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Motion Capture Tech Passes the Test at USC

Cinema students are analyzing a computer-animated fight sequence on two large projector screens in a Performance Capture class at the University of Southern California’s (USC) School of Cinematic Arts, Los Angeles. The USC motion capture room is filled with motion capture, 3D animation, and projection technology, including Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema projectors.

First taught with filmmaker Robert Zemeckis, the course uses the latest technologies to transform real-time action of live actors into 3D animation with 1080p resolution. Although widely used in the scientific world, motion capture is just making its mark in the film industry, championed by directors such as USC alumnus Zemeckis in “The Polar Express,” “Beowulf,” and “A Christmas Carol.”

Teaching Real-Time Motion Capture with Projectors
The USC motion capture room is equipped with 20 Vicon cameras and two high-resolution Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema projectors, all mounted on rigging around a center performance area. The cameras track the action from 20 perspectives, picking up signals from marble-sized reflective markers that are strategically placed on the joints of live performers. The projectors allow students to follow the entire process from start to finish on large screens located on opposite sides of the room.

Eric Furie, a professor at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, then shows his students how to use animation software to create a virtual “skeleton” of the movement, which becomes the blueprint for animation, live action visual effects or interactive gaming. Essential to the task are powerful workstations running the Vicon motion capture system and Autodesk MotionBuilder 3D character animation software.

Resolution and Reliability
Furie saves hours of classroom time by using the projectors to produce large images with incredibly high-resolution image quality and real-time interactivity. “Having high-res Epson projectors for real-time display during each step of the process is the perfect teaching tool for a ‘show and tell’ course like motion capture,” he said.

The motion capture room was previously equipped with projectors that were inadequate for displaying high-resolution motion capture. The department knew it had to upgrade to extremely reliable projectors that would run non-stop for several hours at a time. But the projectors also had to achieve the highest resolution possible, with excellent contrast ratios and exceptional color fidelity.

“Motion capture is all about high resolution,” said Furie. “My students have to see exactly what’s happening on the computer screen, whether I’m explaining editing functions or camera angles, so I’ve really come to rely on projecting images with 1080p resolution.” The projectors feature a contrast ratio of up to 50,000:1 and 1920x1080 resolution, so students no longer miss important image details that can fly by at 60 to 120 frames per second.

The clear and crisp images from the Epson Pro Cinema projector seem to leap off the motion capture screens, with 3LCD D7 technology at the core of each projector’s optical imaging engine. The projector combines C2Fine technology for extraordinary picture detail, UltraBlackTM technology and Vertical Alignment technology for deep blacks and astounding contrasts. Screen images are bright and vivid with 1,600 lumens of color light output and white light output. These projectors also feature innovative color adjustment and an expanded color gamut, bringing true color fidelity to the viewing experience.

Interactive Learning
Upstairs in the Zemeckis Media Lab, students are also using several Epson PowerLite projectors to learn the many aspects of interactive media, whether for gaming, mobile devices or complete virtual environments. Used by the Interactive Media Division, the lab is configured with 14 ceiling-mounted Epson projectors that are used for a wide range of applications.

Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema projectors are also used for the USC Windows gallery exhibitions at the Chapman Building in downtown Los Angeles. The gallery features nightly viewings of animation projections created by students from the John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts. The division also employs Epson projectors for showcase events in the gallery space of the new George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg buildings. Even Trojan Vision, the university’s television station, has Epson projectors in its conference room. These projectors work many long and hard hours, so the school greatly relies on the advanced projector lamps that offer up to 4,000 hours of energy efficient lamp life.

“What I admire most about the Epson projectors is the flexibility, freedom and reliability they give me,” said Furie. “They are remarkably easy to set up, adjust and maintain.”