Virtual production spotlight: Our top 3 technology picks

A lot of gadgets come through the doors of Animatrik – home to the largest independent motion capture stage in North America. With studios in Vancouver and Los Angeles, CEO Brett Ineson will utilise everything from simple green screens to complex camera rigs. Here, we spotlight a few of his favourite tech picks for motion capture and virtual production….

1. Ncam Reality:
Camera tracking technology from Ncam allows us to simultaneously visualize computer graphics while shooting live action. There’s no need for time-consuming system calibration, teaching of environment or surveys.

Ncam technology works by mounting a lightweight sensor bar to the camera rig, tracking natural features in the environment while still allowing the camera to move freely – whether using a Handheld, Pedestal, Jib, Technocrane or Spidercam setup.

The sensor generates a continuous stream of real-time positional tracking data in 3D, compatible with all industry-standard game engines. Indeed, the instant feedback we receive has proved invaluable in capture sessions for the popular super hero films.

2. DI4D’s HMC system:
Using a DI4D stereo camera and head mounted system, we are able to capture the surface of an actor’s face at 60fps without the need for makeup. Moreover, the system is completely mobile – we recently brought it over to the Universal Lot to capture facial nuances for Justice League’s super villain.

DID4’s HMC comprises a lightweight, easily adjustable head rig fitted with two small synchronised video cameras, four small LED lights and a battery pack. Facial geometry is recorded through an attached compact system using “on-the-fly” per frame JPEG compression, then streamed directly to disk. Finally, captured video sequence data is post processed with DI4D dense passive stereo photogrammetry – the world’s first commercial HMC to do so.

The result is incredibly realistic, dense facial animation captured with complete freedom of movement, moving in tandem with the performer. No markers, make up or specialised illumination necessary.

3. Optitrack’s Prime
Deserving of a very special mention, we deployed 110 Optitrack Prime 41 cameras to produce the largest capture volume in history. Their cameras are high quality, low cost and easy to calibrate – it was a no-brainer.

At 185′ x 80′ x 20′ of active capture volume, we doubled the size of the previously claimed record while shooting Warcraft. The Prime Series’ simple setup made life easier on a set crowded with actors, props, and even horses.

Later, we took the Prime 41s to the great outdoors, capturing the world’s top mountain biker performing hits, flips and double tail whips at over 40’ off of the ground –challenging shots that required cameras to be aimed straight at the sun… We even ran into a curious momma bear on set!

Special mention: LEI/Giant
Giant enables filmmakers to control and make decisions about virtual camera moves while production crew are still on set – even when working out previs.

Movie directors are able to frame elaborate virtual-set details in their viewfinders, while also tracking every actor movement, light, leaf and miniscule prop. True-to-performance character animation can be captured faster than ever before.

Using this technology, Animatrik was able to capture a record 21 performers in a live capture at one time. It goes to show that in the mocap business, camera movement is every bit as important as the characters themselves.