From the outset, it was always understood that several of the characters in Star Wars Downunder would need to be realised as fully computer generated characters. The reason for which was two fold. One; Michael didn’t know anyone that could create Star Wars quality animatronic aliens and two, it seemed like something no one in a fan film had ever attempted.
Early on the process it was decided that without an army of talented character animators, the best way to bring the computer generated characters to life would be to utilize motion capture. For this process a gyro based motion capture was used. The advantage of this system over optical marker based technology, is that it can be done just about anywhere and in a relatively confined space with use of a single suit transmitting data to a computer. The optical systems require larger studio space. The gyro system employed wasn’t without its problems however, such as the inability for the actor to have both feet off the ground at once (useful for running and jumping)
With the technology in place for the recording of the data, actors were chosen to perform the roles of Bluey and Nugget. Joel Spreadborough, did great renditions of both roles and were different enough from each other that we decided to use him for both. After capturing Joel’s body performance for the two characters, we then set about capturing his facial performance to uses for Nugget’s facial animation. This stage reverts to an optical process to acquire the data. Using two Canon EOS 7d’s with exactly the same lenses, we recorded the actors performing the lines at the higher than normal frame rate of 50 fps. This footage is later synchronized, tracked in a 3d tracking program and converted to data for use in the animation software package Motionbuilder.
Once we had both the body animation data as supplied by the gyro suit, and the facial animation data as supplied by the fairly tedious 3d tracking process, it was ready to be cleaned up then applied to the 3d characters in Motionbuilder. It is here that further enhancements can be made to the performance such as eyeball movements and finger movement that doesn’t come with the motion capture data. Based on the success of this process, we soon realized that we could utilize motion capture to fill out the ranks of both the rebels’ and Drongo’s army. Basic models were constructed, (as they are only ever seen rushing about in the background), and sent to work fighting for their respective sides. Once all of the animation of these virtual characters was taken care of they were sent back to lightwave where they were rendered.