A Horse Is A Horse Of Course...
But Even In Motion-Capture?

by Gregory Singer

People have been horsing around with animation techniques ever since the medium began. That's part of the fun of animating: discovering ways to make things work.

Motion-capture, as a technique and tool for animating, is no different. There's still a lot of room for experimentation and discovery. Until recently, the technology of motion-capture has been used mostly for capturing human performances -- of martial arts, acrobatics, or subtle hand and facial gestures. Yet, there is a whole world of nonhuman personality waiting to be explored!

Rebollero in his motion-capture suit.
© LocoMotion Studios.

LocoMotion Studios of Wimberley, Texas is a unique and paradigmatic presence within the motion-capture industry. They have already begun to build a library of animal movements, for game development, multimedia and television projects. In one recent collaboration with Computed Animation Technology (CAT) of Dallas, the studio mocapped the data for a horse and rider, which was later used in FOX-TV's 1999 Halloween special, Night of the Headless Horseman.

Where There Is A Will...
The star of the mocap session was an eleven-year-old Andalusian stallion named Rebollero. Cared for from the age of one by a family of trainers dating back three generations, Rebollero regularly performs at Medieval Times, a restaurant in Dallas where an eleventh-century dinner and tournament are recreated, complete with jousting, nightly.

LocoMotion sets up the motion-capture session at Medieval Times. © LocoMotion Studios.

For the capture session, which was held in the arena at Medieval Times, LocoMotion and CAT merged their two Vicon 8 systems, using a total of 18 cameras to expand their capture volume. The Vicon data station was hung 30 feet off the arena floor from an overhead light grid, along with several other cameras. The remaining cameras were arranged around the perimeter of the arena, approximately 15 to 18 feet above the floor.

One of the greatest challenges of capturing any animal movement -- which can be forceful and unpredictable -- is trying to figure out how to place markers on the animal. There had been some previous work done in England, by a different studio, where patches of the horse's skin were shaved, shot with novacaine (to dull the skin's feeling) and then the markers were superglued to the animal.

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