Team Rolfes is the 3D and image making studio headed up by brothers Sam and Andy Rolfes. Abstraction and surreal imagery are a constant throughout their art, whether they're designing an album cover for Lady Gaga, a music video for Danny Elfman, or performing live on stage. While to some studios and creators motion capture is simply a tool, for Team Rolfes, it's been a mainstay throughout their creative journey thus far.
Cover of Dawn of Chromatica, credit: Lady Gaga's official website
As Andy Rolfes says, “There's been a little bit of keyframed animation here and there, but I think a lot of our studio work has been really focused on real-time and performance technology. This is what we've been rooted in, even looking back to the Amnesia Scanner music video, which was done with the Oculus headset. And we very much rely on these performances created by these tools to give some humanity and life to our work. We've gone into more traditional animation just to round things out, but we've stayed pretty firmly rooted in real-time performances”
Their unique art stems from constant experimentation undertaken by Team Rolfes, and the stability that Movella's Xsens suits brought them allows them to operate without too much time being spent thinking about the gear involved.
“What I've been doing for the last few years is taking the Xsens MVN Link suit and recording myself going through different poses and gestures, and then retargeting afterwards. Andy Rolfes continues, “It's sort of similar to sculpture work, trying to find a way to utilize the figure as a strong strong standpoint, and then from there, I can go through other explorations. My personal practice is highly figurative and basically using the Xsens suit allows me to be able to build out a very core pillar for my practice.”
Sam and Andy Rolfes have always done things differently, and with the Xsens suit they are able to explore areas of creativity that would not be possible without the security and accuracy of Xsens. For creators like Team Rolfes who are continuously looking to innovate, whether through gaming, live performances or artwork, having a robust set-up is essential. As we enter into the next stage of the internet with the metaverse, having reliable tools, such as the Xsens Link suit, available to artists will result in more time spent experimenting and creating, and less time worrying about tech restrictions.
As the capabilities of motion capture widens, the value of movement for creators increases, with the growing interest in emotes in games such as Fortnite and Apex Legends, and motion-captured NFTs just being some recent examples. In Team Rolfes' case, the intricacies of movement are an essential part of their artistic craft and how they express themselves in their work.
Dynamic creativity without compromise
Team Rolfes has a wide reach of creative outlets, often meaning they are juggling client work alongside their live performances worldwide. What this means as creators is that they have to be able to work anywhere, anytime, and the flexibility of the Xsens suit allows Sam and Andy to set up for motion capture work wherever they are.
As Sam Rolfes explains, “If we're booked for a festival or something like that, we often set up the Xsens suit out of a conference room or hotel room and test it out there, which is a very nice element of Xsens, knowing that we can just pop it out wherever we are at it use it to its full extent.”
Practicality is at the forefront of Xsens design process. In the world of flexible working set-ups, it's no longer enough that tech, in this case Xsens suits, are capable of high-quality performance, but also that they are able to be easily transported and set-up on the go.
The challenges of music touring means that performers have to be flexible in their approach, particularly when working in a wide range of venues that each have their own unique qualities. While usually, this presents questions of space and lighting, with the added element of motion capture, performers have to account for magnetic interference for the stage that threatens to disrupt the show - as it had for Team Rolfes in the past.
“When we started out, we used a simpler suit that didn't have the same level of shielding,” Sam Rolfes explains. “For certain animations it was fine, but for stage shows, we certainly had to have Xsens. In past shows using different suits, we would get on stage and have issues with characters flying all over the place because of electromagnetic interference with speakers. So adopting the Xsens suit was an upgrade to another level of stability. And just so we didn't have to clean up animation quite as much. But especially for stage stuff, it really made it possible to do much bigger performances.”
Andy Rolfes adds further, “One of the reasons we're using the Xsens suit specifically is because when you're touring all over the place, and you don't know what kind of metal is in the building, or where the speakers are, then you need a solution with a lot of magnetic protection”.
Creators such as Sam and Andy Rolfes want to spend as little time as possible thinking about the limitations of their technology, and more time experimenting and creating, which is why the Xsens suit was perfect for their shifting needs and demands. The magnetic immunity suit removes the headache that often comes with performing in unknown environments, allowing Team Rolfes to smoothly translate their show no matter where they are performing. The low maintenance set-up of the Xsens suit allows creators like Team Rolfes to stay dynamic on the road, removing the boundaries of having to operate in a traditional studio space.
The relationship between Motion Capture and VR
The key to Sam and Andy's craft has always stemmed from a harmonious relationship between motion capture and VR, and how they take the realistic data from motion capture and blend it with unrealistic elements created with ‘VR puppetry’. The success of the two technologies can be clearly seen in Danny Elfman’s music video for ‘Insects’, on which Team Rolfes served as Directors and Character Designers.
Sam Rolfes goes on to explain more about the making of the music video, “It was a blend of performance, being captured in VR, and also the Xsens suit. We set up the actors in the Xsens suits and had different Unreal games running in the background, just to get a more genuine performance out of them. Plus it’s always fun to strap a bunch of stuff to a performer and see how they react to it - you get a lot of interesting footage from that. And then there’s the element of VR puppetry, which is added after the fact. This meant choreographing each scene, doing the camera work with VR, filming additional motion capture if needed. So there was always an element of real-time involved here, whether it was recording an insect character or adding in extra scenes”.
On the Danny Elfman project and beyond, the Xsens suit served as a basis for Team Rolfes’ creativity. The reliability of the software’s motion capture data means they can spend more time creating experiences rather than worrying about technical faults, while the flexibility of the suit perfectly meets the dynamic demands that come with their work.
The creativity of Team Rolfes’ work shows how high-quality motion capture data can enable innovation and experimentation for digital artists. Just as with Veronica Lynn Harper and her NFT collection or Cory Strassburger’s metaverse based character ‘Blu’, Xsens technology opens up new areas for creators to explore.
To find out more about Team Rolfes, click here
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