iPi Soft: trackerless mocap in “Now You See Me”

The summer blockbuster “Now You See Me”, which has grossed more than $350 million USD worldwide since Summit Entertainment, a LIONSGATE  company, released the film in the US, features several complex visual effects sequences created by Montreal-based studio Rodeo VFX. But none proved more challenging than a key scene set at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas – aided immeasurably by iPi Soft’s markerless motion capture solution iPi Motion Capture.

“We had been experimenting with iPi Motion Capture and knew going into the project that we would use it for some of the crowd duplication and we definitely put the software through its paces,” Jordan Soles, Rodeo FX’s Chief Technology Officer, says.

Specialized Workflow:

Those paces included a specialized workflow perfectly tailored to the needs of the scene. Soles explained that they began the process by using the iPi Motion Capture’s two Kinect camera set up to body scan their 100 or so employees, while simultaneously taking high res still images of their faces. After cleaning up the mesh, they composited the still photos onto the model to create a default rig.

From there they brought the employees back in, and filmed them using the higher resolution 6 Sony Eye camera set-up, this time acting like they were in the crowd at a big arena event – clapping, standing, talking, cheering, etc. That data was then cleaned up using Autodesk’s MotionBuilder, with final animation and lighting completed with Autodesk’s Softimage.

“The process worked particularly well because the scene was extremely well lit and because the camera is constantly moving quickly,” Soles adds. “However, this was a big challenge because of the length of the shot, which is over a minute long, featuring literally thousands of people we had to duplicate.”

Fundamental Changes:

For Jocelyn Hudon, Rodeo’s Head of Animation, iPi Motion Capture’s simple set-up and quality of mocap data was a key factor in the success of the scene.

“It’s very easy to set up – in a few hours we can be ready to capture animation data – and because you don’t need sensor suits or exhaustive clothing setups, we could capture data from different actors at any time,” Hudson says. “It gave us a great 3D animation base for our animators to work from, as well as a 3D reference for keyframing and motion data editing.”

And beyond the immediate success of “Now You See Me,” iPi Motion Capture has actually fundamentally changed the way Rodeo FX bids on crowd simulation projects going forward – giving them added confidence to go after complex assignments.

“We’re bidding work now that is centered on this kind of high-level crowd duplication effects,” Soles notes, “and we’re going after it with a high level of confidence that we can build out realistic crowd simulations with iPi Motion Capture and the approach we created for ‘Now You See Me.’ It’s an extremely good piece of software, and when I look at its trajectory it is only is getting better. We feel really good about using it.”

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