'Forge-ing' Ahead with New Mocap Possibilities
October 4, 2019

'Forge-ing' Ahead with New Mocap Possibilities

Adult Swim is Cartoon Network's late-night programming block for edgy, experimental animation—and Toonami is Adult Swim's own sub-brand for action-packed shows, including popular anime series such as Naruto and Dragon Ball Super. In fact, Toonami's programming has made it a fan-favorite since its introduction in 1997, and the name is also synonymous with its robotic host, TOM.

And TOM has had a few adventures of his own thanks to the Toonami Intruder series, which Hinge took over work on five years back. With the latest Total Immersion Event about to premiere, the Portland-based studio—also well-known for its advertising work with massive brands—has been finding new ways to amplify the action and deliver stellar animation for longtime fans of the character and his sci-fi quest. 

Hinge has been working on the season with a new kind of tool in its kit, thanks to the Xsens MVN suit. The studio was considering its options, including fixed, camera-based motion-capture systems, but the flexibility of the Xsens technology was very appealing. "For us, it was the flexibility of having a suit-based system. Instead of just capturing within our theater space here onsite in our studio, we could run down the hall in the building and be able to do a run that's 200 feet, which we could never be able to capture in a 25-foot-square space," says Roland Gauthier, executive producer. 

The Xsens MVN suit has allowed Hinge to try new kinds of techniques for Toonami The Forge this season (premiering November 9), and attempt shots that previously wouldn't have been possible within the deadline and budget. The Forge will be animated fully in CGI. "There's a bunch of shots where we've got dozens of characters, and that amount of subtle animation takes a lot of time to animate by hand. Putting on the Xsens suit, you get all of those little nuances that you wouldn't normally think about," says Alex Tysowsky, animation director. "Using the suit has allowed us to take on challenges such as those crowd scenes and also non-traditional alien characters that we would've had a lot more trouble doing if we didn't have the suit, or wouldn't have been able to achieve at the same level within the timeline. That's been really invigorating in terms of what we can bring to the production of the show."

The Next Decade

It's a benefit from a practical and resource-minded standpoint, certainly, but Gauthier also says that the Xsens suit has unlocked new kinds of creative possibilities as well.

"It gets us a lot closer to that something you get out of a live-action shoot, where the director can direct the talent to try this or try that," he says. "In a more standard animation workflow, when you're doing it by hand or using libraries of animation you created previously, it is more specific and limiting because you don't get that kind of spontaneous flexibility that you get from the Xsens suit. It's a lot of fun, and it helps blend the worlds between the live-action that we do otherwise in production and our animation work."

Ten years in, Hinge is going strong—and they're thinking intently about what the next 10 years will look like for the team. According to Gauthier, Xsens technology will be a key part of its next steps and future evolution as it co-develops more shows, experimenting fast-turnaround social animation and innovative distribution channels.

"This is kind of a next chapter that we are starting right now," Gauthier explains. "Bringing on the Xsens suit about a year and a half ago, that was one of the things that we wanted to do to really help push us into that next chapter: to be able to create content at a much more rapid pace—not only for existing projects like Toonami and commercial work, but also to be able to really approach content creation and animation in a much faster and more streamlined way."

Hinge's team is currently working on building a complete capture solution by pairing the Xsens suit with an iPhoneX-based facial-capture solution, which Gauthier says will further streamline their workflow and enable even more seamless results. They're excited by the results they've seen so far in their use of the Xsens MVN suit, and they see real potential to apply the technology and their learnings towards their ample commercial work.

"We work a lot with Nike, Adidas, Intel, Microsoft, BBDO, Publicis and Saatchi. They're big brands and agencies, and the production schedules are not getting any longer—they're getting shorter and shorter. The flexibility of being able to have the Xsens MVN suit on-hand and be able to shortcut the amount of time it takes to get to a realistic performance, and to get that client buy-off on those timelines is huge," he says. "For clients like Nike or Adidas, you get that speed and you get the realism of movements of a sports athlete. It's all about performance, it's all about accuracy and realism, and how the shoes or athletic gear is making your sports performance that much more effective. Being able to show that off is key."

"Xsens has been a great addition to our workflow and our team, and it's opening up a lot of new horizons," Gauthier concludes.