My First MoCap Experience

On Saturday, I went to Studio Le Chateau for Phase 1 of the Introduction to Motion Capture Course offered by Syllabes.

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The markers glow with the flash! I felt like a superhero in the costume, and you can see the excitement in my face 🙂

Motion Capture is defined in google as ‘the process or technique of recording patterns of movement digitally, especially the recording of an actor’s movements for the purpose of animating a digital character in a movie or computer game.’ It is basically what they use to let Tom Hanks play a million characters in Polar Express, to turn Benedict Cumberbatch into Smaug, Andy Serkis into…anything really. It’s what they use to make movies like Avatar, which is absolutely incredible. It is also used a lot in video games, which is a pretty good market here in Montreal. Hence the course 😉

It started off with an introduction on motion capture, as well as the space that we would be doing it in. Their studio is pretty small compared to the others in town, but it was the perfect place to learn. It had 8 cameras, and we were in a 10′ by 10′ space called a volume (the space was actually much bigger, but that’s the ideal area for us to be working in, given the camera placement).
Since this was to introduce us to MOCAP, and not just being an actor for MOCAP, we got to learn about calibrating the program for the room, which includes wanding, that I got to do. Basically, you walk around the room with a ‘wand’ of 3 markers, and wave it around so the cameras can pick up the markers and figure out where they are in reference to each other. You also have to teach it where the floor is and stuff, but this is something that would be done long before the actor comes into the picture.
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After about an hour of learning the space, we got to put on the suits 🙂 Four of us put on suits whose exterior was made of the fuzzy side of velcro, then the other people in the group put on our markers. Markers are the little balls that the camera registers to capture your movement. I am giving really vague descriptions, because this is more about my experience, but you can find so much information on this online, and if you are in Montreal, definitely take the workshop! Each of us got 37 markers, as well as hand ones. Our instructor, Stephen Mullin, told us we would do a little dance video at the end, and asked if anyone thought they would be inspired to do a handstand or a cartwheel. He seemed disappointed that no one would, so I told him that although inspiration wouldn’t strike me to do it, I could do a cartwheel if it was something cool to see. So, I got special gloves that wouldn’t break during my gymnastics.
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As I was in the group that went first, I stayed in the green screen room while the other half went to the control room. We all did our T poses so Stephen could input our avatars into the program. The T-pose is pretty self-explanatory, and it is the best position for the cameras to capture all of the markers.
Once we were in the system, we each had our Range of Motion (ROM) tested, then did a few things as a group, before finally dancing for a minute or so to some One Republic. As I had volunteered, I made sure to throw in a few cartwheels in addition to my awkward dance skills. Not that I am a terrible dancer, but I wanted to make sure I was moving in a way that would be exciting to watch later on, so there was a lot of attempts at ballet and dancer poses, mixed with jumping and swinging and…it was a lot of fun, even if I felt a little bit ridiculous.
The other group went after, with us putting the markers on them, and for the last hour or so, we watched behind-the-scenes videos of MOCAP, asked questions, and got information about getting into the Montreal MOCAP scene.  It was an awesome day, and I cannot wait for Phase 2 🙂

“I prefer when movies target my heart instead of my mind.”

-R.I.P. Anton Yelchin. I was so sad to hear of his passing. An amazing talent. I don’t think there was a single movie of his that I didn’t love, or at least his performance in it. <3



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