To recreate the vitality and nuance of a live performance, Virtual Vaudeville uses motion capture, the same technology used in films such as the Titanic and Lord of the Rings. Motion capture uses the real motion of a live performer to drive the animated motion of a 3D computer character. The result is an animation that moves in precisely the same way a live performer does.

To capture the performer’s motions, we use a Vicon optical motion capture system. This system uses a series of high-resolution cameras to track the position of small reflective balls affixed to key points on the performer’s body. For a standard full-body capture we use 44 reflectors. The basic principle is simple: as long as any two cameras can see a given sensor, the computer can calculate where that sensor is in three dimensional space. These cameras do not record photographic images of the performer, as standard video cameras would; the computer uses the cameras to generate a list of numbers indicating the location of each reflector 120 times a second.


David Spearman is one of three motion capture performers for Sandow

Nathan Henderson captures a standing back flip. He is one of three performers who contribute motion to Sandow’s act.


We begin by casting a live performer who has the skills and personality required to give a first-rate performance of the particular act. After an intensive period of rehearsal working with the historians, stage director, choreographer and musical director, the performer is ready for the facial and motion capture sessions. We capture the face separately from the rest of the body, and record the actor’s voice during the facial capture session so that the animation’s lips are automatically synchronized with the sound. The actor listens to the recording of his voice as he performs the scene again for the full body capture.

After we have captured the facial and body motion, we use Kaydara Filmbox software to transfer the live performer’s body and facial movements onto the 3D model we have created of the historical performer. The motion capture data provides only a starting point for the animation. The animator goes through the scene frame by frame comparing the facial animation to a video of the live performer to refine the character’s lip movements and expressions. The animator also manually adds crucial details such as hand movements and movements of cloth in the costume -- and in the case of Sandow, hundreds of muscle movements.

George Contini recording audio and facial movements for Frank Bush.

George Contini watches video of his body capture session during his facial capture.

We use Kaydara FiLMBOX to refine data obtained
from facial capture.

Movie Illustrating Motion Capture

This movie shows first a photograph of the historical Frank Bush, followed by a clip of Virtual Vaudeville performer George Contini, performing Bush's act in a motion capture suit. The computer analyzes the performer's movements and reproduces them on a 3D model of Frank Bush.

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