Monday, December 12, 2011

Performance Animation with the Pioneers

When you think of the term "perfromance animation" you probably think of images of Gollum in Lord of the Rings, hunched over and creepily repeating "my precious". Or if you're like me and enjoy all of the behind the scenes, making-of content that fulfills my rock-n-roll, film maker fantasy, you are familiar with images of Andy Serkis hunched over and embodying every bit as much of Gollum as resulted in the film.

Photo by New Line Productions

Either way, most people are familiar with the concept  of people performing in blue or green screen rooms with motion capture "balls", velcro attached to spandex jumpsuits as computers analyze and record location information.

However, with the recent gaming industry boom and resulting hardware and software developments, some basic motion capture technology has fallen into the consumers living room, likely without them even realizing it. Enter the Microsoft Kinect Camera. No longer do you need to dress like you are riding in the Tour de France to capture motion data or even perform live animation. Granted, the professional solutions in the industry are still top notch and by no means does the Kinect camera replace these technologies, rather offers a peice of it to the general public.

Naturally there's a world full of engineers, tinkerers and dreamers who will tap into available technology and tools to create brilliant experiences. Many people are plugging the Kinect camera into computers and writing code to use this technology for fun, educational, experimental, medical and many other applications. Our interest was to determine if performance animation is ready for live streaming and new business opportunities.

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting a seasoned professional in the field of real-time, interactive animation - Gary Jesch of CHOPS & Associates. A referral from our LinkedIn network of media professionals (Freelance Audio Visual Technicians), it was suggested that I look into his business after discussing real time animation with a video engineer.

Turns out, Gary is one of the pioneers of live, performance animation. Creating virtual characters and performance animation solutions for numerous industries and clients for nearly twenty years. Although his most prominent character is his "CHOPS(Cyber Human On a Performance System)" character, among his dozens of various characters, his true character is himself. He was immediately open and easy to communicate with. You could certainly sense that Gary had a great "ear" for people. His live performances and interactions with people over the years has certainly created a polished experience and you can tell he truly enjoys his work.



His offer to participate in a networking luncheon we were having the following week was a no-brainer. We had planned an Imaginology open house to demonstrate live character animation streaming and CHOPS (http://www.chops.com/) was a perfect fit. His performance animation plugs directly into teleconferencing software to allow him to interact in real-time on your desktop or laptop computer. The best part may simply be that the system just worked. No crashes, no delays, no issues. This truly helps make the experience immersive. You are simply conversing with an animated character. I suppose this is the best form of technology. The technology that you don't even notice as technology, but rather as technology that just works and stays out of the way.

We set him up to engage people at the door as they came in and he stopped almost everyone in their tracks. His characters entertained, inspired dozens of questions and kept everyone on the edge of their tongue as they watched the characters in awe and wonder. This is where Gary truly shines, as he keeps the momentum and engages everyone in the room, simply continuing the conversation and interest. I can see where this technology has tons of potential for business. Not only do you get great value in attention and retention of your brand, but the animation can be recorded to create character animation sequences for other materials as needed (think live animation production services).

It was a true pleasure to see a professional performance animation artist at work. I now look forward to my next experience with performance animation on either side of the camera.

Overall, performance animation seems to be ready for the business world, as well as the consumer. The question remains: is the consumer more ready than the business world?

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