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Quick Chat: ‘Ted 2’ previs/postvis supervisor Webster Colcord

By Randi Altman

Ted, the foul-mouthed but warm-hearted teddy bear, is back on the big screen, this time fighting for the right to be recognized as a person — he really wants to get married — in Ted 2 from director Seth MacFarlane. Once again, this digital character is seen out and about in Boston, in all sorts of environments, so previs, mocap and postvis played a huge role.

Cue Webster Colcord. He was previsualization and postvisualization supervisor on Ted 2, reporting to Culver City, California’s The Creative-Cartel. Colcord held similar titles on the first Ted, serving as the production’s previs/postvis artist and mocap integration artist. He also worked on Ted’s appearances between the two movies — The Jimmy Kimmel Show and the Oscars. He worked out of the production unit set up by Universal Pictures and studio MRC.

For Ted 2, Colcord and team used motion capture, via the Xsens MVN system, to record MacFarlane, who also voices Ted, as he acted out scenes. Because it’s an inertial system, MVN allowed the character (and director) to step out of the mocap volume and onto the streets, something that couldn’t be done with an optical offering.

Colcord has been working in CG since 1997. Prior to that he was a stop-motion animation artist. “I do all kinds of things, he says. “Previs, animation, postvis and supervision.  Mocap is not my usual gig, actually! Right now, I’m animation supervising at Atomic Fiction (Flight, Star Trek Into Darkness, Game of Thrones) in the Bay Area.”

We reached out to Colcord to find out more about his process and the workflow on Ted 2.

You worked with The Creative-Cartel and Jenny Fulle. What was that relationship like?
Creative-Cartel has been the VFX management unit on the Ted movies, so they oversee the dissemination of assets between the different parties involved and planning. They are involved every step of the way, from pre-production through to final delivery.

The on-set duties for all of us tend to be all-engrossing but after principal photography, when I am in-house with the editorial department doing postvis, I’m supporting just the editorial department and the VFX teams. At a couple of points in the schedule, however, we were prepping for re-shoots on stage with the main unit, mocap at the editorial office, postvis for upcoming screenings and delivery of synced mocap to the vendors. It could be overwhelming!

Whose decision was it to use Xsens? Do you know if that’s what they used on the first Ted?
During development on the first movie, producer Jason Clark and VFX producer Jenny Fulle researched and tested various mocap options and arrived at Xsens’ inertial mocap system, which was very new at the time. It was decided to go with the Xsens MVN system because of the ease of set-up on location. You don’t need to set up a volume, and it’s very portable — the set-up is minimal. Also, there are no marker occlusion issues.  It has a few limitations that the optical systems do not have, but with every update those differences become less and less.

There is a big dance sequence in the film. It must have been particularly challenging to capture the movements of a completely CG character?
It was a complex sequence, and it blends in from a previous scene with Ted dancing in a different environment, adding to the complexity.  The credit for working out the choreography goes to Rob Ashford, Sara O’Gleby and Chris Bailey.  Also, of course, VFX supervisor Blair Clark.  It’s important to understand, though, that the mocap system just provides a core performance and the final Ted is a blending of keyframe animation (Iloura did the dance sequence) and mocap. My role was to facilitate the performance and get it over to the VFX team with a high degree of fidelity and in a pipeline-ready form.

Film Title: Ted 2 Film Title: Ted 2

We ended up capturing it in about four sessions, with five different dancers, each of whom acted out Ted’s motions for various parts of the choreography. During production on Ted 2, Xsens released an updated version of their system, which they call MVN Link.  The sensors are smaller, the data has been improved and the wireless signal uses Wi-Fi rather than Bluetooth.  So we used that version of the system for the dancers. For Seth’s performances we use a fully wired system with an umbilical cable attached to the computer, as Ted is usually not being very acrobatic in his motions.

What’s the workflow like?
We recorded a live feed of the mocap on the low-res Ted model from Autodesk Motion Builder, while we captured the data.  In some cases editorial was able to comp this into shots to use as postvis, pretty much right out-of-the-box.

Having Fun: Colocrd and the postvis team were called in the day of a screening  to help make a joke "play" as per MacFarlane's direction.

