When Xsens burst onto the motion capture scene in 2007 with its inertial mocap tech called Moven (renamed MVN), it quickly became known in the film and games world as a lean and reliable solution, recently earning high praise from director Seth MacFarlane who donned a MVN suit to play R-rated talking teddy bear in Ted. Now Xsens has released a new range of MVN suits, plus a software update, to improve the accuracy and robustness of its motion capture tools.

The MVN Link suits.
The MVN Link suits.

The two new suits are known as MVN Link, a full-body suit, and MVN Awinda, which consists of strap-based trackers. On the software side, MVN Studio 4.0 has been upgraded to deliver new features such as height tracking.

Xsens’ entertainment product manager Hein Beute told fxguide that there were several improvements the company wanted to make to its mocap tools, after receiving customer feedback over the past few years.

“In our first generation,” says Beute, “we assumed a flat floor in our motion capture engine, which meant as soon as somebody stepped onto something say stairs or books they would sink back to that flat floor. So there was a need for height tracking.”

In addition, Xsens had been looking for ways to improve the robustness of its hardware – the actual trackers, wires, connectors and suit pieces – while also streamlining the size of trackers and how the mocap suits would be put on during production.

“We used to have a string of trackers that were put in the orange tunnels you see in the suit,” explains Beute. “You had to put the suit inside out and then add them in. Later on we created a tool to do that but it was a pretty frustrating process. Because it was inside out you get left and right mixed up.”

The older suits were also harder to access if a cable became disconnected, for example. “But with the new system,” says Beute, “we still have tunnels but they have stretchable zippers on the outside so they stretch with the suit, which is very important.”

Alongside the suit improvements, Xsens has implemented wifi connectivity and increased the fidelity of the captured data and throughput. “We used to sample at 120Hz in terms of frame rate,” notes Beute, “but now we can do it at 1800Hz. It’s a lot more data. During capture you capture your raw data file at 240Hz but when you actually export it to FBX you can sample it to what you need.”

MVN Link and MVN Awinda on a greenscreen stage.
MVN Link and MVN Awinda on a greenscreen stage.

“It’s way more than people need,” adds Beute. “24, 30 or 60 fps in games is usual, but for us it’s very important to capture all the data in dynamic motion. When you think of running and hitting the floor – determining those exact moments are very important.”

The new Xsens products also stream to more industry-standard pipelines, including Maya and MotionBuilder, as well as UDK and Unity3D.

Xsens users fxguide spoke to were positive about the new products. Webster Colcord, who worked as the previs and postvis supervisor on Ted (and is now working on the film’s sequel) says he is excited about the small form factor of the sensors. “I think this will create new opportunities for the technology, I’m not quite sure how yet,” he notes. “In addition, the solving has noticeably improved.”

Watch an Xsens video showing the new releases.

The Third Floor’s Erik Walker is particularly enthused about the introduction of wifi into the system instead of radio signals which, he says, “seems like it will take care of connectivity problems that occasionally arose.”

Walker is also a fan of the new zippers that allow access to the suit while it is being worn. “Previously, if there were connectivity issues with any of the the trackers, in most cases the performer would have to go take the suit off, bring it to us to troubleshoot, re-suit themselves, reconnect, etc. Now they can just stand there while technicians swap out parts, a cakewalk by comparison.”

MVN Studio 4.0 screenshot.
MVN Studio 4.0 screenshot.

It’s been a big year for Xsens – it was acquired by Fairchild Semiconductor, one of the original Silicon Valley juggernauts, and perhaps not initially an obvious buyer for Xsens.

“People have looked at it and said, well Fairchild is a very different company,” observes Buete, “but in terms of building blocks it’s a great partnership. We don’t create our own hardware or our own sensing elements like accelerometers and gyroscopes which you find nowadays being one component in the computer industry in telephones and tablets. But Fairchild do make hardware…”

Presently Xsens has around 65 employees mostly based in the Netherlands with some residing in Los Angeles. Their installed entertainment base is around 500, but the company has two other significant markets in the area of industrial use and ‘human science’ – mainly ergonomics and mechanical research.

You can find out more about the new products at Xsens’ website.