Sunday, March 18, 2007

Blender + realtime puppetry = interesting

I found this post over on the PuppetVision blog to be very intriguing. He’s developing an open source real time puppetry input device that will work with the free CG content program Blender. Early tests seem pretty rudimentary and rough right now, but I’m willing to bet it’ll be a very interesting new toy when it’s done. At the very least it’s a step forward in creating a kitchen-table-top version of the kind of technology that larger budgeted filmmakers have had access to for a while. He says you can use all manner of interfaces to drive the thing- even a Wii controller. Once completed it promises to open some interesting doors for independent non-camera filmmakers. And I am sure it will generate a new wave of conversations in the “animation” world.

I’ve seen some work done by the Henson folks with their realtime puppetry input devices on rendered CG before. Blur Studio did a pilot for Fox a few years back, forget the name of the thing. Something about a space alien named Fred or somesuch. Needless to say it wasn’t quite up there with hand keyed facial animation. In fact it really wasn’t even close. But for realtime… not bad. But remapping systems of facial capture might suffocate this realtime puppetry baby in the cradle. Depends if a good and affordable facial capture/remapping system can be developed. Right now any capture systems are heavy on the hardware/software side. I wonder when you’ll see $500 home motion capture systems? With the Youtube-ization of the world I’d say maybe 5 years? I’m sure there will always be those who prefer the hands on (hands in?) approach to traditional puppetry. But full body puppetry has been a mainstay of the art form for a long, long time. The lines between what we call mo-cap or perf-cap and puppetry are getting blurrier. In the end it’s all about taking some motion in realtime and remembering it and putting it into some kind of rendered avatar. The rest is semantics and hype.
Right now anything that has a processed or ‘rendered’ image seems to be lumped into the animation categorization. Any advanced machinima efforts will probably face similar ghetto-ization. Too bad for them- they’ll get stuck at the kiddie card table at the family reunion just like us animators. heh. Still, for the shoestring budget indy “non-realist’ filmmaker this could be a revolutionary new toy. Puppetry is a fantastic art form and craft. By the strictest of interpretations (seemingly not much of a concern to most) it’s not ‘animation’, though. Digitally rendering the performance capture of a digital puppet does get the idea engine running, though. I dig puppetry- it’s a lot of fun. I still like sock puppets, though. for me the rougher the puppet the more entertaining it seems to be. I don’t know why- I think it’s the absurdity of it all that makes me laugh.

Anyhow…. interesting times indeed.

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