08 April 2007

How to Play All the Stars in Your Own Star-Studded Video!


Using motion capture combined with video rendering magic, one actor could play many parts in a video or ultra-realistic cinema animation. This Business Week article looks into the possibilities of motion capture for entertainment, medicine, the military, and more.
The technology then spawneda slewof computer-generated creatures, including Gollum, the gurgling, wispy-haired ring thief in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, and King Kong, by the same director. British actor Andy Serkis spent hours scampering around on set in sensor-studded suits to create Gollum's scuttling and Kong's signature grimaces. For such scenes in the past, animators might draw each new movement by hand, frame by frame. And that's not the only giant expense motion capture could address. During a movie shoot, "the cost of a day on set can range from $50,000 to $1 million," says Gary Roberts, a vice-president at House of Moves Inc., a Los Angeles motion-capture lab. "Motion capture shaves days off the overall production time." And the process could get even simpler. In Cameron's current film project, titled Avatar, sophisticated software may eliminate the need for sensor dots on actors' faces. Instead, one tiny camera on an actor's head cap tracks and interprets every twitch.

Companies that come up with such innovations stand to make small fortunes. "There is an arms race in entertainment," says Phil Sparks, an analyst at Evolution Securities Ltd. He's bullish on Vicon, part of Oxford Metrics Group, the largest company making motion-capture systems for entertainment and now many other clients. "They're no longer just mapping out an orc and a hobbit having a fight. They're now doing the expressions on dozens of actors' faces." Motion Analysis Corp., another motion-tracking player, built systems that were used for Kong and one of the Rings films and also outfitted Lockheed's lab.

Capturing actors' movements is potent stuff, says Cameron: "The technique frees performers from the limitations of body type, age, race, and gender. The essence of their spirit as actors can be infused into any physicality they or the filmmakers dream up."
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Go here to view some videos made with available motion capture software. Or check out these Stanford workshops on life simulations and VR.

Motion capture will allow one person to play all the roles in a computer generated video. Advances in video rendering and video/audio editing combined with sophisticated motion capture would allow one person to play a character of either sex, of any ethnicity, and of any age.

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