Postvis in progress on “Ted Hooker scene: Colcord and the postvis team were called on the day of a screening to help make a joke “play” as per MacFarlane’s direction.

So you captured the data and sent it to Iloura and Tippett Studio?
Yes, I would retarget the data in Motion Builder, then sync the data in Autodesk Maya with a minimal amount of clean-up and send it off to both houses. The data would also be used as the core performance for many of our postvis shots.

If Ted makes any more appearances on talk shows/awards shows will you be using Xsens for that too?
I assume that we will be using the MVN system since we have an established pipeline. It’s pretty much the same as what we do for the feature, but it depends on who is doing the editorial duties, since the first pass at deciding which part of a mocap performance is used is made by the editor.

‘Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey’ employs Joust for its VFX, digital workflow

The final episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, hosted by astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, is set to air shortly on the National Geographic Channel, and the digital management tool Joust was used to provide an economical and efficient workflow solution for the miniseries.

“On Cosmos, we used Joust to streamline a number of areas in our digital pipeline. Joust provided an online viewing platform for all our dailies,” said Eli Dolleman, co-producer, post and animation on Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. “It also served as a centralized asset repository for the VFX camera data collected on set, as well as viewing proxies of vendor delivered shots in all stages of production. This allowed producers and executives to both review footage and keep tabs on shot production. In addition to helping organize and view incoming vendor shots, Joust also smoothed out the turnover process, pairing relevant data with raw plates and delivering this material securely to more than a dozen different VFX vendors.

“Through file association during the dailies ingestion process Joust allowed our editorial staff to pull plates through the submission of simple EDLs. These EDLs would be read by Joust which would work in tandem with a Colorfront Transkoder, referencing camera masters, converting them to full resolution DPX files and posting these files to our various vendors.”

Addie Manis, VFX producer on Cosmos adds, “The fact that Joust allowed editorial to pull the VFX plates in-house was the greatest time and money saving tool.”

CineSync integrated into digital workflow management system Joust

Culver City —  Jenny Fulle, visual effects producer and founder of The Creative-Cartel, and Rory McGregor, CEO of Cospective, are now offering integration between Cospective’s cineSync review and approval technology and The Creative-Cartel’s Joust digital workflow management system.

This integration with cineSync will allow live, streaming, interactive reviews that can be carried out from within the Joust interface. With the addition of the cineSync technology, Joust Review (a component of the overall Joust system) will be an even more powerful tool for filmmakers, allowing them to easily collaborate on shot reviews.

Users will be able to comment on shots as soon as they become available and give precise, frame accurate feedback to a team of artists that may be spread across different facilities, cities, or even countries. As a Web-based tool, Joust Review does not require any software installation, or downloading of files.

For guests invited to review material, joining the review is a simple and intuitive process. All notes, annotations and thumbnails can be saved out for import into other production/VFX tools and will be stored within Joust for future reference and easy sharing among the team.

Joust will also be integrated with Cospective’s Academy-Award-winning cineSync Pro, Cospective’s (www.cospective.com) application-based review and approval system for high res and stereoscopic material. This will allow users to easily transfer media from Joust to cineSync Pro when they require the most robust review tools.

“This addition truly cements Joust as the all-in-one tool for managing and reviewing digital media,” says The Creative-Cartel’s (www.the-cartel.com) Jenny Fulle. “We are thrilled to be working with Cospective and are excited about the accessibility this integration will give our filmmakers.”

Joust (www.joustco.com) is a Web-based application created by The Creative-Cartel to streamline the digital workflow of a project, from production through post. It puts control of digital assets and metadata in the hands of production where they can be accessed and used quickly and efficiently. Joust acts as a repository for all reference material and metadata during principal photography, including data wrangling information, camera notes as well as  color information for each shot. It is also  includes a dailies and vendor review system and the ability to create bid packages, watermark images, and automate vendor submissions.

“We are very excited to be integrating our technology with Joust,” says Cospective CEO Rory McGregor. “The Creative-Cartel have built a platform we believe will help revolutionize the digital production pipeline and really streamline the filmmaking process”.

Photo: Courtesy of The Creative-Cartel