Motion capture technology is one of the fastest growing segments of the computer graphics industry. Driven primarily by growing use of VFX in the entertainment industry (and by the huge success of the Lord of the Rings Gollum character), the technology has now gotten cheaper and easier to use so much so that students and solo filmmakers are starting to include it in their production pipeline.
Case in point: Brigham Young University’s Center For Animation students received two first place awards at the 2014 College Television Awards and at the 41st Student Academy Awards for their short animated film Owned which made extensive use of Xsens MVN, a “camera-less, full-body, inertial motion-capture (MoCap) solution”, in their production pipeline.
“We were surprised at how fast it was to set up Xsens MVN and capture exactly what we needed out of the gate. For example, we wanted to record one punch that we could duplicate over and over for our fighter. Xsens MVN’s ten-minute setup made it incredibly easy to quickly get that data and cut it into those moves.”
-Brian Kingery, TD on Owned
Xsens has been in the forefront of affordable, professional 3D MoCap technology for over a decade. That students at BYU would choose Xsens for their project is not surprising. Mentor, Robin Conover, owner of Animation Training Academy, helped a small team of students integrate Xsens MVN into their animation process for 2 characters in their film. The MoCap session took about a day to complete and the animation team worked on the resulting data for several months afterwards.
Here is a short behind-the-scenes film BYU released on the making of Owned. There are some interested dual screen shots of the MoCap session using Xsens MVN and the final animation scene (at about the 2 minute mark). The actor in the MoCap suit is Josh Cotton. The two students being interviewed are Carson Crawford (Animator) and Wesley Tippets (Co-Director).
I was fortunate to speak with Brian Kingery, one of the members of the BYU animation team and Technical Director on Owned. He told me about the process of learning MoCap using Xsens and what it was like to create the film in collaboration with upwards of 40 students at one point.
Renderosity: I've only been able to watch a snippet of Owned, but from what I saw it looks like a very funny and polished film. Congrats on the Student Academy Award. Did you and your team have any idea that the film would be so successful? What do you think is so appealing in the film to viewers?
Brian Kingery: As we were creating Owned, we would periodically show our progress to "test" audiences and friends. Because of this, we knew that people were responding to the film in a good way. I think one reason that it is so appealing is that everyone can relate in some way or another. I know many people, myself included, who have experienced the frustration and humor of losing a game to someone who has no idea what they are doing. Also, Abby (the baby) is so adorable that you can't help but fall in love with her. That being said, I think that we knew Owned was going to be a great film, but I don’t think any of us imagined the success we have seen.
Renderosity: Tell me a little about how the project got started and something about the people who worked on the team that created Owned.
Brian Kingery: Every year the senior class pitches story ideas for their senior project. Owned was written by Wesley Tippetts. It is based on a personal experience that he had of losing a video game match to a younger kid. He thought it would be comical to take the situation to the extreme: a world video game champion, and a baby.
There was a wide variety of students who worked on Owned. We had students in disciplines ranging from illustration to film to computer science to animation. There was a core group of about 30-40 students who worked on the film from start to finish. This core group took on different responsibilities, and together we were in charge of all artistic and technical aspects of the film.
Renderosity: Why did the team decide to use motion capture? Why Xsens?
Brian Kingery: One of the main reasons we chose to use motion capture, was to do something BYU had not done before. We are always trying to push ourselves to do new things. We decided to use it for the game portion to give us a different look and feel from our hand animated characters, and to save time on animation. Owned is the biggest project BYU has done, with 5 characters and 4 environments. We had a lot on our plate, and motion capture helped us load balance. We went with Xsens because one of our mentors on the film, Robin Conover, had the suit and the software. Robin, was a big help in getting us set up, and helping us in our capture sessions. Once we had the motion capture data, he gave us some pointers, and it was trial and error learning from there.
Renderosity: Can you describe the animation workflow?
Brian Kingery: Our workflow with the motion capture was as follows:
Renderosity: How much cleanup did you have to do to the original motion capture files?
Brian Kingery: The cleanup went pretty fast once we got the hang of things. Our biggest hang up was learning the quirks of Motionbuilder. Additionally, we didn't just clean up the mocap, but we altered it to fit the stylized video game world. For example, we sped it up quit a bit, and exaggerated the movements.
Renderosity: Finally, what do you say to another student group or small team who wants to use Xsens in motion capture (mistakes you may have made that they can avoid)?
Brian Kingery: If I could do it over again, I would have choreographed the fight sequence, and I would have captured the whole thing in one go rather than capturing individual moves. We decided to go the individual move route because we wanted the transitions between moves to be slightly abrupt (like a real fighting game). We also liked the idea of being able to reuse the same punch, kick and hit moves. I feel like we accomplished the look we were trying to achieve, however, we ended up creating more work for ourselves in the long run.
I forgot to mention that we also used the motion capture for previs. Our director acted out all the characters. This gave us some awesome reference and allowed the animators to see exactly what our director was envisioning.
Renderosity: where do you see motion capture going in the next few years? With prices coming down on mocap hardware/software, do you think it will become the standard for most types of animation, or will keyframe animation still dominate?
Brian Kingery: I think there is place for both motion capture and traditional keyframe animation. As far as animated films I think that keyframe animation will continue to rule for a while longer. Especially because characters tend to be very stylized in animated films. However, I would not be surprised if motion capture takes a strong hold in previs. It gives a quick look at what the final film will look like in 3D and lets you make better decisions.
I do see motion capture continuing to take hold and flourish in the game and live action industries. The life like motion is often what these types of media try to achieve. The more realistic the better.
Although the complete Owned is not available online (it will be at some point in the future), there is a nice trailer you can watch here.
More information on Owned and Xsens can be found at this link:
My thanks to Stephen Hoshow and Brian Kingery for their help in putting this story together. I hope to do a full review of Xsens at some point for Renderosity. Stay tuned.
Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.
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