Performance Capture Shoot Wraps

So the shoot has finally wrapped. It’s been an amazing 5 weeks and the time has flown by. We had a great atmosphere on set and the cast and crew worked together brilliantly. The speed and imagination that went into transforming our trusty ramps, mats and plinths into everything imaginable would have made even the The “A” Team gawp; forests, snow drifts, waterfalls, cliffs, houses, meadows, carriages, weird angular underworld rock landscapes, rubbish tips, guard huts, beds… And then there was “kes” the startling realistic cardboard eagle with training weights in a sock for feet! It a shame it’s all over, as a lot of new friends were made, but we have pick-ups and plenty of ADR left to do yet, so we’ll be arranging future sessions over the next few months. Over the weeks the cast really lifted the script off the page and took it places I’d only started to visualise from the text and storyboards (on the subject of storyboards, there was much excitement over master Chavdar’s on set story boarding. If we fail to get finance for the rest of the movie we’ll be selling his drawings online; could probably raise a few million) As a result we have some great solo and ensemble stuff and I’m not ashamed to say my eyes welled up when we filmed Becky’s tumultuous beach scene. (assisted by our use of onset music.. The finale of Mahler’s second symphony in this case) The hard core technical work begins now, to bring all the performances into our CG world. It’s not going to be quick but it’s going to be good ūüôā

Report From the Shoot: Week 2 (8th – 13th August)

Week 2 now over with the bulk of the ensemble drama now captured. This week we saw a huge range of shots from fast visceral action (thanks to our “stunt” Stina: Lucy.) to satisfyingly awkward kitchen sink drama. The film is now taking shape and we’ll clearly have a wealth of material to select from after the shoot. (A rather terrifyingly huge amount in fact) A hectic and thoroughly enjoyable week; Plus the actors and crew got wave swords around. (until Alex hid them under the ramps)

Report From the Shoot: Week 1 (2nd – 6th August)

All the crew and cast turned up promptly on the first day, except ¬†the director, who came down with flu the day before: typical. ¬† It transpired that the crew and cast had no need for his services anyway and Alex and the mo-cap team soon had everything up and running with the fitting and calibrating of the borrowed VICON super cameras. They provided fantastic coverage of all 4 actors at once, even with our set props occluding some of the action. No mean feat. This was a massive relief, as we hadn’t tested any of this kit and if it hadn’t worked with all 4 actors and set, we would have had a very short shoot! ¬†Meanwhile the rest of the crew got the actors suited up and tested out shot process with call sheets,props, set, facial cameras and audio and made ready to roll for the next days shooting. The following days saw us finally getting our teeth into shooting the film, and with some great performances down (including some splendid “wolf” fights on day 1) We got a good few of the early scenes in the bag. By Friday the set was running like a well oiled professional film shoot, which is testament to the hard work and dedication of all involved, as it’s a¬†particularly¬†complex process performance capture: It involves separate audio, facial and body capture with all the attendant umbilical cords and re application of face dots and markers etc. ¬†having be coordinated simultaneously. The sickly director dragged his sorry frame in on day 2 and croaked his way through the weeks directing, ¬†whilst attempting to not infect the actors and crew. Time will tell how successful the later was, fingers crossed. ¬†By Friday every one was tired but excited, as it has been a fantastic first week. Let’s hope it all goes as well in week 2.


On Set Rehearsals

So, we’re now a week into on set production. The mocap stage is finally in use with motion,facial, audio and set pieces all working well. We’ve been rehearsing hard with the actors, who’ve succeeded in bringing life to the scenes in ways well beyond what’s apparent on the printed page, crafting some vivid characters in the process. The crew have been particularly patient, working around the rehearsals and jumping in to action to build sets and test capture for the shoot next week. Special thanks go out to them, as they’ve had to do a lot of waiting around this week.
All in all Its been a very useful preparation for the shoot, with all the major scenes now rehearsed and blocked out and most of the kit tested. Next week we start filming. Its going to be hard work I suspect, but a lot of fun.
shoot+rehersal+8 shoot+rehersal+6 shoot+rehersal+7 shoot+rehersal+5 shoot+rehersal+4 shoot+rehersal+3 shoot+rehersal+2
Next report after we’ve wrapped in September.


Making the Movie

Paul here with a lot to report since my last post.¬† Our research¬† trip to the Carpathians was a great success and proved once and for all that lecturers have a much higher level of general fitness than the youth of today,¬† with myself and Jackie bravely leading the assembled student throng up a mountain with not so much as a nibble on a bar of Kendal Mint Cake. (Although we were forced to eat snow after the gallons of fresh mountain spring water promised by our Turkish/Romanian host failed to materialise. I’d recommend Kendal Mint Cake for future ventures) The landscape was stunning and when not resting, the students collected a great array of visual research¬†material¬†which is already proving invaluable in concept art and environmental design (see below) and should give us an excellent texture¬†library.


