‘Minibeast Heroes’ – towering achievement for Deakin Motion.Lab

Designing Smarter Technologies

Gigantic insects are the stars of a new animation that will educate thousands of children about Australian insects on ABC Education.

A gigantic redback spider, dung beetle, honey bee, lady bird, worm and meat ant are the six heroes of a high-tech animation developed by the team at Deakin Motion.Lab in partnership with ABC Education last November.

On February 5, the ABC launched the program “Minibeast Heroes” as part of ABC Education and will be seen by millions of students online and on TV. With breathtaking photorealism, each animated insect is shown as an environmental hero and towers over the animated “human” host, who is half their size.

The program has been created as a miniseries of six episodes, each two-and-a-half minutes long, and will form a centrepiece of ABC Education for 2018, linking to the Australian Curriculum for Primary Science classrooms. It will be available online at ABC Education and on iView from February 6, 2018.

Adding to the excitement, a behind-the-scenes featurette on how the program was made starring the Deakin Motion.Lab team:

The show was produced at Deakin Motion.Lab using motion capture, facial capture, and virtual production technology that has been developed over the past several years as a way to make the process of creating animated and computer generated (CG) content faster, cheaper and more creatively iterative.

Project leader Dr Jordan Beth Vincent explained that Motion.Lab has developed a ground-breaking process for creating animation that is totally different to traditional animation production techniques. Its use of motion capture, facial capture and computer game engine technology allows the team to render animation in real time.

“We worked with a very fast turnaround time, completing the whole program in only a few months,” she said.

“Our virtual production pipeline is unique. Combining facial capture, motion capture and live pre-visualisation with keyframe animated insect movements meant that we could see an approximation of the final product as we were making it.”
Dr Jordan Beth Vincent
Dr Jordan Beth Vincent Project Leader

“We wanted to give the director a lot of creative control in directing the talent (ABC’s Carl Smith), even though the outcome was going to be fully CG. With virtual cameras that imitate live-action cinematography tools, this is a tremendous step forward in how quickly we can create this kind of content. With traditional methods, producing something of this quality would have taken many months.

“Our system gives us a sneak peak of what we’re getting, which meant we were able to see human characters, bugs and the virtual environment together. This helped the director, Stefan Wernik (Armchair Productions) to make informed decisions quickly, so we had a rough cut of all the episodes by the end of the shooting week. This is a huge time and money saver, compared to traditional animation techniques, and is a process that we have been applying to a number of industry contexts over the past few years.”

Dr Vincent added that the contribution of her highly skilled core team was a major success factor, with eight core staff at Deakin Motion.Lab working on the program and another three helping out when needed.

The motion capture studio was used to animate the movements of actor Carl Smith, who wore a motion capture suit and facial rig while acting in Motion.Lab’s motion capture studio. Carl is a science journalist and presenter, who writes and co-hosts the children’s ethics podcast “Short and Curly.”

The facial capture technology the team called on uses virtual environments and characters to recreate the natural world in a CG form.

“The project was a terrific learning experience and really fun,” said Dr Vincent. “One of the challenges we encountered was that the movements of these insects are at such a small scale that very little footage exists for some of the key movements. For instance, the ABC had to track down a video to see how the honey bee sticks out its proboscis (its tongue), which it unfurls and flicks very rapidly. We had to take that information and animate it as closely to real-world actions as possible.”

The photorealism was achieved with macro-photogrammetry and CG models developed by Perth VR company, Pixelcase, which used a series of enlarged, close-up photographs to reveal the detail of the tiny creatures.

“It’s so fun knowing that the bug models that we animated and worked with were created from individual creatures. We’ve grown quite fond of them — even the spider!” said Dr Vincent.

 

Minibeast Heroes Motion Lab

“Minibeast Heroes” has been created for ABC Education and is available online and on iview from February 6.

 

Main photograph: Cast and crew of Minibeast Heroes (ABC) at Deakin University’s Deakin Motion.Lab. From left, standing: Richard Burt, Shanique Hallgren, Kieren Wallace, Thomas Ingram, Astrid Scott (ABC Producer), Jordan Beth Vincent, Peter Divers, Dee Czarnecki, James Furler, Sean Lewis (ABC Editor), Richard Shilling. Kneeling from left: Amy Nelson (ABC Producer), Carl Smith (Minibeast Performer), Stefan Wernick (Minibeast Director). Photo credit: Deakin Motion.Lab.

 

Published by Deakin Research on 6 February 2018