for teams
  • 2022: Real-time multiplayer editing!

We can’t wait for you to join us at PixCap and see what you’ll create. Let’s make 3D animation fun and collaborative!

Get started with PixCap today.

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