Bringing the 2019 European Games mascot to life in real-time

Based in Belarus and Israel, Asterman Digital Production Company craft outstanding animations, illustrations, mobile games and AR/VR content. Founded by artist Alexander Podgorny in 2016, Asterman’s goal is to fulfil the creative vision of customers, pursuing ideas that might first seem impossible.

Asterman recently delivered a live 3D mascot for the 2019 European Games, which brought together 4,000 athletes from 50 countries. To mark the official presentation of “The Flame of Peace”, participants were joined by the 3D model of a fox cub called Liesik. This digital co-host entertained audiences by moving around, making comments and joking on screen in real-time, powered by Xsens MVN Animate motion capture.

Alexander Podgorny explains, “Our brief was to bring technological effects into the 2019 European Games. Thus we offered to animate their fox mascot, Liesik, as an on-screen digital character that actually interacts with the audience. Liesik is an important symbol for the European Games – bringing him to life not only draws attention, but also creates a serious emotional story.”

Plugging Xsens into Unity 3D
To create a consistent and convincing CG character for the big screen, motion capture included face, body and hand tracking, rendered in real-time with the Unity 3D game engine. Asterman needed a fully compatible solution, and soon adopted Xsens MVN Animate to bring out the full potential of Unity 3D.

“Our partners from Mocap Tech recommended an Xsens suit, which works seamlessly with Unity 3D. Capturing facial, body and hand movements simultaneously – then animating those movements in real-time – requires plenty of preparation time and precise settings. We studied the plug-in and function samples on the Xsens website, and soon has a clear understanding of how to begin bringing Liesik to life,” says Podgorny.

A single actor was used throughout production to keep measurements and calibration consistent. While the Xsens MVN suit recorded body movement, facial motion capture data was obtained using an iPhone and the augmented reality application, ARKit. In accordance with ARKit requirements, changes to the model skeleton were made in 3D, keeping animation clear and smooth. Manus Prime gloves were used to read the hand and fingers movements, ensuring a full range of movement.

By combining these state-of-the art motion capture technologies – revolving around Xsens’ plug-in to Unity 3D – Asterman was able to complete production within two days and meet the tight deadline for a live national broadcast.

Digital Host
To better communicate with the European Games audience, Asterman drove the fox mascot in real-time. The team was very careful to maintain the illusion of an independent, fully functioning CG creature.

The actor playing Liesik was able to take advantage of Xsens’ on-body fully portable system. Based in a small room away from the live stage, he could move around freely with no need for a large-scale optical camera setup. Responding almost instantly to audience questions, the actor followed what was happening in the hall via broadcast, and just played in accordance with the flow. The Xsens suit provided Asterman with much-needed flexibility, turning a logistical challenge into a quick and easy room change.

“It was exciting to witness motion capture completely change our model of communication. We could influence and engage with the audience in a whole new way. We’d like to thank Ivan Kirienko from Mocap Tech for recommending and providing the Xsens MVN system – which made all of this possible. The Asterman team is proud to have taken part in a high-profile, national project of this level,” concludes Podgorny.

 


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