Dogs are horses tolerate motion capture bobbles easily enough. Cats, not so much. Image courtesy of DIGIC
The old saying goes “never work with animals or children,” and yet some of Hollywood’s latest flicks have included incredible representations of everything from horses to monkeys. While some were acted by humans (Andy Serkis, we’re looking at you) others were acted out by none other than the species themselves, and companies like DIGIC are in charge of capturing them for the big screen.
Motion capture can be easy with more trainable animals like dogs, but this year Vicon has been working with DIGIC to get quality data on animals who are a little less compliant. Yes, we’re talking about cats.
“Although the cats were trained and had been in films many times, it was a challenge to get them to move naturally despite the markers that were placed on them,” said Lead of Motion Capture Division at DIGIC, Csaba Kővári, in a case study about the project.
“The solution was a relatively long acclimatization process. First, placing one or two markers on the cat’s body for a few minutes, then gradually working up to the full marker set… it took approximately one month to train the cats – with the help of a professional animal trainer – and prepare them for [a] shooting session.”
We caught up with Kővári to find out more about what it’s like trying to capture the movement of animals for movies.
With enough training, cats can be animated movie stars, too. Images courtesy of DIGIC
How did you come to work with cats and dogs and motion capture?
We have long wanted to create a library of various movements that, in addition to providing much more realistic movements for animals in film, can be used by our clients and for any future DIGIC projects.
We didn’t originally plan to work with animals, but a few years ago we were approached by a client in Korea who required animal motion capture for one of their projects. As a result, we started working together with animals.
Trained dogs apparently make for cooperative motion capture movie stars. Images courtesy of DIGIC
What are some of the perks of the job?
One of the biggest advantages of motion capture technology is being able to record a significant number of movements in just one day of filming. We then use these recordings to create an entire animation library which we can easily tap into for any future projects.
Many Hollywood films have been shot in Hungary over the last few years, meaning we have been lucky enough to work alongside some of the largest production companies and actors. For example, we worked on large-scale productions including Dune and Terminator.
Horses feature in many films and DIGIC’s work helps make the animated ones look more realistic. Images courtesy of DIGIC
Another great benefit of the job is that there are constantly new technological challenges that need to be addressed. For example, when we had to capture horse movements, we needed to develop our own solver to create lifelike movements. The development was quite a challenge, but we benefited a lot from it during the dog/cat shoots.
What are some of the downsides?
It is important to emphasize that when working with animals, we work with professional trainers who prepare the animals for the shoot in advance.
During the preparation phase of any project, the animals can be trained for any time between two to three months, during which time they get used to moving naturally despite the motion capture markers being attached to their body. The timing of the shoots may change, so the animals need regular, consistent training so they remember the movements they are practicing.