Considering the number of amazing demonstrations that the Kinect puts on, there aren't as many commercial apps for it as you might expect. FaceShift is a new motion caputure program that uses the Kinect to map your body and facial expression to the head of an avatar - in realtime.
We have seen demos of the Kinect being used to animate on-screen characters, but this is the first commercial quality program. It has been in beta for a few months and is now available as a finished version.
All you need is a Kinect and a copy of the software. It works on Windows, Mac and, very soon, Linux.
The real advance is that the algorithms use the depth and color camera to not only measure pose but also facial expression. The level of detail that is tracked goes well beyond what the basic depth camera can achieve. It claims to be tracking 48 blendshape parameters (which change the shape of a small area of the face) in addition to eye gaze. It is not just the speed of operation that is important it is the accuracy. Watch the video to see what the overall effect is:
You have to train the software to personalize it to your set of facial expressions. Next you simply sit in front of the camera and talk, move your head and pull silly (or otherwise) expressions. The results can be seen in realtime but you can capture the animation and improve it if needs be. Finally you can export the animation to your current 3D animation software and continue to work on it.
The company, also called FaceShift, is a spin off from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) is of the opinion that the technology could revolutionize on-line gaming and communication in general. It clearly also has lots of uses that are waiting to be discovered.
One problem is the price. At $800 per year for a basic version and $1500 for a pro version, the price is very reasonable for studio use or for development, but clearly for use in on-line gaming or communications FaceShift is going to have sell you a license cheaper than its volume discount table would suggest. An SDK and API is also going to be an essential if the technology is going to be incorporated into other software. Let's hope this is next on the agenda.
The slightly better news is that you can have an academic and non-commercial licence at a lot less - $150. You can also get a 30 day trial version on request.