The president and CTO of performance capture studio Animatrik discusses work on the largest scale virtual production effort ever undertaken – Warcraft
How did you first get involved in the performance capture industry?
I’ve been passionate about animation since I was ten-years-old. My parents were eager to expose me to cool areas of life that they thought would interest me, so they sent me to an art summer camp in Toronto. I found my way into the animation and TV broadcast track, where we drew flipbooks and used 8mm cameras for stop motion – experimenting with live people and drawings.
Passionate about both animation and computer science, my mum and dad really helped expose me to the industry. I had a high school level programming education long before I ever went to high school! After I graduated University I went off to Vancouver Film School for their 3D programme.
I graduated and landed my first job at Mainframe Entertainment, working on the world’s first ever 3D animated TV show Reboot. Moving up to the role of Senior Technical Director, Mainframe soon landed a show for Sony Entertainment called Heavy Gear. One of the main requirements for the show was motion capture. Through this, I became one of the first people immersed in the technology. I fell in love with it.
Why did you start Animatrik?
In a past I was working for a manufacturer of motion capture cameras, I was helping them to set up for a lot of demos. I became really good at setting up motion capture stages in ad hoc situations, but this expertise also meant travelling a lot. I moved on in favour of a little independence and I found myself doing motion capture work in places like Fiji, Italy, New Zealand, and of course Los Angeles. There came a time that I really wanted to plant some roots. I opened Animatrik to help me to settle down in Vancouver and serve the growing industry here.
What was Animatrik’s very first project? And which challenged you the most?
The first project was District 9, but Warcraft was definitely the most challenging! It was the largest scale virtual production effort ever undertaken, and I think will remain to be until production starts on Avatar 2. It’s really challenging for your project to have a good three or four year run at the top of this field, especially when technology is advancing so quickly.
What excites you about motion capture?
I had a passion for cameras growing up, and even had a job as a camera assistant in still photography. Motion capture is about mixing computer science, animation and cameras together, so I was able to follow all my passions in one go.
What do you see for the future of motion capture?
We see the demand constantly growing. It’s reached a level that we don’t call it motion capture anymore, we call it performance capture, because we’re trying to record the essence of an actor. The future is about iterating over the smallest bodily details, so we can collect more and more data that stays true to what the actor does.
There will be emerging technologies that commoditize this and make it cheaper, but there are also emerging technologies all about resolution and fidelity to photorealism.
And what advice would you give to individuals trying to supply motion capture?
Performance capture is a small, niche industry. Find a company to target. Some might have internship programmes, but like any other production-based job, you have to find any way in!