Mocap: Final Product

The question I was trying to answer for my Motion Capture project was: Can I use motion capture to successfully animate a non-human character?

The answer, much to my surprise, is YES!

It’s safe to say this motion capture final render won’t work its way into any award shows, however, I realise that I shouldn’t be so hard on my self. I took a risk and tried to achieve something that was outside my comfort zone, so it’s also safe to say I actually managed to pull it off, if not somewhat awkwardly.

This is one project that I will be spending more time on though, so check back later and hopefully, Vardo will be doing some pretty inspiring things.

Motion Capture: Vardo, and the test results

What I have learned throughout this experience is, that I have managed to create a solution that will work for previs, I have a way to go before I can call this avenue of research finessed enough to satisfy me. I need to create a solution that will keep the wheels reliably on the ground, and also have them move more easily with the body, I need to figure out how to add doors, and windows to Vardo that are able to be keyframed and move seamlessly with the Vardo’s body.

I have concluded that the best, and a somewhat easiest way to achieve a good result to have the motion capture actor stand with their feet together. This way, when weighting the skin to the foot controls it is easier to maintain an equal distance from the wheelbase.

While running my tests I compared both methods, and although I do love the way Vardo jumps all about in the version where the entire mesh is parented to the rig, I much prefer the usability of having the wheels and base separate. Going forward, I will consider trialing a blendshape, or ncloth simulation.

Overall, I am happy that I made it work to a satisfactory level, but I would love to see this through to a more usable and versatile solution.

Below is a comparison of the two different models I trialed.

I have dozens of other test videos!

Modelling Vardo for Motion Capture

I have a tendency to overdo things, so after my first few trials, I realized I had to pull it back to be able to test my mocap without taking HOURS repainting skin weights. Below is a super sped up video of the modeling process.

I do have footage of how terrible this model worked out and will include it in my making of the video, one thing I soon realized what I wasn’t going to be able to make the wheels, doors, and window shutters move independently of the while ensuring the travel with it in a seamless manner.

Below is a schematic of how I finally managed to put Vardo together. But parenting the wheelbase to the foot controls I could move the entire vehicle with the main character controller, and by parenting the wheels to the base I could place keyframes on them.



UPDATE I just had a brainwave about how I could make this better!

Motion Capture: Recording the data/cortex/Motionbuilder

I am quite fortunate to have a friend named Jenny who was happy put on the mocap suit not once but twice. For some reason we had technical difficulties with the first capture session so had to go back. In preparation for my trails, I asked her to do a series of basic moves: Happy, sad, angry, etc, as well as a hip bend and turn.

Here is a photo of what such a good sport she is.

mocap capture photo

Then after collecting the data off, I take it to the cortex suit. Fixing the data is something that does actually get easier in time, so I managed to clean all my data in a few hours. If anything can be said about it, it’s tedious and requires high attention to detail. I can’t record the screen so you will have to settle for this low budget cellphone footage. however, it does the job.

Then it’s off to motion builder where you retarget all the motion points to a character. Which led to some interesting results to start with.

More on this later!


Motion Capture: Development/Research

Somewhere between my last post and this one my experimental motion capture project took a bit of a left turn. In part because of time constraints, but also because another avenue took my interest.

I decided to combine my Animation Capstone Vardo with my Motion Capture in an effort to create a way I could use motion capture technology to create a pre-vis in preparation for creating the keyframed animation.

I wasn’t entirely sure I could achieve this, which worried me. I don’t take failure well, especially when I am sure that I can figure something out so I doggedly started my research into how I could proceed.

After casting a google net I realized that there isn’t that much research into this practice yet, and although plenty of people are making arms longer to create an ape, or applying the data to a monster character there hasn’t been too much experimentation using it with vehicles.

The anthropomorphized Vardo of my Capstone is inspired in part by the Pixar animation Cars, but you can learn more about my project by watching my video essay on the subject of using an anthropomorphized non-human character.

Below is the video that inspired my own search for a solution to my problem, and although they are using methods that outweigh my current knowledge with time and practice I believe I will be able to come up with an appropriate solution.



Capstone: Treatment & Mood Boards Version One

Treatment & Mood boards Version One

I am going to prefix this post by stating that this the starting point of Vardo’s story. I am sure, not unlike the hardships he takes on his journey so will my capstone project. For a start, my treatment ended up over 1500 words long! Although after rereading in the cold hard light of day (and a few hours sleep) it was pointed out to me that I use the word ‘forward’ far too many times. I just went back and checked, I used it 7 times in one paragraph, which happens to be the only paragraph that word appears.

Below are my first iterations of the Mood Board and my epic treatment. Some of the other feedback received in class is how can I refine my story so he becomes more concise, and how could I tell Vardo’s story in a two-minute feature. I do not want to shorten my blue sky version of the story, I believe this animation would work in a longer format, but for the capstone, I aim to create a quality animation so will need to keep in mind the relatively short time frame I have to work with.

I am considering creating my final animation as a trailer for the longer format Vardo. If you have any feedback that you believe would benefit from hearing please do comment or send me an email.


