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Motion-capture thespians

Marketplace Staff Apr 18, 2007

Motion-capture thespians

Marketplace Staff Apr 18, 2007


MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: A running joke in college is that a theater student’s first major role after graduation is “maitre de.” But many have discovered the joy of high-tech video gaming from the other side of the screen. One of the biggest game developers is Raven Software which is enjoying a blossoming relationship with drama students. Together they’ve created characters for hit titles like “Jedi Knight Academy” and “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance.” Brian Bull has the story.

BRIAN BULL: Inside Raven Software’s Middleton, Wisconsin soundstage, Carrie Coon stands clad in a black and yellow bodysuit, cradling a prop machine gun.

Taking direction from project leader David Peng, the University of Wisconsin alum gets into character as a sexy, combat-ready assassin. Reflective “buttons” shaped like ping-pong balls are velcro’d all over the suit.

Animator Bobbie Duncanson explains the 24 cameras circling the room.

BOBBIE DUNCANSON: These are all 35mm cameras that are all 1.3 million pixels. So there’s a lot of data coming through our network into this computer.

Project leader Peng says Raven Software began using actors two years ago for its motion-capture technology.

DAVID PENG: We bring ’em in, we train ’em, and with a little luck and hard work, they basically become top-notch performers. Carrie is our top female performer for stunts.

Coon says industry-wide, many software developers can pay up to $500 a day for stunt work. She says it’s a great opportunity for actors who want to work in TV and film.

CARRIE COON: We can only benefit from staying on top of it and really going after some skills that will help us contribute to that sort of world and make us marketable in other fields we wouldn’t have been 10 years ago.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, theater professor Tony Simotes and his students rehearse. He says work in video games can broaden an actor’s versatility — and marketability.

TONY SIMOTES: Here we are in Madison, rather than being in Los Angeles or New York, in which we have a major player giving our students an opportunity to understand where their possibilities are down the road. And we’re providing Raven with a really wonderful stable of talent.

For Raven, hiring these actors is faster and cheaper than creating forms from scratch. But for the demanding legions of gamers, the real payoff is more realistic ogres, assassins and superheroes.

In Middleton, Wisconsin, I’m Brian Bull for Marketplace.
Actors suits are covered with little gray reflectors, that look like ping-pong balls, which register a basic outline on a computer screen which animators later turn into commandos, superheroes, monsters, etc.

The Raven soundstage facility in Middleton, Wisconsin, where the motion capture sessions take place. 24 infrared cameras circle the facility, which otherwise resembles a “black box” theater.

Photos by David Peng, Raven Software

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