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L OS ANGELES — It has been two years since a graduate-level perfor- mance-capture course was first in- troduced at the USC's School of Cinematic Ar ts, or SCA (, led by Rober t Zemeckis (director of A Christmas Carol, The Polar Express and Beowulf, and producer of Monster House). Recently, we spoke with co-instructor Eric Furie to find out how the course has evolved. The 15-week course, which star ted in Januar y 2007, came about when Zemeckis approached the University of Southern Cal- ifornia with the idea that students should be exposed to performance capture as a film- making technique.To get the program off to a good star t, he told the school he would be willing to get involved in the first class. Word spread, and students were anx- ious to sign up. According to Furie, digital systems specialist and adjunct faculty for motion capture at SCA, there is typically a large demand for the two-semester course. "It's a production class, with stu- dents learning ever ything from calibration, to processing data, to the application of data in different environments." Furie first became involved in motion capture with the opening of the Zemeckis Center for Digital Ar ts in 2001. One of the first people trained on the Vicon motion capture system installed at the Center, which also houses the Electronic Arts Game Design Lab, Furie began leading workshops for animation students interested in rolling mocap into the curriculum. "SCA is divided into six divisions, three of them focused on media creation: produc- tion, interactive and animation," Furie explains. "With most SCA students in one of these three divisions, the majority of them are interested in using mocap for pro- jects they'll be working on later, including games, ar t, or live-action and animated films." It's primarily a graduate-level course but they do make some exceptions. The stage is a 10-by-10-foot mocap vol- ume outfitted with a 20-camera system from Vicon. Eight cameras are dedicated to body capture, while the remaining 12 are designed for 180-degree facial capture. For processing data, the system uses Vicon iQ and Vicon Blade, a single unified toolset for acquisition, solving, cleanup and more, along with Au- todesk MotionBuilder for character rigging. TA K I N G T H E S TAG E Ben Hansford is a student in USC's Film Production/Directing program. "As a director looking to make a career of integrating live action and VFX, having access to motion cap- ture as a student opened amazing doors and infinite performance possibilities," he says. Hansford completed a spec commercial, called Hand 2 Hand, as one of his student projects, which marries motion capture, CG character animation and live action. He learned how to work with motion capture firsthand in the USC program. The mocap class at USC starts out in the first semester by covering various essential software tools of the trade: Vicon iQ and MotionBuilder, as well as Autodesk's FaceR- obot and Maya. In the second semester, the students were able to apply all of that knowledge to real-world projects, with ample access to the mocap stage. Students also got to meet with Zemeckis a few times throughout the semester. "[He] was enlightening to the point of being mind-blowing," Hansford says of the famed director. "We'd get to go on his sets and see what his vir tual camera was seeing on the mocap stage and how he was deal- ing with actors. For Zemeckis, the technol- ogy was invisible and the stor y was king. And his process for working with actors on that bare stage — experiencing that alone was worth my four years of tuition." M OV I N G I N TO T H E F U T U R E Plans are under way to expand the SCA mocap volume to several times its current size, and several cameras will be added to the system, making it into a true perfor- mance-capture stage. "We take a lot of cues from Zemeckis' Imagemovers," Furie ex- plains. "The goal is to build a small-scale ver- sion of how they do their work." The Vicon system was first installed at USC when the Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts opened at USC's School of Cin- ematic Ar ts in 2001, but until 2007, hadn't been used for courses focusing specifically on mocap."Originally, we were working with the Vicon MCam system because that was what Zemeckis was using on Polar Express, and we were emulating his system," explains Furie. "When the larger curriculum came online, we were well invested in Vicon, so growing and upgrading with them seemed a logical choice, and now we've been using Vicon equipment for almost a decade." During the first semester, students cre- ate :30 pieces of their own, which they can then expand to two or three minutes dur- ing the second semester. These projects often will be rolled into animated or live- action thesis projects. "The concept behind the curriculum is that this is a new way to make media. It's not live action, and it's not animation. In some ways it's a hybrid of the two, and in some ways it is its own thing," says Furie. "There is a new world that is evolving out of motion capture that al- lows for its own set of processes, but also its own way of storytelling. We view mocap and performance capture as another way to tell stories, stories very difficult or even impossi- ble to tell in any other way." Hand 2 Hand, which marries mocap, CG and live action, is one of Ben Hansford's student projects. Students get hands-on experience in a real-world environment. USC's SCA evolves its mocap course January 2010 • Post 41 HAND 2 HAND.

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