Title: Vardo

Treatment: Version One

The scene opens on a caravan wheel, above it is a clear blue sky, below the lush green grass, and nearby the sound of a church bell swinging gaily and a group of people cheering in celebration can be heard. The camera pans out to reveal a young Romany couple celebrating their marriage.

The Romany couple hand over the money to the coachbuilder and in return they collect Vardo. The young couple is overjoyed and Vardo responds, coming to life, his paintwork sparkles and glows as he basks in the praise of how beautiful he is. The young Romany couple poses proudly in front of their home for a photo (Polaroid or old-fashioned?) and the photo of them both smiling is inserted into an old-fashioned pocket watch case.

Vardo’s family, now with the new edition of a child travels with his family pack, several other wooden caravans travelling together. The people who live in the caravans are smiling and happy.

The caravans stop to camp for the night, dinner is being cooked, and Vardo snoozes peacefully. The quiet night is interrupted by the sound of a police siren. Police on bikes round them up and urge them all to move on. Vardo rousing himself from sleep is scared, he struggles to organise himself and get away from the police. In their haste to get away items from their campfire get left behind.

As Vardo travels through the small village near where they were camping with the police in pursuit villages alerted to the hubbub by all the noise start to take to the streets, they are carrying pitchforks and cricket bats to defend themselves from the perceived intruders. The cobblestone pavement is bumpy and the road is hard for Vardo to navigate, as the wheels bounce up and down over the bricks items fall from the caravan.

Vardo is exhausted and finally finds a space to rest he sinks down, feeling all of his weight as the adrenaline leaves his wooden frame.

As night falls some of the village youngsters creep up to Vardo, joking quietly with each other they place wooden chocks under Vardo’s wheels.

Morning breaks and Vardo prepares to start the journey to the next campsite. He releases his breaks eager to put this unwelcoming town behind him, but his acceleration is thwarted. He tries to move forward again, pulling and straining until rocking back into place with a judder. He pauses to consider his situation for a beat and then starts rocking back and forth, his motions becoming more frantic as his panic mounts, but he doesn’t stop. Items fall from his walls, but he ignores them, focusing on this task until finally his wheels loosen enough so that one last spring-loaded motion ejects the wooden chocks and Vardo catapults himself so fast that speed wobbles shakes his planks. Slamming on his breaks he jerk forwards, the momentum shunting what is left of his equipment to the front of his carriage. Now in control Vardo drops to a more sedate pace.

Vardo reaches a new town he pulls up next to enormous motor homes, the camera pans up to reveal the sheer size of them dwarfing the tiny wooden wagon. Vardo refuses to be cowered by them, he is a Romany, and proud. Safe with the knowledge that his family adore him.

As Vardo travels through the town he notices more shiny new caravans for sale on a sales lot, there are some older wooden wagons dumped behind the building. The old wooden wagons are falling apart, faded, and discarded. Vardo looks at the old wagons with pity, safe with the knowledge that his family treasure him. Perched on the back of Vardo, unbeknownst to him, his family eye the shiny fancy caravans with interest.

When Vardo pulls up to a signed posted ‘Designated Gypsy campsite’ he notices several fancy new caravans there. Vardo’s family demonstrate how interested they are in the fancy new caravans walking over to admire them and talk to their families.

Vardo watches his family, creeping closer to try and hear what they are saying, Vardo finds comfort from his family’s child, the child notices Vardo and waves, then blows a childlike kiss before their mother takes their hand. The family are listening to fancy caravan owner as they animatedly share how amazing it is, Vardo looks on in horror as his family disappears inside.

Vardo and his family approach a fork in the road, the entrance to town is guarded, with a large sign post stating ‘NO GYPSIES ALLOWED’. Vardo slows in trepidation, unsure what to do.

The fancy new caravans travelling with them get through the cordon with ease. Vardo decides to follow suit, getting in line with the others. When it’s Vardo’s turn to pass through the men at the gate standing in front, crossing their arms and shaking their head. They tap the sign behind them and point the other fork in the road. The road in that direction is dark, with the signs of an obvious storm brewing.

Dejected, with no other choice, Vardo and his family travel the harsh road. The road is hard to navigate, everyone is nervous as Vardo creeps along a narrow road on a mountainside. His wheels are right on the edge. As he nearly slips down the side rocks are worked loose, Vardo shunts hard into the left to prevent losing traction, and an item that works loose plummets to down the cliff face making a loud crashing sound as it tumbles down and down.

With relief Vardo’s family make it to the relative safety of a hooded forest area. The clearing is damp, and low lying fog shrouds the family. They are all cold. The family heat bricks in the fire to warm their bed for the night. They sleep together dressed in their winter coats and hats for warmth. Vardo tries hard to provide enough heat to warm them in his tiny hearth, but his family still shiver.

Finally, Vardo and his family make it to the next designated campground. Vardo’s lustre had faded, the harsh journey has broken and splinted his woodwork, and his paint has peeled. His family are welcomed into another’s fancy new caravan and don’t come out. Vardo is left watching and waiting for his family to return.

Time passes indicated by the sun tracking across the sky and Vardo still waits. Shadows are cast long by the time his family return and the perplexed Vardo sets off with once more. Vardo knows that they are supposed to be at this campsite for a few weeks.

