"The value of being able to walk out into a space and explore a virtual world by physically controlling a camera, finding the perfect angles and then shooting multiple takes with the OptiTrack Insight VCS, is truly remarkable. All of this is achieved in a fraction of the time it takes to key frame a single camera take, and the results are more natural."
- Justin Denton,Previs Supervisor, HALON Entertainment.
One day in Montreal at ADAPT 2007, HALON Entertainment's owner and Previsualization Director Dan Gregoire showed his previs system he'd bundled together. This was a compass, a mobile phone, all feeding info to his laptop. All useful bits of technology, not yet collected into a practical off-the-shelf product.
Everyone has also seen the videos with James Cameron moving around the AVATAR set with his Virtual Camera. That one had a Panasonic HiDef screen and an SDI transmitter Velcro-ed onto the back of it. That one was a brilliant one-off.
The OptiTrack Insight VCS is a production-grade system, ready for the market. CGSociety talked to the Previsualization Supervisors for AJ Briones and Justin Denton from Halon Entertainment about the technology they used on Halo: Reach.
Justin Denton, HALON Entertainment, Previsualization Supervisor
|"We realized we had to move forward," said Denton. "We knew MoCap would speed up our pipeline. |
At HALON Entertainment, our focus is still on cameras and we understand that to get that human element of someone holding a camera, while it can be done with key-framing, it is a pretty painstaking process.
It's a fine art to make it feel like there's a cameraman actually holding that camera."
|The HALON Entertainment group took a look at all the different motion capture systems out there. This was in Spring of '09, when there weren't any actual products out there. "Sure, Jim Cameron was doing AVATAR back then with a system created for the shoot, and Jim Henson Studios has been using their version of a Virtual Camera since the 90s," explains Denton. |
"The big studios have had proprietary solutions but there weren't any acceptable products out there for smaller companies. We'd done all the trade shows like SIGGRAPH and GDC looking for a smaller, cheaper product that would fit for our kind of work. At the time, OptiTrack had a very cost-effective actor-based motion capture system starting at around US$6,000."
AJ Briones was the Virtual Cinema Lead Artist on AVATAR, and Previs Supervisor on 'the Halo:Reach commerical. He has built and managed MoCap studios for Midway Games and Vivendi Universal Games.
"Back then I'd use just anything [as a virtual camera]," quips AJ., "in fact back then, we were seeing the kind of Virtual Camera being used by Cameron on AVATAR and a lot of elements have been brought into OptiTrack products that they didn't have back then."
AJ Briones, HALON Entertainment, Previsualization Supervisor
|AJ used an earlier version of the OptiTrack Insight VCS virtual camera system on the Halo:Reach commercial spot. "I couldn't step between prime lenses," Briones says. "I had to get close to what lens I wanted and just nail it down in post. |
But I had the viewfinder and could control scale and platform myself to moving objects, which is similar to what we had on AVATAR."
AJ says he also had playback and recording controls at his fingertips and could step through a scene frame-by-frame. "I didn't have to rely on an operator," he says.
For Halo:Reach, the introduction of the OptiTrack Insight virtual camera system was a watershed moment. They could now create a scene with certain actions built into it and that would be AJ Briones' master file.
He could go in and gather his story board shots using this complete product. "From there I could go off the beaten path and just go and find stuff," explains AJ. "In Previs, having the Insight VCS makes things happen that just weren't possible before.
Earlier, when you got a story idea or script pages, you'd have to figure out exactly which shots were needed, and you might have just enough time to complete them by deadline.
|Now, you take these same story elements and build more comprehensive master scenes, very much like what you'd be doing on a live action set, and you can go in and shoot as many shots as you want in a very short amount of time. |
This is much closer to how production works on a live action set. They get to shoot until they run out of money and we get to shoot until we run out of time. Coverage is really the name of the game in our new shot work-flow paradigm."
|The dataset would then be pulled into both Maya and Motionbuilder. HALON Entertainment first used an alpha version of the Insight VCS using OptiTrack data as a virtual camera tool in Maya. Capturing motion in deeper detail is also possible at up to 250 frames-per-sec. The OptiTrack line can offer a complete set of tools to integrate in the virtual production pipeline, including body and face mocap in addition to the virtual camera system that HALON utilizes.|
|HALON Entertainment has an OptiTrack motion capture stage of 30 ft. by 25 ft. at their home location in Santa Monica, and they also have road kits that can be taken out on location. One recent example was an Insight VCS stage in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which was set up and ready to use in less than half of one work day.|
In addition to Halo:Reach, HALON Entertainment has used the Insight VCS on the feature films John Carter of Mars, directed by Andrew Stanton, and Battleship, directed by Peter Berg, and continues to use OptiTrack products on many of its major feature film and video game projects in action now.