Real-time Motion Tracking Key to Creating Superheroes Live
August 14, 2014

Real-time Motion Tracking Key to Creating Superheroes Live

TORONTO, CANADA – Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America, Spider-Man and 20 other action heroes are all coming to an arena near you – and as a part of Feld Entertainment’s Marvel Universe Live Cast BlackTrax motion-tracking solution is bringing these favorite Marvel comic characters to life as never before.
Marvel Universe Live is out on tour this month. Produced by Feld Entertainment, this visually stunning multimedia production sees the Avengers, Spider-Man and members of the X-Men in a live production for the first time – doing battle with some of their most notorious foes, in a show designed to wow audiences of all ages. 

As you might expect, spectacular stunts, high-tempo action sequences, pyrotechnics and jaw-dropping special effects are all part and parcel of the show’s design. But Marvel Universe Live and its extraordinary visual impact are amplified by BlackTrax. BlackTrax delivers real-time precise X, Y, Z so the downstream technologies can deliver precise streaming 3D & 6D positional data to electro-mechanical controllers for targeting the connected automated robotic technologies already used extensively in event and entertainment production, and houses of worship. Using proprietary IR and RF, BlackTrax delivers dynamic streaming positional data with up to six degrees of freedom (x, y, z, plus roll, pitch & yaw) to 3D and spatial audio, automated lighting, multimedia servers, and robotic cameras – all at the same time, in real time.

Any object or performer tagged with BTBeacon (patent pending), which comprises a gyroscope, accelerometer, and tiny wireless radio, to which an IR LED is attached (the tracking point), is tracked inside the predefined space at over 100 frames per second by multiple overhead BTCameras. The orientation of the object/performer is communicated by RF directly to the BTServer. The BTBeacon’s inertia measurement unit provides redundant 3D positioning via its tiny radio transmitter should the IR line-of-sight between the BTBeacon and BTCams become obfuscated.

BlackTrax at Marvel Universe Live

MODE Studios’ Bob Bonniol was hired by Feld Entertainment to handle video content and system design for the show. “We knew from the beginning that we needed to track scenic elements and characters to create the convincing scenic locations and combat effects that would amaze the audience. I felt confident from the start that BlackTrax would be the answer,” comments Bonniol.

By attaching BlackTrax Beacons to cast members, Bonniol and his team use the dynamic positional data of each tracking point (there can be nearly 200 unique tracking points onstage at any one time; each has an unique tag number used to establish a relationship with downstream technology).  Tracking points provide accurate target data for the d3 media servers used to drive the production’s projection-mapped backdrop.

The BlackTrax and d3 development teams worked together for this ambitious show, taking d3’s existing advanced projection simulation toolkit and integrating BlackTrax as to track data across enormous resolutions with extraordinary accuracy and limited latency, while still be manageable by the user. d3 servers were also used for parallel series of scene changes in show lighting. Indeed, BlackTrax, working through Martin Professional Consoles, made it possible to use automated lights that pull zoom and iris (rather like spotlights) to track performers automatically from places where it was imprudent or unsafe to put follow spot operators. 

“Marvel Universe Live has characters flying through the air, speeding on motorcycles, flipping across the space, performing car stunts and engaging in martial-arts fights. We needed a solution that could keep up with super-hero speeds,” says Bonniol.

Bruce Freeman, chairman, CAST Group, believes industry gurus are only beginning to imagine what the BlackTrax Solution can do: “Early adopters like Feld Entertainment realize they can leverage new technology for competitive advantage and profit -- change the way they deliver their business to set themselves apart, which is exactly what we see first with Marvel Universe Live.”

“BlackTrax is about combining creativity, artistry, and technology to deliver an intimate, totally immersive experience for each person in the audience. Industry veterans like Bob Bonniol are thinking outside the box and using BlackTrax to deliver content never attempted previously, you know the revolution in the entertainment production industry has begun,” Freeman adds.

BlackTrax also increases the operational efficiency of a large-scale arena show tour such as Marvel Universe Live that depends heavily on the prowess of its technical team that brings rigorous stopwatch process to setups and strikes – the only way to pull-off the rigorous touring schedule. As Freeman explains, “BlackTrax pays for itself. On one hand, BlackTrax is a vital tool that shaves hours off setup time by using its proprietary automated calibration functions for numerous BlackTrax cameras, d3 media servers and projectors, plus more than 75 automated lights paired to BlackTrax. It is vital they share the same 0,0,0 for delivery accuracy. On the other hand, BlackTrax’s real-time tracking mitigates endless hours pre-cuing, then rehearsing the artists to hit the ‘xs’ on the nanosecond, then overnight recuing sessions. Replacing repeatability with spontaneity unleashes creativity for artists and designers – look at Marvel Universe Live’s complex fight sequences, which become seriously more spectacular because of the choreography with lighting and multimedia special effects.” 

While it might be a stretch to assert that BlackTrax has actually enhanced the special powers of Marvel’s superheroes, there is no doubt that Marvel Universe Live is a thrilling deployment of this ground-breaking event solution – and that many more exciting episodes of this particular technology story are still to be written and performed.

All images © Feld Entertainment.