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CG Channel Readies a CG Horse Race with Vicon

Motion Capture Sessions in UK and USA Provide Realism for First All-CG 24-Hour Interactive TV Experience (November 05, 2001)
Vicon announced today that simultaneous motion capture sessions were held in the UK at Audiomotion and in the USA at Locomotion (Austin, TX) to capture animation data for the world's first 100% computer generated TV channel.

I-Race?, a revolutionary horse racing simulation and management game, is due for launch in the second quarter of 2002 as a 24hr-a-day interactive television channel and internet gaming experience. Created by VIS iTV, a 50/50 joint venture between Telewest, the UK's second biggest cable operator, and VIS entertainment plc, one of Europe's leading games developers, I-Race offers viewers the opportunity to race, buy, train and trade horses and bet on the horse races. Uniquely the channel will allow people who play games to gamble on their game strategy as well as letting people who gamble try and influence the outcome of their bet selection.

Motion capture crews at Audiomotion and Locomotion faced the challenge of capturing the horse and jockey simultaneously in a series of complex interactions. As Audiomotion's Mick Morris explained: 'The horse and jockey are so closely intertwined for much of the time that one is usually obscuring markers on the other, so it's a constant puzzle for the mocap system to identify which character is which.' Over a three-day session Audiomotion captured more than two hundred animations intended to give life and realism to the viewer experience. 'We did a whole range of interactions between the jockey, groom and horse, like mounting and dismounting, winning and losing reactions, leading the horse by the bridle and so on.'

Both facilities adapted to meet the special demands of the sessions. For Audiomotion this meant creating a comfortable environment for the horse inside the capture studio, with an 80 square meter litter tray filled with sawdust. Locomotion needed more space to allow the horse and jockey to gallop, so their motion-capture team transferred a 15-camera Vicon 8i from their studio to an indoor rodeo arena. The crew built scaffolding gantries to partially enclose a 60' by 12' capture volume, which the horse and jockey could gallop through.

With the cameras were mounted on the gantries, the crew dug trenches so that the cables could run across the capture space without hindering the horse and rider. Locomotion captured run-cycles of the horse and jockey, as well as the horse loading and then launching from the starting gate.

Throughout the Audiomotion sessions, progress was aided by the experience not only of the Audiomotion team, but also of the performers. The horse is a movie veteran with credits in 'Sleepy Hollow' and 'Gladiator' where he was Russell Crowe's mount in the opening battle scene. 'He was a smart animal,' Morris added. 'In fact he played a little game with us by trying to kick off the markers because he knew he'd get a bit more attention like that. It wasn't a problem though at least he didn't try to eat his markers, like a dog we once captured!'

Despite the unusual nature of the performers, both sessions went without a hitch. 'We had great support from Vicon,' Morris concluded, 'and the first take was almost always perfect, so we got through a big workload with half a day to spare.'

'Capturing a 1200 lb. animal at a full gallop was an enormous challenge, but our Vicon motion capture system really stood up to the task ' commented Michael McGar, President, Locomotion Studios. 'It is a huge testament to the equipment that despite running cables through pipes in trenches in the ground, and being in the hostile, dusty environment of an arena, as opposed to a pristine, pre-configured studio the system still calibrated tight upon first set-up. We didn't have any problems with the system, and were able to complete the capture session in a day and a half.'

'We chose Audiomotion and Locomotion for their outstanding track records,' said VIS iTV's Bruce Ballantine, 'and they were great. Both sessions went really well and gave us superb motion capture data.'

Axis Animation's Richard Scott, Art Director for the Locomotion sessions added: 'We got a very pleasing result from two top motion capture houses: Locomotion provided the ideal setup in a Texas rodeo arena to really get to grips with the action.'

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