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Kite & Lightening Adapts to Lockdown with Remote Multi-Person Mocap

Using Xsens, iPhones and Unreal Engine, the animation and game studio has tailored their pipeline for safe, remote motion-capture production.

Kite & Lightning, an LA-based animation and game development studio, has done some fantastic work when it comes to recording full-body motion outside of a studio space; they pioneered a pipeline with Xsens body capture, iPhone face capture, and Unreal Engine back in 2018. The studio was already ahead of the curve when it came to recording full-body motion outside a central studio; now working with social distancing measures, they’ve adapted their mocap production to an entirely remote setup.

In a quick chat with AWN, Cory Strassburger, founder of Kite & Lightning Studios, discusses the challenges of handling mocap remotely, as well as the latest from the upcoming Bebylon: Battle Royale – a VR game about immortal babies battling it out in vehicular combat (yes, you read that right) – coming later this year.

AWN: What did your workflow look like before the lockdown?

Cory Strassburger: Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, my pre-lockdown workflow was very similar to what we’re using now – I’m still doing all of the motion-capture work outside of the house. However, the big roadblock now is with actors not being able to come over and jump in the Xsens suite along with the iPhone helmet and crank out content.

AWN: How have you had to adapt your workflow for production during the lockdown?

CS: So now we’re in the midst of figuring out ways to remote capture content. We’re allowing actors in their homes to put on mocap suits and we orchestrate capturing sessions remotely. Currently, we’re operating with up to three actors in three different locations simultaneously. Luckily, the content of a new project we have in the works lends itself well to these hefty limitations.

AWN: How has working from home affected your project progress?

CS: It’s definitely slowed things down a bit. This is mainly due to developing a remote system that we can use to co-create content without a physical presence. But, we’re quite grateful the tech even exists to attempt this, regardless of how painstaking and complex it is to get working. Hopefully, in a month or so, we’ll share some fun content along with behind the scenes showing off our makeshift remote mocap solutions.”

AWN: Can you give us an update on the status of Bebylon?

CS: Bebylon, which originally started as a party brawler VR game, has evolved in a couple exciting ways. The game itself is nearing early access and we might have a surprise or two when we officially announce the date. We’ve also been developing a Bebylon animated series pitch. The series stars immortal ‘Bebies’ who’ve engineered their dream society to revolve around gaming – it’s a pretty wild world of story arcs, landing somewhere between Game of Thrones and Fight Club! The production will be built entirely using the Unreal Engine from start to finish, using a majority of our game assets. Of course, just as we were about to start pitching the streaming networks, COVID threw a big curveball into the mix. On the plus side, it’s offered us an opportunity to explore a side project involving virtual characters and virtual production in a more serious way.

AWN: How do you keep motivated and inspired to create and stay connected to your colleagues remotely?

CS: I think our small team is always motivated and inspired because we feed off what each other is doing. As for connectivity, like a lot of teams, we have weekly Zoom meetings to run through the week’s work and when we’re overlapping on the same components, we use Slack. 

AWN: Do you have any tips for someone who is using mocap at home for the first time?

CS: I can’t think of any tips per se, but I would advocate for the pipeline I’m using which consists of an Xsens suite for body capture, an iPhone X for facial capture, and the Unreal Engine for capturing, editing and rendering the final product. This setup makes mocap at home super fun and easy, not to mention it’s an insanely powerful creative platform for making all kinds of high-quality content. I’ve never actually worked in a real mocap studio before. I’m still in a garage shop exploration mindset with all this stuff and I love the ability to jump in the suit whenever I feel like it. Of course, with up and coming projects we’re going to need a real studio scenario, so I imagine it won’t be long before that’s on my radar.

AWN: Do you have any messages of inspiration for other artists in the industry who may be feeling the negative effects of studios being shut?

CS: As artists in this day and age, we’re lucky to have access to so many ways to create content from home. What we almost never have is enough time to explore our art in-depth or learn new big tools or pipelines, so I would encourage anyone who now has time on their hands to dive deeper into what personally excites them. Make sure you check out the rest of our HomeCap series for more tips and tricks from industry experts.