1. From medicine to the movies and back
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    From medicine to the movies and back

    June 27, 2018
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    From medicine to the movies and back

    Dr Tom Shannon, co-founder of Vicon Motion Systems and Oxford Metrics, explains how his company uses 3M Scotchlite™ material and computer vision to capture human motion.

    From medicine to the movies and back

    Dr Tom Shannon, co-founder of Vicon Motion Systems and Oxford Metrics, explains how his company uses 3M Scotchlite™ material and computer vision to capture human motion.

    From medicine to the movies and back

    Dr Tom Shannon, co-founder of Vicon Motion Systems and Oxford Metrics, explains how his company uses 3M Scotchlite™ material and computer vision to capture human motion.

    • athlete

      The ground-breaking motion capture technology developed by Vicon, part of Oxford Metrics, was originally created to help children diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy to keep walking by tracking their gait.

      Through a lucky connection, Vicon went on to create dazzling special effects in box office hits such as Titanic, Star Wars and Paddington; turned the band members of Coldplay into computer generated apes for a promotional video; and is now using the technology to improve the sporting performance of top athletes.

      The award-winning technology works by attaching retro-reflective markers made from Scotchlite™ material to the body and then filming a range of movements using multiple infrared motion capture cameras. Algorithms are then used to track the trajectory of the movement in 3D so that it can be re-created in a graph or an amination.

      The technology was first used by clinical teams treating children with conditions such as cerebral palsy that causes them to walk with reduced efficiency. Tracking and analysing an individual’s gait allows clinicians to come up with the right treatment plan.

      Tom said: “One surgeon said that he would not carry out surgery on a patient without first using gait analysis.”

      The move into the movies came when the son of one of the founders of Oxford Metrics, Julian Morris, was working as an intern for the film company making Mary Riley, starring Julia Roberts.

      Tom explained: “They were looking for a realistic way for Mr Hyde to burst from the chest of Dr Jekyll and didn’t know how to do it. Ben suggested that they contact us and we created the special effect using the same motion capture technology.”

      The next film they worked on was Titanic, followed by Star Wars, Pearl Harbour, Enemy at the Gates, The Borrowers, Harry Potter, Paddington and many more since.

      Tom said: “For these films, we created skeletal models and used these to produce computer-generated imagery. This has allowed our customers to create animated characters that can be dropped into a real environment; change the size of people; and produce crowd scenes.

      “For Maleficent in 2014, we took this a step further by creating digital animated faces directly from filming the actresses’ facial movements. This involved using around 60 markers to capture and derive every expression, down to the movement of tendons in the neck.”

      The technology was also used to make the promotional video for Coldplay’s hit single Adventure of a Lifetime, with the band members filmed wearing suits covered in markers to create the dance moves for the animation.

      Vicon has now gone back to its roots and Tom is working part-time as a visiting professor at Staffordshire University on a project to identify changes in the backs of children diagnosed with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis more quickly using 3D reconstruction.

      Another field the team is working in is capturing the body movement of athletes, using Scotchlite markers, so that their technique can be analysed to identify areas for improvement.

      Tom said: “It’s been quite a journey and all of this wouldn’t have been possible without 3M Scotchlite material.”



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