If you thought the 2009 blockbuster “Avatar” was visually amazing, Lucasfilm has a message for you: You haven’t seen anything yet.
Lucasfilm, the studio founded by George Lucas, the creator of the “Star Wars” saga and “Indiana Jones” series, has always been known for inventing new ways to use computer graphics.
Its latest trick is to use video game development technology to create the realistic computer-graphics scenes it’s known for in less time by letting actors and directors see the CGI they’re working with as they act.
The Inquirer’s Lee Bell attended a recent event hosted by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts where Kim Lebreri, Lucasfilm’s chief technology strategy officer, showed how a modified game engine can be used in combination with “performance capture stages” to film scenes full of computer generated imagery without having to wait for artists and animators.
Here’s a video of the tech in action:
Here’s how it works:
All of the actors wear full-body motion capture suits and wear camera rigs mounted on their head that capture their facial movements.
That motion data is sent to a computer rendering the scene. In this case, the scene is essentially the same thing as a level in a video game.
This means that almost any aspect of a scene can be changed at any time while filming. For instance, a director can see what a scene would look like if it were filmed at different times of day or in different weather conditions.
While the actors act out their roles, a CGI character is overlayed on top of their body in the computer rendering. Thanks to the motion capture tech, the CGI character does everything the actor does — from awkward shrugs to a frenzied smile.
The game engine also simulates physics for in-game objects, which means that an actor can interact with CGI props and see what it will look like.
Why it’s awesome:
This is very similar to the technology behind James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster, “Avatar.”
However, what Lucasfilm is showing has the benefit of 5 years of graphics and video game technology improvements behind it.
Since so much can now be shown while “filming,” the processes of pre-production/production/post-production can take place simultaneously. If the artists have a 3D model ready, the director can see what it looks like in the scene as it’s being filmed. If it’s not ready, it can be added later.
It’s also incredible to see how quickly this technology is moving forward. Here’s a video from 2010 in which Conan O’Brien visited Industrial Light & Magic and got to try out their real-time motion capture — it’s laughably bad compared to where they are today (skip to 4:55):
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