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AWE puts people in a VR battle using mocap

What’s the best way to safely show people what it’s like to be on a battlefield? Virtual reality. Mobile content developer AWE employed motion capture to create a virtual reality experience for the Fort York national historic site in Toronto. Visitors to the nine-acre site will use Google Cardboard to experience key battles and military fortifications in a simulated and safe immersive 3D environment.

“We created content that, when viewed on a mobile phone using Google Cardboard, immerses visitors inside a 360-degree environment that recreates historical events from different eras that occurred right where visitors are standing,” explains Srinivas Krishna, CEO of Toronto-based AWE, who directed the project.

Fort York played a pivotal role during the War of 1812, when US naval ships attacked the fort, which was then under the control of the British army. To recreate that experience, along with several other noteworthy events, Krishna designed a workflow that leaned heavily on iPi Soft markerless mocap software.

The project, which began three years ago, included creating animated model rigs for the many characters that would be seen virtually. Built using Unity’s 3D Game engine, the character models, as well as the environments (designed to look like Fort York at the time) were animated using Autodesk Maya. That content was then composited with the mocap sequences, along with facial mocap data captured using Mixamo Face Plus.

“On the production side, we had a real problem because of the huge number of characters the client wanted represented,” Krishna says. “It became a challenge on many levels. We wondered how are we going to create our 3D models and use motion capture in a cost-effective way. Markerless mocap is perfect for broad strokes, and as a filmmaker I found working with it to be a marvelous creative experience.”

While it would seem historical sites like Fort York are perfect for these types of virtual reality experiences, Krishna notes that the project was a bit of a risk given that when they started Google Cardboard wasn’t yet on anyone’s radar.

“We started developing this in 2012, which actually turned out to be good timing because we were able to think creatively and implement ideas, while at the same time the ecosystem for VR was developing,” says Krishna. “We see this as a game-changer in this arena, and I think more historical sites around the world are going to be interested in creating these types of experiences for their visitors.”

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