Saturday, January 25, 2014

FLIP goes to Shepperton Studios

On wednesday I went with some of my students from Buckinghamshire New University to visit Shepperton Studios. Being a movie geek, I couldn't wait to visit the place where classic films like Kubrick's Dr Strangelove, The Day of The JackalRidley Scott's Alien and Attenborough's Ghandi were filmed. I mean, even empty film studios are full of atmosphere; a place to fill the imagination with dreams of stardust. Shepperton did not let us down.

Everywhere you look there is movie history. Even the streets carry the names of the great film-makers of the past. There is David Lean Drive and Peter Sellers Way - all there to remind you that you walk in footsteps of giants.

I spent ten years working in Los Angeles, so being in a film studio isn't a new experience. In fact, I felt right at home in Shepperton. Walking past the sound stages feels a lot like being in a Hollywood film studio - but rather more damp and considerably more grimy.

Shepperton also betrays its rather impressive aristocratic past. Like Pinewood, it was once a stately home, a 17th century mansion named Littleton Park, built by one Thomas Wood. If you drive around the suburbs a while like I did, getting lost, you can see the overgrown remains of grand old gate houses, long disused. And, once you find your way in, Littleton park itself is still there in all its splendour - now playing host to weddings and Bartmitzvahs.

I was at Shepperton to spend the day at Centroid, one of the UK's leading provider of performance capture to the film, TV and games industries. Centroid have just moved here from Pinewood, in pursuit of an even bigger space to deliver their work. Real estate near London is expensive, and even movie studios, it seems, never quite have enough of it.

Centroid's new MoCap stage
Motion Capture takes up a lot of space. And the more space you have, the bigger the range of motion you can record. We were capturing some dance performances for a student film project. The dancers got into the process fast - obviously having a great time.

Witnessing this fusion of academic excellence and private sector technology was the senior management team (SMT) of Bucks New University, there to explore possible public/private sector partnerships, and to figure out a way to bring MoCap to Bucks in a practical way that everyone can use. After all, it's not just about animation: performance capture can be used for sports, motion analysis and dance - it's a very flexible tool.

Centroid have now entered into an official partnership with Bucks. In the spirit of this cutting-edge new co-operation, I managed to persuade some of our animation students to pose with our fancy new wall hanging.

Animation and VFX students
For more about how Motion Capture works, check out this post about my trip to Pinewood in December 2012.


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