Reflex Motion Control has been thinking about 3D, and how we could use motion control in the production process, but we never had the opportunity to work on a project that had a client with the vision of what they wanted, and a production company to execute it.
When the opportunity came, it was through Cape Town-based animation and post specialists BlackGinger, and production company Shy the Sun, who had been contracted by Ogilvy Johannesburg to develop two scripts for M-Net, the major satellite pay TV provider in South Africa. These were to be two 60-second spots that would air in theaters before 3D feature films, one called Firefly, the other Ladybug. Firefly was a night scene where a firefly's source of light (a lamp) goes out, and he goes on a search through a forest for a new light. Ladybug was a similar idea, but in daylight.
The producers found that producing photorealistic backgrounds would take way too long, and be very expensive. Shooting miniature sets was going to be much more cost effective.
Our job was to create a 3D motion path for the background plate, as we followed this little firefly through trees and under brambles and bushes. We would export the path we created as three-dimensional data that identified keyframes and some of the frames between them. The move was pulled into Houdini, where it was evaluated, and any changes decided.
The miniature set with the 5D on the robot arm.
To create our path, we used a single Canon 5D Mk II on a motion control arm to photograph one frame at a time, first one eye and then the other. We used motion control to precisely move to each position. This allowed us to also animate convergence, and to create a result that we believe is groundbreaking.
Shooting Miniature Sets.
Shooting motion control with a Canon 5D proved to be the best way to efficiently shoot what ended up being more than three weeks of 18 hour days.
Here is the story of how it came together...
ABOUT REFLEX MOTION CONTROL
South Africa has one of the oldest film industries in the world, but as recently as 13 years ago, motion control didn't exist here.
We looked at the technology that was available in those days, and we made the leap. Since 1996, Reflex Motion Control has been South Africa's only permanentlybased motion control provider, and has worked on numerous TV commercials and some features too. Reflex runs its own rigs but has also partnered with VFX London to hire the MILO and MINI rigs to the South African market.
We had seen in the UK that motion control rigs were mainly film-based. Video was something to be avoided. However, all of our new directors were cutting their teeth on video, first Betacam, and later Digi-Beta. We chose to look at a technology that would work equally well with film as well as video.
As we began, is was clear that motion control had gotten a bad name. Many of the rigs weren't reliable, and when they got on set, failed for one reason or another.
This is why we looked at normal robotics. We chose the kind of robot arm that you have seen welding cars around the world, because those robots are bulletproof, built for working in factories under terrible conditions, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
A familiar looking robotic arm in the studio with the miniature set.
Note the dolly track that the robot arm is mounted on, a custom modification.
We had to modify our robot to make it more suitable for the film industry. Some hardware and software tweaks, and also to compensate for the fact that these things tend to get bolted down in factories. For example, we had to figure out how to make them portable, and to quickly change rigs for a shoot.