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Creating Better Animation Reference Using High Speed Video

While there are some great sources for reference on the web, it’s seldom exactly what’s needed and often fails to correspond to the specific needs of a shot or sequence. It’s better to create one’s own reference if at all possible. We want to teach students to be keen observers, to see accurately and be able to analyze of weight, force, acceleration, etc.. In this post I demonstrate the use of low cost, high-speed video for creating better animation reference.

Generating and using the best reference sources is essential for creating great animation performance.  Good reference is also extremely useful for training students in the critical analysis of basic animation principles as well as advanced human, animal and creature locomotion.

While there are some great sources for reference on the web, it’s seldom exactly what’s needed and often fails to correspond to the specific needs of a shot or sequence.  It’s better to create one’s own reference if at all possible.  This is generally done using a digital video camera or still camera with video capability recording at 30 frames per second.  Low cost cameras these days are often capable of 720p quality or even full HD. But resolution isn’t everything.

We want to teach students to be keen observers, to see accurately and be able to analyze weight, force, acceleration, slow-in and out, direction, overlapping and secondary action etc. from the very beginning of their studies.  30 fps video can do this quite well but there is a much better way to get inexpensive, high quality reference footage that can be used in training and production.

During the past year I have been using a couple of still cameras that will record both 720p and high-speed video in the 210 – 1000 fps range (but at lower resolutions).  As far as I know Casio is the only popular digital camera company that offers high-speed options at consumer level prices.  What makes the option of using them so useful is their ease of use and their low cost.

I started out with the Casio Exilim EX FH-20, a 9.1 megapixel camera with a 9X optical range available this year in the $375-$400 range.  I used this camera to generate reference for a wide range of training applications starting with those best suited to basic animation principles.  I set up a small photo shooting space of about 3ft. sq. using a couple of 500 watt flood lights and set out to record different types of basic motions at 210 fps (480 x 360 pixels) and 420 fps (224 x 168 pixels) such as bouncing balls of different types, interactions of objects of varying weights, small boxes with antennas to demonstrate overlapping action etc.

I used “green screen” or black paper backgrounds depending on the situation and in some cases included a “yardstick” so that I could make accurate measurements of the heights of bouncing balls of different masses and materials. The 210 fps is great for most applications and the resolution good enough for motion analysis of human and animal movement. At the end of this post you will find a link to some examples.

 In addition, I also experimented in a larger film studio space so that I could observe a wider range of motion and even outside in sunlight to see how the camera would work to record phenomena such as bursting balloons.  I also shot a range of human actions that can be very useful in training including runners, jumpers, Tai Chi, baseball actions, a professional golfer etc. These are small cameras that travel well and are quick to use when you come across interesting action and events.  It was also excellent for recording complex animal and bird locomotion and actions, firework bursts, gestures, walks, runs, jumps and all manner of physical phenomena.

As technology evolves rapidly, the cost of cameras with this capability has dropped dramatically. I recently purchased a pocket version – the CASIO Exilim EX FC-100. It has very similar specifications (9.1 megapixel, 210 – 1000 fps but just 5x optical) – cost? Under $110 Canadian!!  These cameras also have other excellent features including the ability to shoot 30 (FC-100)  or 40 (FH-20) frames continuously and to trigger shots when an object moves in or out of the frame.

With this kind of capability so readily available and at such a low cost, I am totally amazed that it’s not in the tool bag of every teacher, student and animator or vfx professional.

Of course you can find excellent examples of the use of these cameras on YouTube if you want to see them in action.  Better yet  - get one yourself and integrate it into your training environment and professional practice.   Creating and sharing reference samples in slow motion would be an excellent way to build resources to support both teaching in core competencies and all manner of applied training applications and professional projects.

I have posted a few examples shot with the Elixim EX FC-20 on Youtube.  You can find them at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jnohRrvQFBU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dQ2hxICnGA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKDbnLxwKy8 and

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SY_pYbTdo3s 

or just go to Youtube and enter imaginacorporation in the search field.

At CES 2011 Casio has updated their line with the Exilim EX-ZR100 - a 10 megapixel version that records 1080p at 30fps as well as the same specs for high speed as the previous models.

Also at CES FujiPix announced the F550 EXR camera claiming full 1080p, 16 megapixels, 15x Wide angle lens and high speed specs of 80fps at 640 x 480, 160 fps at 320 x240 and 320 fps at 320fps at 320 x112.

Give this technique a try and let's share the results!

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