Elliott Animation Reaps Big Dividends with Craft Camera Tools for Gamecaster’s GCS3 Virtual Camera Control Hardware
With hundreds of successful animated productions to his credit, George Elliott, president of Elliott Animation in Toronto, has seen nearly every workflow scenario imaginable. Recently, he experienced a remarkable new animation system -- Craft Camera Tools™ for GCS3™. Not only is this system capable of saving prodigious amounts of production time and money, it offers powerful real-time control over animated scenes.
Elliott Animation used the Craft Camera Tools and the GCS3 for the production of “RollBots,” a new 3D animated kids’ series from Amberwood Entertainment that recently premiered on Canada's YTV and is coming soon to the U.S. on the CW 4K!DS Network. Now they are hooked on it. By using the Craft Camera Tools for GCS3 system, Elliott Animation was able to create digital layouts requiring highly complex camera movements in a fraction of the time and cost that it would have taken to produce using a traditional keyframing digital workflow.
“We estimate that completing these complex shots traditionally would have added an additional $600,000 in costs to the production,” Elliot says. “By using Craft Camera Tools for GCS3, we were able to keep the intricate camerawork in the show while staying within our budget.”
Craft Camera Tools for GCS3 is a bundle incorporating Gamecaster’s patented GCS3 virtual camera control hardware and a customized version of Craft Animations’ Craft Camera Tools software. Together, they provide a complete virtual cinematography system that eliminates the labor-intensive process of manual keyframing for plotting the paths of animated objects and virtual cameras within Autodesk® 3ds Max® and Maya®. Instead of keyframing, Craft Camera Tools for GCS3 lets users lay out animated scenes the same way they would shoot live action -- by looking through a camera viewfinder and panning, tilting and zooming in real-time with real-life camera controls.
“RollBots” provided Elliott Animation with the perfect testing ground to audition Craft Camera Tools for GCS3. The 26-episode series stars robots that roar through Flip City on roller-coaster tracks, presenting numerous complex shots as the ball-shaped characters take corners in tandem and come to skidding stops.
“Typical 3D camera keyframing works well for locked shots and shots with simple or straightforward camera movements,” Elliott says. “When the required camera movement is very complex, as was often the case in ‘Rollbots,’ camera keyframing becomes a significantly more difficult process.”
Using Craft Camera Tools for GCS3, it took just five days with one camera operator and an assistant to complete each episode’s 20 complex shots. By contrast, Elliott estimates that traditional keyframing of these scenes would have taken 20 man-days per episode, and would have added about 390 man-days to the 26-episode schedule, incurring extra costs for manpower, software and hardware.
“Highly complex shots that normally take a full day or more to lay out using keyframing techniques can be done in an hour or two using Craft Camera Tools for GCS3,” Elliott continues. “Also, the quality of the camera movement is much better in most cases. We no longer hesitate to tackle the kinds of highly complex camera moves that would normally give us pause. In fact, we can afford to experiment with alternative takes because the results are so immediate.”
Spontaneity and alternate takes are not qualities normally associated with series animation production but the Craft Animations software and its tight integration with the Gamecaster camera hardware make spontaneity possible. The software instantly memorizes all of the camera’s physical, real-time moves and automatically keyframes those moves behind the scenes, ready for instant playback on the camera viewfinder or a computer screen.
Being able to apply sophisticated software features such as Spline Speed Control or the Camera Shake tool on the spur of the moment was a major creative benefit for Elliott Animation during production of “RollBots.” Alternate takes that would require several hours to do with keyframing were able to be auditioned within minutes and the result was a more natural motion and better creative control.
“We particularly love having the ability to layer cameras and take multiple passes to sweeten shots quickly and easily,” Elliott says. “From a creative standpoint, Craft Camera Tools for GCS3 is a huge step beyond camera keyframing, especially with respect to complex camera movements. It makes it easier, faster and cheaper to get exactly the kind of shots we want.”
The GCS3 virtual camera control hardware consists of an internal motion sensor, HD color viewfinder and two proprietary thumbstick controls, which mount to a tripod fluidhead and pan bars. It takes about 15 minutes to set up the rig, plug into a computer via USB and start filming. As opposed to cumbersome, piecemealed-together motion capture camera systems that require a dedicated room with a volume, the GCS3 is self contained, and with a 4’x4’ footprint, it can be set up anywhere.
“We were up and running almost immediately,” Elliott reports. “Our first complex camera move took one hour to produce with no previous experience using the Craft Camera Tools for GCS3. This has been a powerful solution for our series production but on a feature production where complex camera movements are much more prevalent, the Craft Camera Tools and GCS3 combination would be irresistible.”
Clearly, the Craft Camera Tools for GCS3 system is destined to have a profound impact on long format and episodic 3D animation. The creative benefits and the potential time and money savings are powerful incentives for all facets of the animation community, particularly directors and animators, who can now work as real-time collaborators in a way that was previously impossible.
Visit the GCS3 Virtual Cinematography System Webpage
Visit The CW 4K!DS Network's Official RollBots Website
The GCS3 device, system and method of use are protected by the United States Patent No. 7,403,220; Taiwanese Patent No. I-280786; Mexican Patent No. 274183; Chinese Patent Office Notice of Allowance on Patent Application No. 200580028664.8 (PCT/US2005/024439); and patents pending in other countries.