Our hosts were¬†marvellous¬†and kept us stocked up on local delicacies, hookah cherry pipe tobacco and almost infinite amount of sheep‚Äôs cheese, also patiently accommodating our daily requirement for “English Tea”. Their dancing also far¬†surpassed¬†our puny English efforts.
Meanwhile, back in old Blighty, the cast were having their faces submerged in blue jelly in aid of capturing their likenesses for the facial capture process. Ros, Teresa and Graeme worked like Troopers keeping the casting production line rolling all day and the actors were by all accounts incredibly brave, and remarkably relaxed in the face of total head marination (not sure i’d of been so calm)
Other exciting news: We have been lent an additional 8 top of the range motion capture cameras by VICON for the whole duration of the shoot (By top of the range i mean each one is worth twice what I earn in a year; students please¬†don’t¬†leave your energy drinks on these cameras) giving us a total of 20 cameras to cover our new larger mocap stage. According to Alex, our motion capture supervisor, they are pretty much the best motion capture cameras available to humanity, so we should be able to capture every nuance of the on set performances.
Our wooden set pieces are half way finished, with Roy doing a splendid (and very speedy) job of helping us turn our flat mocap stage into a mutable rugged mountain terrain. We now have a team of around 15 crew recruited to work on set doing the facial capture, prop and set construction, audio capture, motion capture and logistical support (including biscuits). We also have a lot of new team members in FOAMDigital and will be listing a new full crew and cast list when we build our new slimed down site in the next few months.(after shooting)
The script is now locked for the shoot, having had a quite a few tweaks and revisions (21 to be exact) resulting from a varied and reassuringly positive range of feedback (Thanks to all those who took the trouble to read and feedback) Particular thanks go to John Brice ( who gave up many hours of his time advising, emailing and giving inspiration during the revision process.
We now have a full cast with the final addition of Martin as the Pipe Catcher; An actor of stage and screen with a wealth of experience in TV and theatre and the owner of a rather splendid voice. Rehearsals start on 25th July and shooting starts the following week ending 25th August. We are spending the remaining 4 weeks frantically making the final preparations to our on set pipeline and the mocap stage. It‚Äôs going to be an incredibly busy time but it’s all very very exciting, as we are finally putting everyone‚Äôs hard work into action and making the movie we’ve been planning for the last 2¬†years.
Signing off for now,

50 Sided Rubik’s Cube

It has been many moons (well 2) Since i last posted. Well things have been fairly hectic as we approach¬†full production. FOAM¬†digital¬†now has 35+ people and we no longer fit in our meeting room, so we are¬†looking to move from our existing¬†premises¬†(lecture room) into another premises (a bigger lecture room, if¬†no one else is using it) Production has started on the construction of set props for the motion capture¬†shoot and it looks like we’ll be able to create something¬†resembling¬†a set for the actors; window frames,¬†doors, mantle piece, table etc. as well as 2 adjustable 8 by 3 foot ramps that we can use to make different¬†surface inclines.. No really! ¬†You are on a steep mountain meadow!!
We also now have a complete first draft of the screenplay which is presently undergoing¬†revisions. Our Art¬†director Jackie has already scribbled all over it with art related requests (demands). So it will hopefully at¬†the very least look good (arty). We now have a¬†rehearsal¬†and capture schedule that takes us from 25th July¬†through to the 25th of August. This has been a¬†particularly¬†challenging¬†task for the director, as he has found¬†scheduling¬†45 scenes, with 8 actors, conflicting holidays, differnt¬†combinations¬†of actors in each scene and¬†different¬†set, prop and capture requirements akin to solving a ¬†50 sided rubiks cube,¬†underwater, whilst tap¬†dancing. ¬†However, after a few nights of blankly starring at an excel spread sheet that is now too big to fit¬†on a 40 inch plasma screen, we have a fairly¬†concrete¬†timetable for shooting. ¬†Still lots to do, as we¬†still need to organise some of the more¬†technical¬†aspects of each scene and dry run the audio, facial and¬†motion capture¬†processes¬†so we can keep the shoot moving along smoothly. ¬†Talking of¬†dancing, We¬†now have a new role in ¬†the team: student Natalie Curds has joined us to help organise some of the dance¬†elements of the film and presently has the title “Mistress of the Dance” until we can work out what her job’s¬†actually called. We also have a Music student, Thomas Duffin, ¬†who has offered to start looking at sound design, which will form a vital part in the overall narrative and atmosphere of the film.¬†Also, our facial capture guy Geoff¬†Samuels¬†contunies to deveop his software and its coming along nicely; I know this¬†because¬†i now no longer fully understand his descriptions of how it ¬†works.

