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Vicon Technologies Give USC Students Hands-On Motion Capture Experience

Vicon recently collaborated with the Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts at the USC School of Cinematic Arts to upgrade their motion capture system.

From Vicon press release:

LOS ANGELES, CA -- Vicon, developer of motion capture systems for the entertainment, life science and engineering industries, recently collaborated with the Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts at the USC School of Cinematic Arts to upgrade their motion capture system. Originally built with 20 cameras in the fall of 2006, the first classes to utilize the mocap stage were taught in spring of 2007 by two USC alums, noted Hollywood filmmaker Robert Zemeckis and Eric Furie, USC Manager of Digital Systems and Creative Computing. Now, still under the guidance of Zemeckis and Furie, the facility's mocap system has expanded into a 1700 square foot stage with 46 cameras, and the school looks to expand even further in the near future.

"A lot has changed in the last year because of the new stage," said Furie. "We are trying to emulate what is happening on the bleeding edge of the industry so students are exposed to what they need to know. Vicon is the standard in the mocap arena and students must understand how this technology integrates into all facets of the industry - not just simply mocap and body capture for narratives but also for previs, virtual production, virtual cinematography, game development, etc. It's a core part of how work is done and high profile companies need skilled talent."

With a curriculum initially developed to expose students to motion capture, USC has been able to broaden course offerings to include an advanced course building on the fundamentals learned in the intro course. A virtual production and interface design class are just two of many mocap-focused courses currently in development at the school, and a visit to the mocap stage has been integrated into many other areas of academia such as history and science with faculty recognizing the advantages of having such technology at their disposal.

"Just like any other technology, mocap is a tool to help implement a filmmaker's vision," Furie added. "We are only beginning to scratch the surface of what is possible across platforms and it's crucial students really grasp how to use this technology. USC's mocap stage and corresponding courses are designed to give students the practical knowledge they need to be successful."

Eric Robbins, a MFA student in Film and Television Production, was initially attracted to USC because of the school's affiliation with top-level filmmakers. With aspirations to direct, Robbins became interested in motion capture technology with the release of Avata r. He has completed both of USC current course offerings that heavily rely on mocap technology, "Fundamentals of Motion Capture" and "Performance Capture." Robbins is now in the process of completing his thesis, a live-action short film for which he generated previs using a Vicon system.

"Even a basic understanding of motion capture technology is greatly beneficial in filmmaking and a little technical knowledge goes a long way," explains Robbins. "On-set there is a lot going on which can be distracting and chaotic. By separating some of the components without the pressures of time through mocap, you can focus on the more artistic side of directing. You can also use mocap for previs to block and plan your shoot ahead of time, which saves time and money. Exposure to this technology and being able to use USC's Vicon systems have been essential to my education, and has ultimately made me a better filmmaker."

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Jennifer Wolfe is Director of News & Content at Animation World Network.