Visual effects company Origami Digital recently moved in to a new location near the Hawthorne Airport. The 8,000-square-foot building includes an expanded performance-capture stage, a large studio for the artists and state-of-the-art infrastructure.
“We’ve always had a full-service approach to our work, and in the new space we can offer the whole range of our services more efficiently,” said Oliver Hotz, founder of Origami Digital and visual effects supervisor at the facility. “We have invested a great deal in the development of our mo-cap pipeline and now we have a dedicated 50′ x 50′ mo-cap volume so we can really put the system to work.”
“We looked at a number of great buildings, but we decided on this location because it gave us the freedom to lay out the facility exactly the way we wanted it,” said Matt Rubin, producer at Origami Digital. “Our goal is to combine artistry with cutting-edge technology, and we’ve built this place from the ground up to accomplish that.”
Past projects completed at Origami Digital have included The Aviator and the short films created for Microsoft’s Halo 3 game release by director Neill Blomkamp.
“Oliver and his team are brilliant creators who work well under the high pressures of filmmaking, and complete world-class work in record time,” said Blomkamp, who also worked with Origami Digital on several Nike and Gatorade commercials. “ We had extremely tight deadlines for the Halo shorts and every time, without fail, Origami was able to work within our framework and deliver brilliant work that, in normal situations, would have taken twice as long.”
The visual effects pipeline at Origami Digital is based on a suite of in-house tools for project tracking and asset management, which enable the facility to handle large projects with a minimum of internal bureaucracy and overhead. Not only do artists have access to all of the assets for their shots, but they can easily evaluate their work in the context of the edit. There is less back-and-forth and the artists can work more independently. In fact, Rubin explained that, thanks to their project management system, he and Hotz can manage all of the artists directly, rather than working through department heads and supervisors.
“Our flat hierarchy allows us to complete a lot of work in a short time,” explained Rubin. “The primary benefit for our clients is the freedom it gives them to explore creative ideas. We can offer this because of our fast turnaround. This allows for a highly collaborative relationship with the client.”
The collaborative approach was very much in evidence recently with Guy Moshe, the director of Bunraku – a CG-heavy film slated for release later this year. “Guy spent a lot of time here as we refined the look of the film with him and tried out ideas for different shots,” said Hotz. “Interacting with the client like this is one of the most satisfying aspects of our work for me personally.”
Leveraging Origami’s LOCO Technology
LOCO, a technology developed at Origami, serves as a development platform for a number of the facility’s in-house tools. This includes Origami’s proprietary motion capture system – LOCO MoCap.
LOCO MoCap uses PhaseSpace cameras and an active optical system, which offers a number of key advantages over other approaches. Each marker in LOCO MoCap has a unique ID, which enables artists to quickly repair any occlusion errors. “The accuracy of the system is within a tenth of a millimeter, which means it is virtually noiseless,” explained Hotz. “As long as we can see the marker, there’s no clean up required and no need to smooth the data. That allows us to work faster.”
Another advantage of the active optical system is that it can work outdoors in daylight using the infrared spectrum. This makes LOCO MoCap much more flexible and portable. “A couple of years ago, when Neill Blomkamp was in New Zealand working on the original Halo movie project, he asked us to bring it over to do the pre-viz,” recalled Hotz. “We were able to do the motion capture right there with him on location.”
LOCO DVR is another system developed on the LOCO platform. LOCO DVR records the video assist feeds from all of the cameras on set – along with any notes from the VFX supervisor – giving artists access to the camera video tap later during postproduction. LOCO DVR can also be used to stream live from the video assist feed over the Internet, enabling two production units to coordinate their work, or allowing the director and cinematographer to remotely check on the progress of the B-camera unit.