Cast news: Steph from our Gregg school¬†contingent has now taken on the additional role of Stina’s Aunt.¬†¬†We have a new¬†character: a boy in the village called “Petov” ¬†who we are now looking to cast as soon as possible. We have also started auditioning for the¬†role¬†of “Pipe Catcher”. ¬†All other roles are now cast. On the 2d art¬†front,¬†Dan Little our graphic artist¬†has¬†provided us with new logos for “FOAM digital” and “Stina and the Wolf” which are a vast improvement on the ones i knocked out last year.

Along side the production ramp up, we have also been developing a full film quality 720p demo sequence of footage taken from mo-cap right though to finished render and composite; complete with with foley, sound design and music. This is about 80% complete and we will post up the full sequence next month. For now. Here are some stills:

Stina Demo Stills

Other FOAM news: We now have a very large asset list for FOAM of all¬†the¬†characters, models and environments required for production. That should keep us busy for 25 years or so. Also, team¬†members¬†are now booked on to flights to Romania, so we can experience the¬†Carpathian¬†mountains for¬†ourselves¬†and hopefully bring some of that experience back with photos,¬†drawings and video. (travelling out in 2 groups on 2 consecutive days.. the joy of¬†on-line¬†booking) Myself¬†and Jackie will be flying out with 9 (at the last count) students. That’s all for now folks.
( Director of Spreadsheets)

Production Update

The last month has seen the production ramping up in preparation to tackle the complex shot process required to make the film. As the process planned is effectively the same as the one used in Avatar (quite a big production), we’ve been designing a pipeline to make all the departments hand assets between each other as efficiently as possible. We have a full production pipeline test planned this month where we hope to take a trial shot from motion capture (complete with facial capture and audio) through all the various stages to a fully realized shot that will see Stina in her native environment ( mountains or forest ) all done with audio and music. As well as testing out the pipeline, we hope to use this exercise to generate a finished sequence we can take to next years SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference in America; hopefully we can raise some interest and maybe even some money for the rather large amount of computer storage space we are going to need to house the full production data.
Other news: Becky patiently allowed us to plaster her forehead with quick setting¬†bandages in the interest of getting a life cast so we could custom fit her facial capture camera rig . (when we’d finally stopped laughing: The fetching combo of green garden bags, swimming cap and plaster of Paris was a bit overpowering) regrettably no photos were taken here.
Also, we have started work on a virtual camera for the mocap studio; This will allow us to use captured camera movements, which should hopefully add a live flair to the direction as and when we need it. We’ve also commissioned a talented wood worker to help us build set pieces (doors, tables etc) and modular ramps ( for changing floor inclines) for the mocap studio. These have to be as transparent as possible for the capture cameras to work, so this should prove suitably¬†challenging. Luckily it looks like we’re going to move to a much bigger room for the summer capture sessions. So we can at least pretend we’re in a very small field somewhere high up in the mountains and not in Portsmouth town center (I plan to dress the walls with Alpine images¬†and¬†maybe nip down Quiksave for¬†some¬†Forest fresh air freshner.. If we have any money left by the summer that is) All for now.


Hand Stitched Dalek Antennae

After a brief break to¬†celebrate¬†the hallowed festival of Winterval, the team is now cranked up and is back up to speed producing film¬†related¬†stuff. ¬†We now have 3 functioning facial capture systems with¬†accompanying¬†Velcro¬†straps and¬†expertly¬†sewed nylon strapping and have the talented Geoff¬†Samuels¬†doing¬†some¬†kind of magical giggery-pokery on¬†the¬†computer that will allow us to interpret the facial recordings into usable animation data. We’ve tested them all out on the actors, which went well once they had stopped laughing at the prospect of having hand¬†stitched¬†Darlek¬†antennae¬†strapped to the their fore-heads.
We now have the¬†performance¬†capture session scheduled in for July – August, accompanied by¬†the¬†reassuring¬†knowledge that the planned 5 story university extension, ¬†being¬†constructed¬†opposite the¬†motion capture studio, is well¬†behind¬†schedule; so we won’t have the expected sound track of pile driving steel¬†girders¬†while we try and capture our actors. ¬†We have, however, discovered¬†that the university is keen to completely¬†replace¬†the air¬†conditioning¬†system in¬†the¬†mocap studio the month we are capturing the film data. This is in the¬†process¬†of being¬†forcefully¬†renegotiated. ¬†Regarding¬†the¬†script we now have a solid first act blocked out on a scene by¬†scene¬†basis with the rest of the film tightly plotted, but without scene level detail. ¬†We are confident¬†the¬†first draft will be finished by Easter and have¬†lined¬†up a collection of¬†notable¬†film¬†industry¬†gurus to give us feedback and help us iron out any loose¬†ends by the end of June.¬†¬†The work at FOAM is slowly cranking up to full production speed and we have a visual¬†research¬†trip to mount OMU in¬†the¬†Carpathian¬†mountains¬†planned for¬†the¬†Easter¬†holidays,¬†that should hopefully prove inspiring and¬†useful, so long as nobody strays from¬†the¬†path or develops a fondness for the cheap¬†Romanian¬†wine. The work in Environments is going well and we have some excellent Carpathian mountain¬†environments coming from¬†Harry¬†Ellard and some very spooky caves coming from Sam Hoffman. ¬†We now have a generic facial¬†animation¬†system for¬†the¬†creatures¬†department¬†who will be modelling all¬†the¬†characters and¬†their¬†accompanying¬†faces¬†over the next few months (from the wonderfully¬†weird¬†and disturbing designs coming from our production designer Chavdar Yordanov) Our actors have now had¬†their¬†pictures taken and are in the process of being turned into¬†virtual¬†CG characters (with a few¬†tasteful¬†design additions from Chavdar) All for now.

