Dancing Dinosaurs

Selma, Roderick/Computer Graphics World/November 2014: Online

     Vicon’s motion-capture technology was used to create a dancing dinosaur for the live-action show Dinosaurus! at Henry Ford College’s Virtual Theatricality Lab (VTL). The family show runs through November 23.

     Dinosaurus! uses keyframe-animated dinosaurs to tell the story of two oil explorers who discover a lost colony of dinosaurs deep beneath the earth’s surface. Live actors interact with stereo 3D images and audience members seated on stage surrounded by a physical set built to match a virtual set projected on a 20 x 36-foot 3D projection screen. Audience members wear 3D cinema glasses, making dinosaurs appear 20 feet tall and just six feet away.

     For most of the show, the dinosaurs were keyframe animated using actors’ movements as a reference guide. But for the final scene featuring a dinosaur dancing alongside live dancers on stage, the production team turned to Vicon motion-capture systems to capture the fun and joy of the dance, and the subtlety of the dancer’s moves.

     “We’ve been using the Vicon system for about seven or eight years now, and we love it because it’s so reliable,” said Dr. George Popovich, director of the VTL and director of theatre at Henry Ford College. “We’ve experimented with other systems, but they’re too unstable and unpredictable. The subtlety of the Vicon system capture for the dinosaur dance was astounding.”

     The college’s VTL is known for its stimulating use of digital and film technology to enhance live stage shows. Techniques such as stereo 3D and motion capture are used to add exciting new dimensions to its live theater performances.

     The Vicon system is also used for Henry Ford College’s 18-credit certificate that teaches the skillsets required of mocap systems technicians in the film and animation industry. The certificate courses are taught using a Vicon optical motion-capture system, Vicon Blade mocap software, and Autodesk MotionBuilder software.

     “We wanted to give students an opportunity to learn what’s used in the real world,” said Popovich. “We investigated the different skills and software that students need to become a mocap technician, and that’s when we developed classes using Vicon systems. There’s no one in this part of the country that teaches this and it’s something we’re proud to offer our students.”

     “Vicon delivers the stability that the Virtual Theatricality Lab needs for live-stage performances,” said Jeffrey Ovadya, sales, and marketing director, Vicon. “In addition to using their Vicon system to enhance the audience experience, Henry Ford Community College is helping prepare its students for success in their future careers by teaching them the skills and industry-standard technology used by professionals.”

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