untitled event

ruminations on a series of unrelated events

A Different Kind of Church

February 5, 2022

In the summer of 2021, I was feeling ready to start a new film. At school, we were formulating a certificate in virtual production for which one of my courses would be transformed into the culminating course. That meant I suddenly needed to learn a thing or two about virtual production. I knew an actual film project would inspire me to become familiar with the processes I would be teaching. For a while, I had been thinking about some sort of film with Indiana Prison Writers Workshop and this seemed like a good way to pursue that interest. I reached out to see if I could meet someone who had an interesting transformational story to tell. That was progressing with a few false starts when separately I serendipitously met someone through one of those friend of an acquaintance type introductions.

That someone was Robert “Church” Brown and he has a great story to tell. Even after I was able to explain the very complicated way this film was going to be made, he was still very interested in participating in the project. So we started the long process of meeting weekly for months to hone his story into a monologue-type film. The concept is he would perform his monologue while appearing in the various locations where the story takes place.

The very complicated way this film was going to be made

The type of virtual production we are doing involves motion capturing his performance, including facial recognition, assigning that performance to a 3D character and then placing that character in highly realistic 3D environments. Once the scenes exist in all their 3D glory, I then “go into” the scenes with a virtual camera and shoot them just like I would a real film.

Zeb wiring up the motion sensors.

I know literally next to nothing about any of this technology. Luckily, my awesome colleague, Zeb Wood, works in this space and has the needed knowledge and technology to pull it all off. So on January 2nd, Church met us at school and donned the famous spandex mo-cap suit. (As you can see in the photos, Church is no stranger to the gym, so I don’t think all the spandex concerned him at all.)

It’s a snug fit.
The blue helmet has a little camera in front to capture facial expressions.
What that little helmet camera sees.
Calibrating movement for accurate motion capture.

We spent the next couple of hours capturing his performance of acts 1 and 2. Church did a great job of remembering his monologue and pretending our big room was the various locations of the film.

In a few weeks we will capture act 3. Come back and read more about the story, and how the capturing and animation progress.

February 27, 2022

We resumed the motion capturing on Sunday of the 3rd act of the script. All of the third act takes place in a prison. Using tape we outlined the space of a cell on the floor and where the bed, desk and lockers were located. Church has a lot of lines to remember and he did a great job, so it all went very smoothly. And that concluded the motion capturing phase of the project. Next up is to use the captured motion to animate a Metahuman character. A few weeks prior Zeb mocked up a very quick Metahuman of Church’s likeness.

March 12, 2022

Last week, I applied for a grant to pay people to work on the rest of the film. As part of that application, Zeb was nice enough to do a quick mock-up sample of the facial capturing being applied to the Metahuman. The animation and the design of the Metahuman are both still quite rough, but here it is:

September 8th, 2022

After failing to secure a grant and having two students graduate who were helping get this project off the ground, things were put on the back burner for the summer. Now that the fall semester is underway, there is some new great energy behind the film. It started with having a student, Grace Shelton, express interest in project managing the film. And then that suddenly ballooned into having several students on board. Two of my colleagues usually team teach a 3D course called Team Production, but this semester it failed to fill sufficiently, so it was turned into an independent study and my film was taken on as their project. So suddenly, there are several highly talented students onboard.

The crew is:

Zeb Wood and Albert William as executive producers

Grace Shelton / Project Manager

Brianna White / Art Direction

Jules Kassmousis / Environment Design

Shane Sanneman / Environment Design

Jasmine Martin / Metahuman animation

Jude Morey / Metahuman animation

The Production Team the first day of class.

In just the few short weeks of school things have gotten well underway.

Jude has already started working with combining our Faceware captures with a temporary Metahuman and cleaning up the animation. Here is the Raw animation test.

Brianna has produced some great moodboards as we dial in the look of the environments and the overall look of the film.

Friday September 16, 2022

A lot of progress was made over the last week and today, among many other things, we did a scan of Church that will be used for his Metahuman and Shane mocked up the hotel space and the prison based on several photos we have as reference.

The Hotel and Prison

We had Church come back in today so we could scan his head and arms. He has a lot of tattoos on his arms and we want to be able to reproduce them as accurately as we can. We had him come to what is called The NEXT Lab (for New Emerging and Experimental Technologies) in our building where Jeff Rogers scanned Church with a handheld Creaform Go!Scan scanner. It was great to see that come together. We scanned the top of Church’s arms and underneath, which will have to be stitched together. And then we scanned his whole head.

Jules has been blocking out the duplex where Church lived in Spokane with his family.

Jasmine has been busy with refining character meshes so we can convert a scan of Church’s head into a full-body 3D character model. Temporarily using a 3D scan of Zeb, Jasmine attempted to created a MetaHuman from a mesh in Unreal Engine 5. Knowing what Zeb actually looks like, it could be fair to say he might be suffering from a little case of Uncanny Valley.

This next video if both hysterical and profoundly creepy. Jasmine was trying an attempt to create a MetaHuman using a zBrush sculpt as its base.

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This entry was posted on February 5, 2022 by in Art, Film, Teaching, Virtual Production and tagged , .
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