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Mo-Cap: Part 2: The Dance

Neither the team from Sony Computer Entertainment America nor the Star Wars Galaxies Team has done anything like what they're about to do today.

The set up and preparation before the motion capture session moves along smoothly. The highly sensitive cameras are calibrated successfully, a procedure the SCEA guys have to go through each morning to ensure precision. If even a single camera is off by a hair's breadth, the data gathered could be useless.

This session will be devoted to capturing the force power actions and dance moves for Star Wars Galaxies.

Dan Legg begins the "subject-cal" as they call it, short for subject calibration. He sits behind a bank of dials, buttons and monitors, the top of his head just visible from where Sabrina Fox, one of SWG's motion capture performers, holds a T-pose at the center of the room. To Dan's left rests a rack of high-tech video equipment and computers. "Have her kind of hold her head up a little," he calls out over the top of the bank, never taking his eyes off the monitor. The cluster of pixels and lines on the screen shifts slightly. Each point corresponds to a reflector attached to the suit Sabrina wears.

This subject-cal is a little different from what Dan's accustomed to. For one thing, two of the markers are in the wrong spots. "You get used to looking at it and having it look a specific way," he says, pointing to several points that normally would be knees, but are much higher on the leg to accommodate a whole different range of human motion that will be captured today. "You adapt." Sabrina has moved into the proper position. "Yeah. Now, hold it...okay, thank you. Perfect. We got it."

The conglomeration of dots and wires and numbers appears chaotic on the screens to the layman, but to the Sony team that runs the studio day after day, it's like perfect prose. "How geeky is it when you can look at numbers and say, that data is a little noisy?" says Brian Rausch, the director of the motion capture studio. "You can look at a ticker and decide whether a move is going to be pristine or not. Mom would be so proud."

Brian is a wisecracker, and tells a story about a particularly rough football capture session he took part in a while back. "The guys were just killing each other all day long. I was actually worried someone was going to get hurt. Then one of the guys gets up, groaning. I'm thinking, oh great here we go."

Then something completely unexpected happened. On Brian's monitor, a stream of pixels began pouring out of the wire-framed football player, bouncing and scattering across the floor plane. "This guy's got a handful of markers he's been carrying the entire time and holds them behind himself and drops them, so it shows up in the data."

The fun doesn't slow the work progress. The calibration phase is completed and everyone's ready to begin the capture phase, ahead of schedule.

The performers for the dance moves are Cosmo Hom and Sabrina Fox. Both are experienced motion capture actors, and have worked together in the past on titles such as Syphon Filter 1 and 2. Both are trained dancers, proficient in many different dance styles, which will be called upon for the moves Jake Rodgers, the art director, and Joe Shoopack, the character team lead, want for SWG.

Sabrina is the first to perform today.


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