Motion Capture (or better known as Performance Capture nowadays) was first used in early 1970s for computer character animation, but it’s only in the last couple of decades that the use of this technology has slowly evolved and being used across industries like filmmaking, commercials, gaming and in some instances even in fields like medicine.
There is however one motion capture facility located at the world famous Pinewood and Shepperton Studios, which has been doing some amazing work with a purpose to build a full performance capture studio. The studio in question is Centroid, which was established in 1996 and with over a decade of experience in full performance capture, the mo-cap facility offers both full optical and head mounted camera solutions to suit the ever changing requirements of the entertainment industry.
Centroid Motion Capture’s CEO, Philip Stilgoe, has literally done it all at the facility, right from starting out as a MoCap Operator in 1996, going onto become a Motion Capture Producer, to a Motion Capture Supervisor, and progressing to be the Operations Director before going onto taking the chair of the CEO and is also the founding member of the training arm of Centroid – Centroid Lab. He opens up on his journey with the facility and how he has seen the Motion Capture technology evolve over the years.
How did you get into the Motion Capture business?
Well, I stumbled into motion capture in the mid 90s. My father, who was an engineer and simply loved technology, ventured into this technology. The true story was he and his friend, who was an editor, were having a couple of drinks in a pub and speaking to an animator; when the animator mentioned about these cameras that were auctioned from a company and they were called motion capture cameras. That’s where the thought of setting up Centroid Motion Capture took birth.
We slowly began to learn how to use the equipment and I still remember one of our first jobs. We captured Gary Oldman’s movements for a character in his feature and that was a reasonable success. There was no benchmark from motion capture as it was a fairly new technology then, so there was no high standard that there are now as there was a little expectation from it.
We also worked on the first Hitman game with the original team of IOI and now I am seeing the technology change dramatically from the earlier analogy system to being entirely digitally integrated now.
Centroid’s comprehensive list of facilities and services, from production pre-visualisation to finished post production animation, along with a strict secure data environment, ensure we deliver on time, to the highest quality and with project security guaranteed. Our strong relationships with award winning collaborators allow for convergence of supplementary services such as audio recording, body/face scanning, prop-building, stunt crews and trained creature performers, enabling us to offer our clients a complete production service.
Centroid continues to conduct R&D for internal solutions for Real Time Live Pre-visualisation of actor performances within digital assets and plates, utilising both fixed and hand held virtual cameras with our full performance capture pipelines and bandwidth capable of recording up to 10 performers simultaneously.
What kind of work have you delivered so far?
What I really love about motion capture is capturing even the weirdest of things, although we do have to earn our bread and butter by doing the work we do to pay bills, but I love capturing horses and snakes, or even dogs. We had mo-capped a camel for the project John Carter where we used camera monitors; so we kind of see the wavy motions as the rider moves on the creature. The most interesting aspect about mo-capping a camel is its knee caps, which are on hinges, so they can even bend the other way, unlike in other animals.
We have even worked with the Olympics, where we have motion captured various Olympians. And what’s really fascinating to me is the rhythmic movements of ribbons, as we could use tiny little stickers all around the ribbons, capture the interaction with the performer and see even little things leading to some magnificent work on the large canvas.
As a company, we honestly believe that no job is small for us. We have even assisted students in their graduation stage for their dissertation projects and are very actively involved in working along with various universities to further generate interest in the field of motion capture.
Personally, I have done it all right from the formation days of Centroid. But, the real highlight of my career was working with Radiohead and Tom York and spending a day with him and capturing his facial movements while he was drawing a little picture, which was a Thank You note inside of an album. Working with people whom I had idolised as a student is a dream and I love that aspect of my job. While working on HUGO’s main title sequence Martin Scorsese walked into the studio one day and my heart almost stopped; when you look at people who have achieved incredible success, you can’t prepare when someone like that is working in your studio. And these were amazing experiences that you can never take for granted.
What you would say is the USP of Centroid?
I believe we have grown within the technology and more importantly ‘we enjoy what we do’. If you do not enjoy what you do then you are not going to give the client what they want. So that’s about success, where we were once in a family business, I have tried to keep that element going but in a professional manner. We have tried to maintain a friendly environment as we prefer people who aren’t too stuck up about their work. I am blessed to have such a good crew back in the UK, who are very dedicated to their jobs and will go the extra mile to make lives easier for all of us.
Another important attribute to our success is the prime location near Pinewood Studios; we are right in the middle of American filmmaking. It has been a renaissance of sorts for the VFX industry in the UK with Framestore, Double Negative, Prime Focus and other outfits that are bringing in work to the UK. If we wouldn’t have been supported by that end of the industry it would have been very difficult to survive as well. We give them what they need, so there is a co-existence.
Then there’s the games industry as well, and though the consoles market isn’t the huge giant that it used to be, when I first entered the industry, games for handheld devices were being made in a big manner. We still have clients like Microsoft and had worked on several games for the Kinect device, mainly in the sports genre.
We are currently in the phase when we would love to work in games, in VFX, in commercials or even other specialised fields. On the gambling platform, there is a wide platform that uses animation, so we have been dipping our toes in all of them. I don’t think we could survive just in one industry, so we are open to working with anyone, and like I said – ‘No job is too small for us’.
What’s your advice for newbies who wish to learn more about Motion Capture?
I think it’s hard to do anything for a college when they don’t have a motion capture system; additionally you can get yourself loads of data online about motion capture, which at least if you have the software, you could learn the post-production process and watch the movies which have used motion capture well, and specifically watch the making of it. It is worth watching the behind the scenes and you could learn a lot of it and it’s not as difficult as brain surgery. If you have the passion about motion capture, you will do find ways to do it. And we are more than open to help anyone out there who would love to get more insights about using motion capture technology.
Is India open to the idea of using motion capture technology?
We have worked with a few filmmakers and studios here in the past, and India certainly has a long tradition of filmmaking. There is a huge film industry in this country and people are receptive to the idea of using advanced technology to support their stories. But, folks still have the misconception that using such kind of technology is only available to studios with deep pockets.
Thus, we are working on clearing those misconceptions. In terms of the work, on one side you have got the performance side of things, where you work with actors for reprising great principle characters. But, there is also the other side where you can create mass animation using motion capture for game characters and even in-game cinematic sequences. So, you don’t really have to take 1,000 extras to a desert and shoot a war sequence, you could simply do that with 2-3 actors in a restricted environment and make layers of them. Basically, we are filling pixels in the background but saving tonnes on production cost and man hours on any given project.