Monday, November 26, 2001

Motion Capture at Red Eye Studio

Submitted by Maggie Bohlen

Camera! Rolling! Action!

Red Eye Studio is the Midwest's premier motion capture studio, designed to fulfill every animator's need, whether it be for film, television, video games, broadcast, medical, educational, or research and development.

Red Eye Studio recently finished work for a video game project, Hunter: The Reckoning for the Xbox™ video game system from Microsoft. Developed by High Voltage Software, Inc. for Digital Mayhem based on the popular license from White Wolf Publishing, Inc., Hunter: The Reckoning is scheduled to ship Q1, 2002.

In this article we would like to give you an idea of what it took to plan and execute the motion capture work for projects like Hunter: The Reckoning.

Every project, no matter what the medium requires planning, and the pre-production work for a motion capture shoot is vital to its success. After successfully bidding and obtaining the contract for a shoot the studio begins working with the lead artist or the director of the project. During the setup and contracting phase the client defines the involvement required by the studio. In the case of the Hunter: The Reckoning project we were called upon to assist in finding the talent for the shoot. The lead artist on the project worked closely with the studio to provide input on the personality of each character where motion capture was needed. The first challenge for the studio is finding the talent, which not only meets the physical requirements of the character but the personality as well. We find that sometimes the best performers are the artists themselves. They have a vision as to how their character should behave, how they should move. We have found that the artists prove to be great performers as they bring their vision of the character to life. Although sometimes we wonder if it might have something to do with wanting to suit up in tight fitting spandex suits with reflective markers. It does give us the opportunity for some great blackmail pictures.

The shot list is another important part of the pre-production work. The stage space and the cameras must be set up based on the types of moves the client wishes to capture. If the client needs someone climbing stairs, we bring in the stairs and position the cameras so we can be sure that the performer is caught at every point on the staircase. If we decide to fly a performer through the air on a jerk harness, or push them off a cliff, we rehearse the move in advance, to be sure that on the day of the shoot we have covered all the challenges we may encounter with a difficult move.

The studio staff and the performer are all briefed on the shoot; and we have a rehearsal with the director to insure that all parties know what to expect on the day of the shoot.

On shoot day the team arrives to calibrate the system, the performer is there early to be suited up, and to have the markers attached and then calibrated. The calibration process on our Vicon 8 system calculates the camera positions and orientations relative to each other and to an origin and set of axes. We have 16 Vicon Mcams, which are million pixel resolution cameras that can capture data up to 240 frames per second. Once the calibration has been completed the system and the team are ready to go when the director arrives. Of course, if we need to pamper the talent or the director, we are quite happy to step up to the task. Flowers, candy, a latte or two and we should be on our way.

The shot list is the bible for the day; the studio team works with the director to capture every move. Each shot is performed two to three times by the actor and the director will identify the best shot. The studio team will check shots through out the day to insure that all data looks good, and is clean. We need to be sure that no major markers fall off the performer during shooting. We do have the ability to clean data and replace markers that are missing, but if we feel that the move is questionable and appears to look robotic or unnatural, the shot will be redone. We have the chance to be a little creative in motion capture; unique character movement or props play an important role in the shoot. For example, if a person needs to simulate being shot, we suit the performer up in a jerk vest and we pull the performer's body part being shot to simulate the bullet impact. We have even had the fun adventure of motion capturing an iguana!

Any props are built to weigh and handle roughly the same as the real items. This way when you capture someone handling a fifty-pound weapon, the body reacts appropriately. We did one shot where the actor needed to lift a dead man's face to a retina scanner to gain entry into a secure area. We had one of our cam eramen pose as a dead body in order to get the most lifelike, well deathlike shot.

After all the shots have been taken another phase of the shoot begins. The studio's next step is to process the data and perform tracking or clean-up. During the tracking process the studio team will review each shot that the director identified as best. Any gaps in the move will be corrected and each move will be checked for any noise. The noise is not due to a big band sound, but unnatural spikes in the performer's movement. All moves go through a quality control process, where we apply the movement to a character insuring that any possible problems are caught before sending the data to the client. Our studio will deliver an average of 140 to 150 moves per week back to the client.

When not working with a client, the studio team takes some ideas for motion capture and tests those ideas out. The picture below is a result of one of those ideas. We had a guitarist come in to play for us. We applied three-millimeter markers to his hands, and then applied that same size to his face. In total there were 120 markers on the performer, including the guitar. We used all sixteen cameras and positioned them to focus on specific parts of the body.

If you would like to contact Red Eye Studio for further information, price quotes, or some sample data, please feel free to contact Maggie Bohlen at 847.843.2438.

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