Emmy-award winning animator and Foundation Imaging co-founder Ron Thornton is the CGI Producer for Starship Troopers. Click on the image for Ron's bio.
Click on the images below for larger images of these scenes from Starship Troopers
The decisions on what keyframe to use and when to use that morph target can come from a number of different sources, from timing sheets, or a utitlity program for Lightwave called Magpie Pro. The animators at Foundation also have more traditional analog approach to working out the lip sync - video. "We have a system setup where we can video tape ourselves lip syncing with the dialog and use that as a visual reference for the animation," said Scheetz. This low tech solution comes after extensive research showed that the latest technology wasn't the best production solution. "We found that all of the cool dots on the face, interpolating algorithms that can supposedly track your emotions don't work for us," said Bryant." You spend so much time cleaning it up and so much time correcting it, that you might as well have just done it by hand in the first place - and usually the hand cranked approach gives you better results."
a Bright Future
Part of this time crunch is due to the standards that Bryant, Scheetz and all the crew at Foundation Imaging set for themselves. "Foundation Imaging is not about to produce crap," said Bryant. "We don't have multiple quality levels - it's actually a limitation of the company in that we only have one quality level. So we knew that it was not going to be easy, because we weren't going to make it easy on ourselves."
What will the future hold - can one team create a full show in just a week? "That's just blindingly fast," Scheetz says with a weary sigh. "We have four teams doing four shows in four weeks, but to have a single team create a show in just a week is too much. We've even talked about what if we rolled the entire company into one big Mega-team, but then quality control and continuity would suffer." For Bryant, the challenges are well worth the effort, as Foundation is breaking new ground with the show. "[Troopers] is not a cartoon show - it's virtual film making. It's a live action show that is just entirely computer generated - or rather animator generated, said Bryant. "After all, the computers are just the machines that generate motion between keyframes. Its the animators that make the difference."
Erik Holsinger has been writing about digital media production so long he remembers a time when 1 Mbyte of RAM was an impressive thing. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org