The family travel sales lot similar to the one they had seen previously. Vardo starts to get nervous, he slows, finding every bump and pothole in the road in an attempt to slow his journey towards the shiny new caravans and his inevitable fate. His protests only serve him negatively as the final items on the outside of his body fall to the ground, being left behind.

Shrunken with failure and the grief he is being left behind his watches helplessly as his family unload their belongings from his interior and take them to their new home. His one last hope is their child, who refuses to help them. Their child tries to put some boxes back into Vardo, but the child is scolded by his Mother and finally gives up. The enormous motorhome purrs with self-satisfaction. The couple takes a moment to pat Vardo one last time, and walk away from him the reluctant child in their arms. The child stares at Vardo with a tear-stained face, one last tear falling down his cheek.

Vardo’s wheels are cut off and lay inertly against him. He is used as a storage shed, with old discarded items flung haphazardly inside him. Many years pass, freezing winters, scorching summers, wind and rain lashing at his neglected body. Grass and weeds grow up around him, root him to his resting place, imprisoning him. Vardo’s wood has become silver with age and parts of his once proud roof is caved in.

A Romany man approaches Vardo. Vardo has been inert for so long he barely registers he has company. The man walks a loop around his exterior, tugging at the weeds that cover him like a carpet. The Romany man smiles pats Vardo’s shameful exterior. Vardo falls back dormant.

Vardo is shaken awake with the awful feeling of being ripped from the ground. He is being lifted up by a tractor and carried away. He is panicked by his sudden change of pace.

Vardo is taken to a workshop, where the man starts to cut large pieces from him. Vardo realises that this is his final end. He will be hacked apart piece by piece until nothing else remains. He decides stoically to give himself over to his end.

However, instead of being torn apart, he experiences the strange sensation of rehabilitation. Piece by piece he finally comes back to himself, until he feels the gentle caress of the paintbrush, as a new vibrancy is restored.

Elated Vardo and the Romany man exit the workshop, the Romany man, sitting up front pulls an old-fashioned pocket watch from his pocket and flips it open. Inside is contained a weathered photo of the Romany couple standing proudly in front of a newly minted Vardo.





The Siren Situation – The final animation!

Plastered around my desk and home is a quote by Nelson Mandela, ‘It always seems impossible, until it’s done.’ this is a quote that keeps me sane when I feel like I will never complete a project or figure a problem out.

This animation was a hard slog to start with, I kept saying all I needed was that one good idea, and guess what, I was right. It came just as I was committing to creating my animated documentary in 2d, using Adobe After Effects.

After a conversation with my lecturer Miriam I decided to dedicate a few days to try it out in a 3D space. It didn’t take long to realise that is what this story was missing. Which led me down a path of modelling an entire school set, complete with 3d corrugated cardboard. (which took a lot longer than I anticipated.

After a short fight with the Autorig in Maya I rigged my characters with Rapid Rig, which although took time to learn how to use, it was time well spent. It is a LOT easier to animate with a good rig! I have to admit to wishing I had spent a bit more time with the skin weight painting, but I have to keep reminding myself, it’s cardboard, you can get away with a few broken polygons. Sadly the perfectionist in me is screaming FIX IT!

I am also grateful to my tutor Hossein who taught us how to use Substance Painter. Although I am still quite the novice I already see how useful it is to have a photoshop type product that allows you to paint on a 3d surface.

I am looking forward to employing my new found skills in a new project over summer, I’ve got my thinking cap on. I will also be looking for some work experience before next year, not just to work towards the 60 hours we have to do as part of year three, but also for my own personal and professional development.

So without further ado, here it is! My very first animated documentary. The wheels in my head are already turning about what my next one can be about.


Below is the ‘Making of’ video.

Production Schedule – Animated Doco

Yes, it’s crucial that I stay on top of the time line process to make sure that I complete this animation on time for hand in. The due date for this is Wednesday 25th October, so I have 44  Days   — or —   6  Weeks and  2  Days. (Thanks, Day counter!)

Week One: Complete production schedule, at least half of the assets I will need to complete animation. Polish off the audio, make sure girls audio levels match, and add sound effects. Add the extra scene of the kids running past an open door and teacher looking out of the door to animatic. Down load the DUIK After Effects Plug in. Check out the Lynda tutorial on this. (DUik Rigging & Animating. Reflect on the strength of my own work.
Here are some links on how to use the Duik plug in – How to rig – Duik ik animation in After Effect Getting started  Lynda tutorial. – Facial Rigging.

Week Two: Complete the rest of the assets and start blocking out animation. Make sure that I have the comic book speech bubbles to work with my animation.

Week Three: Continue with animating.  Book time for the green screen for next week (Tues or Wens).

Week Four: Continue with animating, compositing, colour grading etc. Kids go on holiday this week so I will organise a time to bring them int of film on the green screen.

Week Five: Rendering and final compositing of visual and audio.

Week Five: Contingency plan, this week is the buffer to make sure that every thing is complete.

This is all subject to change, of course, there is a high chance I have missed heaps out!!!