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26 August 2011

Interview with Khaled Wagdy about his Motion Capture System

Do you think Egyptians are less creative than many other nations when it comes to technology startups? Well, think again. This team of brilliant computer developers created a system that makes it easier for computers to capture ones motion. You can watch this video to better understand their new system. I interviewed one of the team members, Khaled Wagdy, about their project and its future.

Hi Khaled, can you please tell me first about yourself? What did you study? Who are the other team members of the project? How did you meet?

We are Yasser El-Sherbiny and Khaled Wagdy (@kwagdy), two computer engineers with great passion for 3D computer animation and development; we studied at the same university where the dream began as our graduation project, when we decided to use our knowledge as computer engineers to develop affordable motion capture & animation solutions to play a role in improving the productivity and quality of the animation and gaming industries here in Egypt.

Also I'd like to know more about the technology used. I've noticed in the video that you said no need for cameras (like in the case of Wii), so how do you detect motion? Did you develop the sensors and softwares used yourself?

There are mainly three types of motion capture systems, and we’ve gone through the process of implementing the three types before we decided to go with the latest system. The optical system which is based on cameras surrounding the performer with markers attached to a suit he wears to track each point on the body, the mechanical system where the performer wears an exo-skeleton suite with sensors at the joints to capture the joints' rotations, and the inertial system, that's our system, which is based on Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) sensors, fitted using straps around the body to calculate the orientation of each body segment in space, this type of motion capture system doesn't require cameras, doesn’t need special setup for the space like in the optical systems and don't have the limitations and restrictions of wearing a mechanical exo-skeleton.

We spent the last few months developing the hardware (the IMUs) and software for this system, as well as the real-time plugins for the commercial and known 3D software packages for ease of use and real-time display, so the end-user doesn’t need to learn new tools to use our system.

How do you see your technology versus competing ones like that ones applied in Xbox, or versus competing technologies such as that of Vicon (@_vicon)

The "Kinect" used with the Xbox gaming console controls the motion of the in-game character based on gesture recognition and basic tracking of the performer (gamer/user), it lacks the accuracy, gives the performer very limited space to move in and can’t handle high speed motions, these are all requirements when doing motion capturing for Media related projects (Movies, TV series', Commercials, Games ...etc.) and motion analysis in medical and sports sectors. Also, you should know that motion capturing technology was used for the characters animation we all enjoy while playing games on this and other similar high-end consoles :)

Vicon is one of the leading developers of optical motion capture systems, their systems have been used in many big budget movies and popular games by the biggest visual effects studios and game developers, however, they were one of the main reasons why we decided developing our own system, motion capture by then had established a strong foothold in the entertainment industry and gaining popularity and acceptance. It created possibilities in filmmaking which did not exist before, and became an essential element in game development elevating the gaming experience into new levels of realism, and for ongoing series and TV shows it stands out as a cost-effective tool to speed up production and increase the quality and productivity.

Unfortunately, the quality demands for animation place challenging demands on a motion capture system. To date, commercially available motion capture solutions that meet these demands (like Vicon’s optical systems) have required specialized software/hardware that is extremely expensive (hundreds of thousands of dollars) and not easily portable and require a dedicated staff for operation/support and a dedicated vast capture area with specific settings for physical installation (like lighting conditions) making it difficult for small and medium sized companies or even independent users with small budgets to take advantage of its features.

We had specific targets and vision when we started developing our motion capture systems. We want to provide portable, high quality and cost effective motion capture solutions that is accessible even to medium and small production houses, increasing their quality standards and productivity, we want to help animation houses to focus more on their ideas and their output rather than the complex technicalities faced in producing good character animation and the high costs behind them.

Other than games, where else you believe your technology can be applied?

It’s been used in many industries other than entertainment (films and games) such as sports (performance evaluation), education (training, simulation & virtual reality), medical applications (gait & motion analysis) and even military. The list of potential uses for motion capture does not stop there, and continues to rise as increasing computational power become available, alongside a general acceptance of motion capture into the mainstream.

What are your plans now? Are you looking to sell this technology to gaming platform vendors for example? Or you are looking to get incorporated and find a Venture Capital to support you?

We’ll continue the development process, right now we try to complete and integrate our facial motion capture system (you can see a very early test of it here: ( with the full-body system to create what’s known as “Performance Capture” which captures the hole performance not only the body motion but the facial expressions as well. Currently we are getting in contact with pilot customers to offer our animation services for real production testing and gathering their feedback; in parallel we are contacting VCs for funding.

Did you contact Angel Investors and VC's? You think it is better to be backed by VC's from within Egypt or from outside it?

In the last couple of weeks, we contacted a few VCs some of which have already invited us for meetings and interviews. We are currently waiting for feedback. We don't think there will be much difference, so far, almost all of the VCs we've met already have international connections.

How do you see the software and technology in Egypt? What obstacles did you see here?

Egypt has a lot of really great calibres, people who are determined to reach their goals despite the various technical and financial challenges, and we think as the technology sector gains more and more attention and focus, it will be one of the most valuable assets for this country. For us, we had some challenges due to the lack of high-end technology resources in the local market as well as the financial challenge. However, we are glad we didn't back out on our dream until it's now a reality :)

Any other projects you are working on, and would like to share more info about them here?

We have a few ideas; some related to the animation industry and some outside, however, we are now focused on the new Motion Capture System.

Any other questions you were expecting me to ask?

We’d like to thank you for having us on your blog, feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

Links & Contacts:
Twitter: @SnappersSystems
Email: info(at)snapperstech(dot)com

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