By Randi Altman
During IBC this year, I saw many companies, some I was familiar with and some that were new to me. One I was eager to get to know was SolidAnim.
Alas, fate intervened. Well, more accurately, the size of the RAI Conventions Center where IBC took place intervened — it is huge and has a crazy amount of exhibit halls to navigate through. I never made it there (damn you RAI, shaking fist in air!). But happily I did get to connect with the company’s Lamia Nouri on a call recently.
Founded by three artists — mocap supervisors and animation directors Isaac Partouche, Emmanuel Linot and Jean-Francois Szlapka — this French animation company was born in 2007. The three set out to make working with visual effects and motion capture easier on set. The goal was to put more control into the hands of the director, allowing him or her to direct a virtual scene or digital characters in a similar way to directing a live-action scene. Hence SolidAnim, offering mocap services. In 2010 they launched SolidTrack, a realtime wireless camera tracking and visualization solution, which can be used indoors as well as outside.
According to Nouri, the company is separated into two divisions: SolidAnim and SolidTrack. “This is because the technologies are completely specific and different from each other, even if we can link both simultaneously, and we are the only ones able to do that.”
SolidAnim’s turnkey system, SolidTrack — a realtime markerless camera tracking and previz solution for recording and data logging of camera moves on the virtual set — includes specially designed and very small cameras that are used to scan the set’s natural environment. That data is brought into SolidTrack software where it its tracked. It then links to Autodesk’s MotionBuilder.
This allows the director to see the character and virtual sets in real time interacting directly with his or her environment.
SolidAnim not only makes gear, they are a service provider. Productions can rent their turnkey system, which comes with operators to work on the project — one on the workstation and one with cameras. When motion capture is needed, a Vicon system or Giant Studios system is called on.
In terms of selling their technology, they offer both turnkey systems and software-only versions of SolidTrack. The Premium SolidTrack package includes two cameras, a workstation, SolidTrack software, and one year of updates/maintenance. The Standard includes the software and two cameras. Both come with five days of training.
According to Nouri, the hardware offered with the full system was purpose-built for these real-time on-set situations, but emphasizes that running the software on a client’s own specific cards will get you there as well. The survey camera dedicated to tracking is linked to the main film camera, and any camera’s rig can be used.
The company has been making solid (no pun intended) headway in the film and broadcast worlds. The company’s tools were used on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, and the Da Vinci’s Demons series, as well as the upcoming Robert Zemeckis film The Walk, where the company had operators on set for tracking and previz. Also upcoming is the Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass movie.
Animatrik Film Design recently installed a system in Vancouver, British Columbia. I reached out to their tech producer Bruno Sargeant, who couldn’t talk about specific projects names, but did say this: “SolidTrack has been a valuable addition to our suite of solutions for real-time on-set and on-location camera tracking. We have put it to work on motion pictures and commercials, in often far from ideal conditions, with great success. In addition, with every project having unique requirements, Isaac and his team have provided outstanding support, working with us to address our clients’ needs.”
While headquartered in France, SolidAnim’s SolidTrack subsidiary has people in Los Angeles, London.