New lease of life for Caprino Studios

Published
10. september 2004
MOCAP studio panorama

Since the premiere of Pinchcliffe Grand Prix in Norway in 1975, no puppet films have been produced at the Caprino Filmcenter at Snarøya outside Oslo. One of the main reasons was that it was just too expensive to produce quality animation films with the ambition of creating sound, quality entertainment based on Norwegian culture and heritage. "For a market no bigger than 25% of a London market, the financial risk is basically over the odds!", says Remo Caprino, son of Ivo, and executor of the Caprino estate.

During production of the Pinchcliffe movie, the figures were moved using so-called stop-motion photography, whereby the figures were moved physically just a tiny amount for each image shot. Once you know that it took 24 images to produce every second seen on film, you get an idea of the enormously time-consuming work behind this animation technique. No surprise then that it took 6 years to produce the movie!

Motion Capture

Quicktime

See a 360-degree panoramic image of the studios! Requires you to have Quicktime installed on your computer.

To make quality Norwegian puppetry movies again, a new technology was called for. That technology is now available, and is called Motion Capture (MOCAP). Over the past year, we have invested heavily in total refurbishment of the old Caprino Filmcenter. Because film as such is no longer produced. Nowadays, the "new" Caprino Studios' productions are made with the aid of computer animation. MOCAP allows us to transfer the physical movements of live, MOCAP actors to a computer-animated character. In principle, this could be anything from Lambert to a gigantic Norwegian troll, or other monsters. Many of you may be familiar with Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movie. The Gollum character was brought to "life" with the aid of MOCAP technology.

Specially designed cameras

Mario Caprino (son of Remo) demonstrates the technique in the new customised premises at Caprino Studios. Mounted all along the walls are 12 specially designed cameras that emit and register infrared light. A MOCAP actor wears a special body suit with small reflective markers (around 50 of them) positioned at key points. When at least 3 cameras map the same marker simultaneously, the computers start calculating - with a precision of better than one millimetre - where in the virtual room (L 6 x W 4 x H 3 metres) that marker is positioned. As the actor moves, all the markers will be mapped by the cameras, and the powerful computers then process all the data almost instantaneously and display the results on a large screen in the Studios. In this way the actor can actually watch himself, in the role of Ash Lad, say, as he makes the required movements. The entire process is controlled from the console in a corner of the studio by Mario and Voja, Caprino's senior animator.

Facial movement

Ragnhild with 104 reflective markers

Here the system is set up to record facial movement using a technique known as facial capture.

Not only can the MOCAP system, and those who operate it, map and process the slightest movement - even when several markers are hidden from the cameras, e.g. if the actor rolls around on the floor or is in close combat with another actor, the hidden markers can be recreated so that the figure to be rendered gets the right data for producing the required movements. Even supposing the MOCAP actor doesn't move exactly as required, at a later stage the animator can make any changes that might be needed!

The MOCAP system can also be used for synchronising speech and images. This is known as "Facial Capture" and involves positioning up to 150 markers at strategic points on the actor's face. As the actor's lips - and other parts of the face - move, this data can be transferred to a digital figure. The whole system is almost scarily realistic, and gives a sense of things to come.

Impressive

It's an impressive sight when the Caprino team give a demonstration showing Ash Lad ambling around in the film studio, responding to the actor's slightest movement. This gives you an inkling of the potential this opens up. When we see some of the samples created by the animation team to explore this potential we are just bowled over. Here we get to see Ash Lad, the Troll, Sonny Duckworth - and even a computer-animated Ivo Caprino - in the most incredible scenarios. But we are also asked not to reveal too much, since some of these demos are prestudies for the bonus material on the DVD version of the fairytale movies and Flåklypa Grand Prix/Pinchcliffe Grand Prix due out next fall.

A growing market

But it's not only the Caprino characters who can look forward to a new lease of life. Caprino Studios also offers its MOCAP service to others, and the applications are endless.

"The movie and TV industries are obviously the immediate takers," explains Remo, "but not everyone is aware of the amazing potentials this technology opens up for, so we'll probably have to provide a bit of 'adult education', he adds. "Companies producing computer games will obviously also benefit from the opportunity to use the facilities at Snarøya."

The MOCAP system at Caprino Studios can also be used for capturing movement in completely different contexts. For example, the technology can be put to very effective use in sports, allowing any movement to be studied in detail from any angle and in slow motion. The same goes for industrial and medical research, plus education.

"Caprino Studio's is now right at the cutting edge of technological development in computer animation and is using the premium system for Motion Capture. Few studios worldwide currently have both the equipment and expertise to match ours! This is due to the fact that we are also end-users of the data that MOCAP technology offers" raves Remo.

Exciting times

Once again, Caprino Studios pique our curiosity, and once again we can begin to look forward to fabulous productions from the studios at Snarøya. What these will be, only time will tell. But it sure looks promising!