Toronto Film School’s Video Game students will now be able to take their animation skills to whole new life-like levels – and it’s all thanks to the recent transformation of the school’s Rick Bennett Studio into a Hollywood-calibre motion capture studio.
Equipped with the same OptiTrack motion capture system used by the likes of Disney, Ubisoft and NASA, TFS’s new mo-cap studio at 460 Yonge St. features 16 industry-standard infrared cameras, innovative Faceware facial tracking technology, and Motive optical motion capture software.
“It’s really cool stuff – and it’s all the same systems that they’ve used on a lot of the really big Hollywood films, like Lion King and War for the Planet of the Apes,” said Richard Johnson, Toronto Film School’s veteran Equipment Manager.
“I don’t know of any other (local) schools that have motion capture systems yet. There are a few companies in town that have them, but they’re systems that are just good enough to do what they need them to do…Ours is the system that they’re using on all the biggest Hollywood projects. We want our students to learn a system that is better than what’s out there.”
Rob Elsworthy, Director of TFS’s Video Game Design & Animation program, said the new mo-cap studio has gotten nothing but rave reviews from students excited to suit up and digitally transform into all manner of different characters and creatures.
“The students love getting into the suit, they love play acting – it’s a lot of fun to just act out your childhood fantasies to become a warrior or creature. We actually have people acting as Werebats, it’s crazy,” he laughed. “There’s a lot of fun things you can do on a motion capture stage.”
Having the new mo-cap studio located at TFS’s new “hub” location at 460 Yonge St. has also helped foster even more collaboration between his Video Game students and their Acting, Writing, and Film Production classmates, Elsworthy said.
“Having the location be downtown where everyone is in one spot has been fantastic. We have actors who take part in our shoots, we have writing students who contribute to our scripts…and I’ve had several requests recently from students who are making films and want to use animation for their projects,” he said.
“With the new advances of the motion capture stage, that increases our level of connectivity a huge amount, where now we can talk about creating whole projects together – animated movies, for instance, where we could have someone write the script here, we could have actors on set to shoot the stuff, then we have our modellers and animators who can wrap it all up and finish production.”
What personally excites Elsworthy most about TFS’s establishment of an in-house mo-cap studio, however, is the doors of opportunity that having that kind of technology at their disposal will open for his students.
“On my personal path, it took me several years of working at a game studio before I actually got onto a live motion capture set,” said Elsworthy, whose own impressive resume includes blockbuster games like Grand Theft Auto, Max Payne, Red Dead Redemption and Manhunt.
“Our students get to run in right off the bat and get the experience they need to walk onto a set and actually work – they could direct, they could act in it, or they could learn how to process the animation.”
That sentiment was echoed by Paul Thibodeau, who currently serves as both the Director of Motion Capture at Fast Motion Studios – an accredited motion capture and new media facility located in northeast Toronto – and as the newest addition to TFS’s Video Game faculty.
“(Motion capture) technology is becoming more easily accessible to studios of all sizes…studios that will need people that are multifaceted in their skill sets,” said Thibodeau, who signed on to teach Motion Capture and MotionBuilder at TFS in January 2020.
“That’s huge for our students, because in this program we offer that opportunity for them to learn animation, as well as modeling, VFX and everything else that goes along that pipeline…
“The importance of motion capture in the future of video games is undeniably going to be locked in stone.”