Making Forest Leaves Dance, Ridley Scott's Seven Worlds
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From Alien to Blade Runner and Gladiator, Ridley Scott has helmed some of the most iconic and celebrated films of all time. However, the legendary film-director doesn't limit himself only to big-screen endeavors, having also created some of the most iconic advertising shorts, including Apple's 1984.
Most recently, when leading cognac producer Hennessy offered Scott the chance to create a dazzling short film inspired by its centuries-old brand and enviable legacy, he saw an opportunity to develop something that was more than just an advertisement—something memorable and impactful that could truly resonate with viewers.
The end result, "The Seven Worlds," is a marvelous odyssey spanning surreal scenes inspired by the seven tasting notes of Hennessy premium X.O. cognac. Realizing Scott's unparalleled vision required a masterful team and state-of-the-art technology to assist, that's where London's The Mocap Studio team came in. The mobile motion capture specialists lent their expertise to the project, using Xsens MVN inertial technology to help capture a human performer on-location in the heart of a Czech forest.
Xsens goes anywhere
The Mocap Studio has extensive experience providing performance capture work to an array of video games and television projects. And Xsens suits are frequently a part of its arsenal, as the technology is easy to transport, set up, and calibrate, allowing the team to capture motion essentially anywhere.
"We have worked on such a wide variety of different shoots, and we've had extensive experience squeezing every bit of quality out of an Xsens suit," says Dave Fiala, director and co-founder of The Mocap Studio. "Whether it's running three concurrent characters, delivering dramatic dialogue for a video game cutscene, or high-dynamic stunts in fight scenes—on-set or on-location—we've done it all."
The team was contacted directly by Scott's RSA Films company to perform the mocap work on-location in a forest and then provide the data to veteran VFX studio MPC to bring to life for the finished product. The remit: capture a dancer performing a choreographed routine, which would then be transformed into a synchronized pile of leaves seamlessly performing the exact same dance in the short film.
"We were thrilled to be working with the pioneering Ridley Scott on this short film, pushing the boundaries of the traditional commercial,” says Tomek Zietkiewicz, producer at MPC. “The Mocap Studio and Xsens provided us with a slate of clean, on-location, motion capture data to work from, requiring minimal clean up from our team. It enabled us to bring the forest leaves to life in the most realistic way all within a fast turnaround."
Realizing the vision
"It was a proper, on-location shoot with all of the chaos that goes along with that. In that kind of situation, you definitely need a system which is not only robust and dependable, but something that is also quite portable and mobile," says Fiala. "That's one of the things we really like about Xsens. It allows us to provide mocap services in many different kinds of situations and in ways which competing systems struggle to provide."
Capturing motion on location for such a high-profile shoot served up some unique challenges. Whether it was enormous trees or technical equipment in the way, The Mocap Studio's team had to overcome some unexpected hurdles to execute its task.
But that's no problem for Xsens’ inertial motion capture technology, because you don't need a studio or a camera set up to capture clean, robust data. The sensors are right there in the suit, and you can bring an entire suit plus laptop set up in a single bag and get up and running with ease. Even when they needed to change location in the forest halfway through the capture session, it was no huge hassle to get back up and running.
"It's been great to use for all of the shoots that call for this kind of technology," says Fiala. "Xsens is definitely our go-to system, and it's something that's really great for capturing quite elaborate human movement or action. We find that it's particularly great for capturing action, fights, and dance—anything that has really dynamic human movement to it. It does a really fantastic job of generating great data."
Perhaps it would've been easier to capture the dance within a closed studio setting, far from the natural obstacles of the forest setting. But Scott's uncompromising vision demanded an on-location solution to nail the performance and ensure that it fits correctly into the environment. The Xsens MVN suit was just the solution to give him what he needed.
"Ridley Scott likes to shoot on set, so he wants to see a performer doing a performance—and he wants to know that what's being recorded will translate 1:1 to the digital character," says Fiala. "We took the guesswork out of an animator recreating that animation, and took the performer—who was on set, in front of Ridley Scott, with all of the lighting and environment there—and delivered the exact motion on the day at that exact time."
The Mocap masters
While the company's name suggests a singular focus, The Mocap Studio is a full-service content creation shop that has handled interactive video game-like environments and high-end VFX simulations for other projects. They're now exploring new in-house technology centered around performance capture and virtual production.
The Mocap Studio's role on "The Seven Worlds" shows the team's talent and ability to augment a production with its motion capture skills. And with MVN Animate in its arsenal, The Mocap Studio can confidently enter any production knowing that it can capture a precise performance anywhere at any time.
"Getting to work alongside Ridley Scott himself, alongside a whole legion of incredibly talented people, is really something that we're proud of," says Fiala. "Through the tight schedule and many moving parts and chaotic nature of a location shoot, I'm proud that we were able to very smoothly integrate ourselves into the shoot with minimal fuss and without holding anyone else up on the day—and still come out with top-quality data for the project."
Hennessy X.O - The Seven Worlds - Directed by Ridley Scott