Saturday, 24 November 2012

Motion Capture comes to Bucks

Animators don't like Motion Capture. We fear it because it threatens us, threatens to replace what we do so carefully and painstakingly and slowly with fast, inexpensive, automated technology. I first heard about it way back in 1987 on the set of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" when it was rumoured that a technology existed whereby a computer could capture an actor's motion and express it instantly as a piece of 3D animation. Well, that'll never catch on, I thought (or hoped, more likely). Phil Nibbelink, one of the most talented animators on The Rabbit, called Motion Capture "the battle cry of the untalented". How we laughed.
Andy Serkis at Comic Con 2011, photographed by Gerald Geronimo

Well, we're not laughing now. Motion capture snaps at our heels, getting better all the time. Just like 3D animation got better and better, and all the 2D drawn-animation geezers were proved wrong when they said "it's just a passing fad". Ever since Andy Serkis dazzled us with his extraordinary performance of Gollum in Lord of the Rings, we have had to face the fact that Motion Capture is here to stay.

Last week Stephen Partridge, head of Production at Bucks, invited me to meet with Phil Stilgoe, one of the founders of Centroid, a British motion capture company which is partnering with us at Bucks, creating opportunities for students to get real-world experience and also to help develop new technologies.  Centroid is based at the legendary Pinewood Studios, and we'll be taking a small group of lucky students to visit them in December.

Phil was almost apologetic when we were introduced, obviously well used to animators grimacing at him and wishing he didn't exist. But I had the opposite reaction, finding myself swept up in his enthusiasm for what he does. What if, he asked, you could go to a movie premiere and see Jessica Rabbit on the red carpet, a holographic projection created by a motion capture actor in a hidden studio, creating a real-time performance in front of a live audience? How cool would that be? Pretty cool, I thought. I'd pay money to see that.

In fact, this isn't so fanciful. Motion Capture technology has already become so good that it can be used now to create real-time performances. Here's a video clip of what the future holds.

Animators may not like it, but motion capture isn't going anywhere. Like any new technology, we need to embrace it and make it work for us - not wish it away.


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