Trixter Uses Mocap to Hop into the Action
April 7, 2020

Trixter Uses Mocap to Hop into the Action

Trixter,  one of Germany’s leading VFX studios,  had its hands full creating a furry character in the lead role of  the recent film  The Kangaroo Chronicles (Die Känguru-Chroniken ).

The artists at Trixter utilized Xsens MVN Animate to produce the lead, an animated kangaroo.

Based on the collections of texts by the German author, Marc-Uwe Kling, the comedy follows an artist and a talking Kangaroo as they take on a Berlin real estate company. Here, Character and Creature Animator Claudius Urban talks about his work as Animation Supervisor on the feature and how he built Trixter’s motion-capture pipeline with the Rigging and Pipeline team. 

Mocap Experience

Urban was first introduced to the Xsens MVN Animate solution when working for the Stuttgart-based studio Unexpected. After working freelance for several major studios, he landed an artist role at DNeg, where he was reunited with Xsens’ technology – Urban had an opportunity to delve into the motion-capture suit’s full capabilities, and since then, it’s remained his mocap solution of choice. 

After returning to Germany, Claudius decided to pitch Xsens as an alternative to keyframing animation at his new employer, Trixter

“After working freelance, I joined Trixter – I had worked there before as lead animator on Iron Man 3. The first thing I asked was, Do you have a motion-capture pipeline already in place? Usually in the VFX business, there’s a lot of overtime, and artists need to keyframe during time-sensitive schedules. Often, it’s just not possible.” 

“Motion capture to me is a free pass around these issues. It gives you shortcuts. It gives you a part of your life back. And, because you don’t have to keyframe everything, you can show several versions of the animation to the director to choose from,” said Urban. 

The Pipeline

With motion capture being a new edition to Trixter’sproduction process, Urban spent time with the Trixter Pipeline and Rigging team, setting up the exact mechanisms that ensured the pipeline remained consistent. His broad experience across some of the world’s leading studios gave him an edge when constructing an entirely new pipeline. 

“Because I worked for a lot of different companies, I could take the best elements from each and apply them at Trixter. The usability of Xsens is a huge part of its appeal because you don’t have to plug it in. You can jump and move with the suit and run the data via MVN before copying it over into specific folders – we are able to create a motion-capture library of assets for a production to draw from,” Urban says.

After creating a motion-capture library, Urban and his team utilized timecodes to locate and extract the motion data and apply it to the animations. This was especially important for The Kangaroo Chronicles – the team at Trixter captured the time code for every sequence so that each animator knew which take to use. The result was a cohesive and functioning pipeline that merged into the team’s workflow seamlessly. 

“On one side of the library, we have all the motion-capture takes that we need. On the other side, the rig, and in the middle, a big green button saying‘Hey please make it .’ It’s possible to copy the timecode directly using ftrack and enter it into this motion-capture library and then process through Xsens MVN and into Maya.”

“We had a core team of five or six people that did the blocking for all shots and it was quite amazing because they could complete five to 10 shots within a day. Everybody was quite surprised by how easy it was and how smooth it worked,” explained Urban. 

Versatility and Speed

The ability to record motion capture without a camera setup provides studios with newfound versatility – an office, studio or local park can set the scene for any motion sequence. 

“We have a cinema review room which also has the ability to complete shots for productions on a different scale. This was used for previous projects, and The Kangaroo Chronicles was shot on-set only. But we also have a playground next to our studio with lots of apparatus that can be utilized successfully for motion capture. You can use the technology pretty much anywhere, that’s the thing I love the most about it.” 

“I’d definitely recommend the Xsens suits to other German companies because often, I’ve found they don’t have the budget to build a motion capture stage,” says Urban. 

He also found that the suit’s ease-of-use provided his team with the speed necessary to complete shots fast without the need for added hours in the studio. 

“One thing that I’m really proud of is that we completed around 400 shots within just six months with a small team, but we didn’t have to do any kind of overtime – not a single minute! Using this motion capture is definitely one of the reasons why we were able to give the artists part of their lives back. It worked really well for The Kangaroo Chronicles and everybody was really happy. Seeing the movie now, it definitely paid off,” says Urban. 

Coming Up

The success of Xsens’ introduction to Trixter’s pipeline has led to the studio applying the same production methods to their on-going and future projects. 

“Everybody is allowed to jump into the suit and pitch new ideas, too,” Urban adds.  

Trixter’s 20-year history has seen the completion of major projects for both television and film, bringing Iron Man, Baby Groot and Goose the cat to life. This includes work on the upcoming Marvel feature Black Widow. In 2018, the studio joined forces with Cinesite, becoming one of the largest independent digital entertainment studios worldwide.