3D Artist

Avatar magic in every studio

News & Features

Filmmakers and game cinematographers are increasingly turning to real-time virtual production technologies to blend real-world tools with their virtual world

Filmmakers and game cinematographers are increasingly turning to real-time virtual production technologies to blend real-world tools with their virtual world. At the heart of this development is the virtual camera. James Cameron revolutionized digital cinematography with his innovative control of the virtual camera using motion capture. This “Virtual Vrit” technology is now being offered for a fraction of the cost, with OptiTrack™’s Insight VCS.

“Our goal has always been to offer full-featured motion capture systems at a price that production companies of every size can afford,” said Jim Richardson, NaturalPoint® co-founder and lead engineer for the OptiTrack motion capture line. “With the Insight VCS, we’re expanding this vision to include the bleeding-edge virtual camera technology that Cameron made famous with “Avatar” – as usual, at an exceptionally low price. OptiTrack now delivers high-performance body, face and virtual camera mocap for less than anyone else in the world.”

To ensure complete compatibility with a variety of production pipelines, the Insight VCS has been engineered for interoperability with any existing optical motion capture system – including OptiTrack, Vicon and Motion Analysis – that can track marker-based rigid bodies and stream data to Autodesk MotionBuilder or Autodesk Maya.

Developed in close collaboration with Los Angeles-based previsualization company Halon Entertainment, the Insight VCS is the ideal virtual camera solution for a broad range of applications ranging from film and commercial previsualization to digital filmmaking. Throughout the development process Halon tested design iterations in the field, utilizing pre-production versions of the Insight VCS to create content for high profile projects and directors.

“In working with OptiTrack to develop the Insight VCS, Halon helped build a tool that puts film directors and directors of photography in a virtual world they more closely understand,” said Justin Denton, technical developer and previs supervisor at Halon Entertainment. “The value of being able to walk out into a space and explore a virtual world by physically controlling a camera, finding the perfect angles and then shooting multiple takes is truly remarkable. All of this is achieved in a fraction of the time it takes to keyframe a single camera take, and the results are more natural. The Insight VCS has proven invaluable on multiple high-profile film and commercial projects for us here at Halon.”

The Insight VCS is a two-part system, consisting of a hardware camera rig and software interface. As the hardware rig is tracked throughout the motion capture volume, absolute 6 DOF position and orientation data is streamed live via the software plug-in to either MotionBuilder or Maya to drive the virtual camera within the 3D application. Real-time reference video is streamed out of MotionBuilder or Maya back to the VCS display, creating a low-latency visual feedback loop, akin to the viewfinder in an actual digital camera.

Different versions of both the hardware rig and software plug-in are available to fit a variety of existing pipelines and production requirements. Components include:

Virtual Camera Rigs: The Insight VCS offers two different hardware rigs for controlling the virtual camera:
Designed for professional production work, the VCS:Pro replicates the organic cinematographer’s experience with exceptional fidelity. The professional model includes a 1280×768 HD LCD display for real-time feedback, mappable buttons and joysticks for extensive camera control, and a robust Redrock Micro shoulder mount kit. Markers and posts are included for a variety of marker configurations.
The VCS:Mini provides low cost, lightweight and highly flexible access to the virtual camera pipeline. The kit includes an anodized aluminum mount preinstalled on a wireless Xbox 360 game pad, as well as markers and posts.

Software Plug-ins: Comprehensive, customizable plug-ins are available for camera work in MotionBuilder and Maya for control over scripts, button mapping, scaling and camera properties. Universal versions of each plug-in are also available for use with non-OptiTrack motion capture systems.
Demonstrations of the Insight VCS will be available at SIGGRAPH 2010, July 26 – 29, at the OptiTrack booth #701. For additional information, please visit www.optitrack.com.

  • Phil

    To be fair the Virtual Art Department on Avatar was invented by Rob Powers, who now works on LightWave CORE at NewTek. Cameron had very little to do with it aside from using it after it was created.

  • Rob Powers did indeed set up the VAD on Avatar; we’re actually talking to him right now for an upcoming feature 🙂