Faced with the challenge of creating a gritty digital feature film, Dog Eat Dog director Kenny Roy decided to use 3D motion control to replicate live-action filmmaking. His animation studio, Arconyx Animation, is using the Leap Motion Controller with a custom Maya plugin to give the film a “hand-held” tone. It’s a rough-and-tumble motif that aligns with the project’s central story arch: the dark underworld of dogfighting rings.

“The way we produced animation on this film, is we set up scenes almost like a live action set,” Roy explained. The Arconyx crew uses Leap Motion technology to replicate the quick, organic camera work that typically requires top-of-the-line motion capture systems and intensive keyframing produced by hand.

“We’ve written a custom pipeline, a plugin for Maya, that piggybacks on top of the Leap Motion plugin for Maya. The plugin basically creates an actual real-world position that we can record. So we are placing the camera and then using our hands to move the camera like a cameraman would on a live-action set. That way, if the characters are animating around, you can actually dolly around by moving your hand, you can rotate your hand and the camera points at the characters. This is akin to the technology that they paid a million bucks to develop for Avatar where they had digital cameras.”

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This approach makes it possible for Arconyx to rapidly “prototype” a variety of different rough camera takes within minutes, before choosing the best one. “We can iterate so quickly that for us, we could use it on everything. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cartoon commercial for a kid’s toy or whatever, we’re always gonna throw a camera in there, ‘Leap it around,’ and then have like 20 different ideas that we can show before lunchtime.” Afterwards, they can apply smoothing and other techniques to bring their clients the level of camera control that they want.

From plugins for Autodesk Maya and MotionBuilder, to more lighthearted dog films, these are exciting times for 3D motion controls in the filmmaking industry. We can’t wait to see where small indie studios will take it next.

Formerly the head commander of social media at Leap Motion, Kate is now the Editorial Manager at Lily Robotics.

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