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November 05
2019

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

How Hinge Uses Mocap for Adult Swim’s TOONAMI

By IAN FAILES

Animating characters for a television series is a lot of work. Just ask production studio and creative agency Hinge, which has been working on Adult Swim’s Toonami animation series for the past few years.

Faced with an increased number of characters and crowd shots, including for an upcoming ‘Total Immersion Event’ called The Forge, Hinge looked to a motion-capture solution to help them deliver for the series.

The studio settled on the Xsens MVN suit, an inertial system that does not rely on tracking cameras or a dedicated volume, but instead could be donned by almost anyone at Hinge.

“In the past few years we’d done it all by hand,” says Hinge Executive Producer and Co-founder Roland Gauthier. “Then in 2018 we saw the kind of scope that was starting to evolve for this coming year’s Toonami, where there were going to be a lot more characters, a lot more crowd scenes and a lot more action-oriented animation. We had to pull out a lot of stops in terms of making that scale and scope feel very big.”

Gauthier says the studio investigated marker-based motion-capture solutions, and installed it in a larger room at their location in Portland, Oregon. But then, having seen that the Xsens MVN solution did not require such an expansive install, decided to try the suit. “The biggest feature was the flexibility of being able to take the suit anywhere and be able to use it in a wide different wide range of uses,” adds Gauthier.

The studio settled on the Xsens MVN suit, an inertial system that does not rely on tracking cameras or a dedicated volume, but instead could be donned by almost anyone at Hinge.

“In the past few years we’d done it all by hand,” says Hinge Executive Producer and Co-founder Roland Gauthier. “Then in 2018 we saw the kind of scope that was starting to evolve for this coming year’s Toonami, where there were going to be a lot more characters, a lot more crowd scenes and a lot more action-oriented animation. We had to pull out a lot of stops in terms of making that scale and scope feel very big.”

Character animation being carried out on the main character. (All images courtesy of Hinge and © 2019 Adult Swim/Cartoon Network.)

“In the past few years we’d done it all by hand. Then in 2018 we saw the kind of scope that was starting to evolve for this coming year’s Toonami, where there were going to be a lot more characters, a lot more crowd scenes and a lot more action-oriented animation. We had to pull out a lot of stops in terms of making that scale and scope feel very big.”

—Roland Gauthier, Executive Producer and Co-founder, Hinge

Roland Gauthier, Executive Producer and Co-founder, Hinge

Gauthier says the studio investigated marker-based motion-capture solutions, and installed it in a larger room at their location in Portland, Oregon. But then, having seen that the Xsens MVN solution did not require such an expansive install, decided to try the suit. “The biggest feature was the flexibility of being able to take the suit anywhere and be able to use it in a wide different wide range of uses,” adds Gauthier.

A Hinge artist works on shots for Toonami. The studio’s pipeline revolves around Maya.

“The quality of the data, got us a lot of the way through to getting the right kind of performance and also the nuances that are very hard to do when animating just strictly by hand.”

—Roland Gauthier, Executive Producer and Co-founder, Hinge

Indeed, taking it anywhere was key, because in the show the team at Hinge knew that some scenes were going to involve running down long spaceship hallways and cavernous spaces. “You could never get enough running room in traditional marker-based system spaces,” suggests Gauthier.

Hinge began using the Xsens MVN workflow for previs as well as final performance animation, which is done in Autodesk Maya. “We massage the mocap a lot,” notes Gauthier. “We add all kinds of facial animation and finger animation, because we don’t have the gloves currently in-house. It just worked really, really well for previs, and enabled us to quickly get into planning out our shots and figuring out the performances.

The Xsens suit has several sensors embedded into it.

“The biggest feature [of the Xsens MVN suit] was the flexibility of being able to take the suit anywhere and be able to use it in a wide different wide range of uses.”

—Roland Gauthier, Executive Producer and Co-founder, Hinge

“The quality of the data,” continues Gauthier, “got us a lot of the way through to getting the right kind of performance and also the nuances that are very hard to do when animating just strictly by hand.”

A typical capture session involved Hinge’s animation director either directing somebody else – typically the motion-capture performer – with another artist ‘on the box’ supervising the mocap takes. “Sometimes even our animation director got into the suit himself to just try different things,” relates Gauthier.

An artist demonstrates – live – the motion-capture possibilities of the Xsens MVN suit with the TOM character from Toonami.

“Sometimes even our animation director got into the suit himself to just try different things.”

—Roland Gauthier, Executive Producer and Co-founder, Hinge

“I think one of things that we really enjoyed about the MVN suit is how quickly you can get into it, and how little setup there is to just get going. It enables very live-action-styled direction. You don’t have to worry about getting in the way of the cameras or messing up the take by walking next to the performer. It’s given us that flexibility and that speed that we need.”

Hinge’s future plan is to combine the Xsens MVN suit with some kind of accompanying facial-capture solution. Some studios are utilizing an Apple iPhone situated on a helmet cam to do facial capture, and that’s something Hinge is also looking at, as well as integrating capture gloves into the mix.

Character design for the TOM character from Toonami.

Robot designs as seen in the television series.

So far, the suit has been utilized to help animate humanoid characters, but Gauthier does not see why it could not be used for other creature work. “The kinds of characters that we’re working with right now tend to be bipedal, but in Toonami there are these robots and these worm characters. If you wanted to mime being a worm, I suppose there’s no reason you couldn’t do it in the suit.”

Watch a showcase of Hinge’s work for Toonami – The Forge.

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