Trixter is one of Germany’s leading VFX studios. Their 20-year history has seen the completion of major projects for both television and film, bringing Iron Man, Baby Groot and Goose the cat to life—this includes work on the soon-to-be-released Marvel feature, Black Widow. In 2018, the studio joined forces with Cinesite, becoming one of the largest independent digital entertainment studios worldwide.
Their most recent film, The Kangaroo Chronicles (Die Känguru-Chroniken), utilizes Xsens MVN Animate to produce the leading role, an animated kangaroo. Based on the collections of texts by the German author, Marc-Uwe Kling, produced from the Berlin based Production Company X-Filme creative Pool and directed by their co-founder Dani Levy (Alles auf Zucker/Go for Zucker), the comedy follows an artist and a talking Kangaroo as they take on a Berlin real estate company. We spoke with Character and Creature Animator, Claudius Urban, about his work as Animation Supervisor on the feature and how he built Trixter’s motion capture pipeline with the Rigging and Pipeline team.
Claudius was first introduced to the Xsens MVN Animate solution when working for the Stuttgart-based studio, Unexpected. After working freelance for several major studios, Claudius landed an artist role at DNEG where he was reunited with Xsens technology—Claudius had an opportunity to delve into the motion capture suit’s full capabilities, and since then, it’s remained his mo-cap solution of choice.
“From that time on I was always in favor of Xsens. I’d say to companies ‘You have to have that kind of suit, it’s got so much flexibility’. You can just go outside, to a playground for example, and act out all of the moves there” said Claudius.
After returning to Germany, Claudius decided to pitch Xsens as an alternative to keyframing animation at his new employer, Trixter. Keyframing is the process of drawing the start and endpoints of any animation sequence before filling the in-between.
“After working freelance, I joined Trixter—I had worked there before as lead animator on Iron Man 3. The first thing I asked was ‘Do you have a motion-capture pipeline already in place?’—usually, in the VFX business, there’s a lot of overtime and artists need to keyframe during time-sensitive schedules. Often, it’s just not possible.”
“Motion-capture to me is a free pass around these issues. It gives you short cuts. It gives you a part of your life back. And, because you don’t have to keyframe everything, you can show several versions of the animation to the director to choose from,” said Claudius.
With motion capture being a new edition to Trixter’s production process, Claudius spent time with the Trixter Pipeline and Rigging team, setting up the exact mechanisms that ensured the pipeline remained consistent. His broad experience across some of the world’s leading studios gave Claudius an edge when constructing an entirely new pipeline.
“Because I worked for a lot of different companies, I could take the best elements from each and apply them at Trixter. The usability of Xsens is a huge part of its appeal because you don’t have to plug it in. You can jump and move with the suit and run the data via MVN before copying it over into specific folders—we are able to create a motion capture library of assets for a production to draw from,” described Claudius.
After creating a motion capture library, Claudius and his team utilized time codes to locate and extract the motion data and apply it to the animations. This was especially important for The Kangaroo Chronicles—the team at Trixter captured the time code for every sequence so that each animator knew which take to use. The result was a cohesive and functioning pipeline that merged into the team’s workflow seamlessly.
“On one side of the library we have all the motion capture takes that we need. On the other side, the rig, and in the middle, a big green button saying ‘Hey please make it’. It’s possible to copy the timecode directly using ftrack and enter it into this motion capture library and then process through Xsens MVN and into Maya.”
“We had a core team of 5 or 6 people that did the blocking for all shots and it was quite amazing because they could complete 5-10 shots within a day. Everybody was quite surprised by how easy it was and how smooth it worked,” explained Claudius.
Versatility and speed
The ability to record motion capture without a camera setup provides studios with new-found versatility—an office, studio or local park can set the scene for any motion sequence.
“We have a cinema review room which also has the ability to complete shots for productions on a different scale—this was used for previous projects and The Kangaroo Chronicles was shot on-set only. But we also have a playground next to our studio with lots of apparatus that can be utilized successfully for motion capture. You can use the technology pretty much anywhere, that’s the thing I love the most about it.”
“I’d definitely recommend the Xsens suits to other German companies because often, I’ve found they don’t have the budget to build a motion capture stage,” said Claudius.
Claudius also found that the suit’s ease-of-use provided his team with the speed necessary to complete shots fast without the need for added hours in the studio.
“One thing that I’m really proud of is that we completed around 400 shots within just 6 months with a small team, but we didn’t have to do any kind of overtime—not a single minute! Using this motion capture is definitely one of the reasons why we were able to give the artists part of their lives back. It worked really well For The Kangaroo Chronicles and everybody was really happy. Seeing the movie now, it definitely paid off,” said Claudius.
The success of Xsens’ introduction to Trixter’s pipeline has led to the studio applying the same production methods to their on-going and future projects:
“While I can’t name the specific projects we’re working on right now, we’ve got a lot of shots in the pipeline—I’m using the Xsens suits all the time. Everybody is allowed to jump into the suit and pitch new ideas too. We just had a motion capture shoot recently which went very smoothly. We managed 40 takes within 2 hours in addition to the setup” exclaimed Claudius.
Now equipped with further versatility and speed from Xsens, Trixter will continue to produce features to a high production standard and at an even faster rate—we look forward to the studio’s upcoming releases.