December Production Update

The Stina facial animation rig is now finished (finally!) and has all the functionality of the Gollum rig from Lord of the Rings (that it was initially based on) with a few automated extra features (such as automatic proximity based lip meniscus) that should make the 80 minutes of screen time vaguely feasible! We are now planning to build a full facial capture system to save us having to hand animate the whole 80 minutes (i.e. how Gollum was done – Incredibly time consuming) We’ll still be doing a clean up pass in Animation from the original filmed reference, but this should cut production time down radically. We’re relatively confident this can be done by FOAM without contracting externally. We’re presently chatting to various companies about their experiences doing facial capture and have a talented PHD student starting on the capture software full time in February; plus a wealth of knowledge on fuzzy logic systems within the university. This will hopefully form the backbone of the system. It does mean, however, that our actors will all have to have face casts made and have a camera (light weight honestly.. modern technology init! they won’t even know its there!!) strapped, very comfortably, to their heads.
This month we also cast our first male role GUNTER, who is to be played by the talented actor David Taylor. David is a professional actor with a wealth of experience in theatre and film. We did some workshops at the Gregg school with David, Becky and Lucy (who play Stina and Gunter’s side kick Olaf) and were very encouraged by the dynamics coming out of the session. It gave us some great ideas to enrich the screenplay. We’re also continuing with other workshops with the other cast members and its great to see them starting to inhabit their characters. And well done to Evie for putting up with all the ill people last week! Particularly as the last session rather dissolved into a flu infused laughter session by the end.
FOAM has taken on some new staff this month, with the ranks of MODELLING, ANIMATION, CREATURES and ENVIRONMENTS now up to respectable numbers: good work here John! The dept. leads are now leading their teams effectively and the work seems to be flowing from everyone. Good variety of stuff on show at dallies this week. We also have a new architectural student, Henry, who has joined as a production designer and is helping us fix the art work bottle neck by designing the village and surrounds.

We’d like to welcome the following new additions to the team:
Phil Shenton
Athos Cammell
Matthew Hernandez

Laura Millar
Tautvydas Katkevicius
Luke Wilkins

Tang tsz-hin

Stephen Campbell
Edd McDermott
Rokas kucinskas
Simon Pearce

Dan Little

David Taylor (to play Gunter)

cheers, Paul

First Motion Capture Tests

We’ve now completed our first motion capture tests with mocap supervisor Alex Council and a few of the actresses. It was a very useful exercise, accompanied by much amusement at the silly blue costume and the somewhat surreal situation of performing a scene supposedly set in the mountainside, in a white room, whilst covered from head to foot in velcroed reflective spheres. Becky was particularly patient, as she was this session’s mocap muppet ūüôā We are now using the collected motion capture data to test out the rest of the pipeline. We also tested out some high quality hands free mics in an effort to test out capturing on-set audio, as an alternative to ADR overdubs later. This worked well (although a few worries about air-conditioning noise – hopefully we can turn this off for final capture)

The effects on the film are now to be provide by the newly formed FOAM Digital, an effects facility imbedded within the faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries at Portsmouth University. The departments have been hard at work developing 3d assets for the production. The script is still under development by Red Rabbit Films and we are aiming get the first draft down by the end of Christmas. Concept and production art are still rolling out and we are aiming to accelerate the production of this in the next few weeks, as it’s starting to create a bit of a bottleneck in the production process.