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An expanded Web version of segments seen on CNN

Real life 'captured' for animated movie


In this story:

June 20, 1998
Web posted at: 8:57 a.m. EDT (1257 GMT)

From Correspondent Dennis Michael

HOLLYWOOD (CNN) -- "Sinbad: Beyond the Veil of Mists," a movie now in production, is the first feature film to be completely animated using a technique called "motion capture."

Everything you'll see an animated character do on the screen was done first by a stunt performer. The real-life motion is then recreated, or "captured," by computer.

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The result, says "Sinbad" producer Sri Ram Rajan, are cartoon characters that appear more believable. (icon 192 K / 13 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

How the process works

The process begins in a large motion capture stage in Hollywood. On the day CNN visited the set, a stuntman covered from head-to-toe with shining reflectors, wires and a safety harness was yanked into the air like a bungee jumper going in reverse.

animation process
The "motion capture" process: from stick figure to animated character  

Seconds later, he lands safely on a thickly padded mat.

Seven infrared cameras capture the brief action, but all they "see" are the bright reflectors because the shots are recorded as computer data, not as filmed images.

The multiple cameras give animators a three-dimensional sense of how the human body moves, says motion capture artist Tom Tolles. (icon 288 K / 23 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Turning those bright dots into believable animation comes next. During the multi-step process, animators use computers to connect the dots, transforming them into a skeletal-looking drawing.

Later on, a head, torso, arms and legs are added, giving the "captured" image a more realistic, human movement, says, "Sinbad" animation director Evan Ricks. (icon 256 K / 20 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

A few steps more and the star of the film begins eventually emerges from the computer data.

"Sinbad: Beyond the Veil of Mists" is still in the rough stages. The finished product is expected in theaters at the end of this year or early in 1999.

By using the motion capture technique, Rajan says he'll be able to make the film for a third of what a traditionally animated feature costs. That makes Sinbad's fictional adventure one that movie studios may be watching closely.


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