Epson Projectors and the USC School of Cinematic Arts

Epson America, June 29, 2010

Fifteen cinema students are analyzing a computer animated fight sequence on two large projector screens in the USC motion capture room. They are surrounded by the latest motion capture and 3D animation technology, and two 3LCD projectors from Epson. As one virtual 3D character lunges toward her opponent, he spins around. He deftly blocks her flying fist with his arm before it reaches his jaw.

There's never a dull moment in professor Eric Furie's "Performance Capture" class at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts (SCA), Los Angeles. First taught with filmmaker Robert Zemeckis ("Forrest Gump"), the course uses a combination of cutting-edge technologies to transform real-time action of live actors into stunning 3D animation with 1080p resolution. Although widely used in the scientific world, motion capture is just making its mark in the movie industry, championed by USC alumni like Zemeckis in movies like "The Polar Express" "Beowulf," and now "A Christmas Carol."

Motion capture is just one of many practices and theories taught to nearly 1,500 students at this world-renowned U.S. film school. Celebrating its 80tth anniversary, SCA recently opened a new $175 million campus, funded by industry legends George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg, Warner Bros., Fox Entertainment, Walt Disney Studios, and many other prominent individuals and foundations. More than 10,000 SCA alumni are among the world's best animators, scholars, teachers, writers, directors, producers, cinematographers, editors, sound experts and industry executives.

Teaching Real-Time Motion Capture With Projectors

Located just a few miles from Hollywood, the film school puts the most advanced, reliable technology into the hands of students. The motion capture room in the Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts is equipped with 20 Vicon cameras and two high-resolution Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema 1080 UB projectors. Cameras and projectors are mounted on rigging around a center performance area or "capture volume." The space is flanked by powerful workstations running the Vicon motion capture system and Autodesk MotionBuilderĀ® 3D character animation software.

Epson projectors are integrated directly into the capture volume, so students can follow the entire process from start to finish on large screens located on opposite sides of the room. Cameras track the action from all 20 perspectives, picking up signals from marble-sized reflective markers that are strategically placed on the joints of live performers. Furie then shows his students how to use animation software to create a virtual "skeleton" of the movement, which becomes the blueprint for animation, live action visual effects or interactive gaming. He teaches the class to do "virtual cinematography" by interactively recording camera movement data while the previously captured motion is replayed.

Resolution and Reliability

Furie saves hours of classroom time by using the projectors to produce life-size images with incredibly high-resolution image quality and real-time interactivity. "Having high-res Epson projectors for real-time display during each step of the process is the perfect teaching tool for a 'show and tell' course like motion capture," he said.

The motion capture room was previously equipped with projectors that were inadequate for displaying high-resolution motion capture. The department knew it had to upgrade to extremely reliable projectors that would run non-stop for several hours at a time. But the projectors also had to achieve the highest resolution possible, with cutting-edge contrast ratios and exceptional color fidelity.

"Motion capture is all about high resolution," said Furie. "My students have to see exactly what's happening on the computer screen, whether I'm explaining editing functions or camera angles, so I've really come to rely on projecting images with 1080p resolution." With the projector's 50,000:1 contrast ratio and 1920x1080 resolution, students no longer miss important image details that can fly by at 60 to 120 frames per second.

The clear and crisp images of the Pro Cinema projector seem to leap off the motion capture screens, with D7 high definition 3LCD at the core of each projector's optical imaging engine. The projector combines C2 Fine technology for extraordinary picture detail, UltraBlack technology and Vertical Alignment technology for deep blacks and astounding contrasts. Screen images are bright and vivid at 1,600 lumens of color light output and white light output. These projectors also features innovative color adjustment and an expanded color gamut to bring true color fidelity to the viewing experience.

With the most advanced motion capture program in the film school world, SCA is already developing its next generation motion capture room. Nearly three times the size of the current facility, the new motion capture soundstage will be equipped with nearly 50 cameras and multiple projectors, soundproofing, control room and green room.

Interactive Learning

Upstairs in the Zemeckis Media Lab, students are also using several Epson PowerLite business projectors to learn the many aspects of interactive media, whether they're for gaming, mobile devices or complete virtual environments. Used by the Interactive Media Division, the lab is configured with 14 ceiling-mounted Epson projectors that are used for a wide range of applications.

Multiple images are displayed on 14 large screens arranged side by side, covering three walls of the lab. Students and faculty share multiple data feeds, using laptops and desktop computers on tables throughout the room to send visual information to each or every screen. The projectors play a huge role in helping students learn game design, interactive media and immersive environment development.

"The collaborative atmosphere created by the projectors in the media lab really encourages interaction among students and faculty, and heightens the whole interactive learning experience," said Richard Weinberg, research associate professor.

Showcasing Animation Projects

Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema 1080 UB projectors are also used for the USC Windows gallery exhibitions at the Chapman Building in downtown Los Angeles. The gallery features nightly viewings of animation projections created by students from the John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts. The division also employs Epson projectors for showcase events like "Animated Spaces, Animated Bodies," pioneering animation-based installations and performances in the gallery space of the new George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg buildings. Even Trojan Vision, the university's television station, has Epson projectors in its conference room. The projectors work many long and hard hours, so the school greatly relies on the advanced projector lamps with up to 4,000 hours of energy efficient lamp life.

"What I admire most about the Epson projectors is the flexibility, freedom and reliability they give me," said Furie. "They are remarkably easy to set up, adjust and maintain."

Growth Continues

The new SCA campus is the most ambitious cinema school project in the U.S., with a 137,000-square-foot main complex, including a massive courtyard, screening rooms, conference rooms, sound mixing rooms, picture editorial labs and exhibition space. Under construction are an Animation & Digital Arts building, four sound stages, a production equipment center, and a Cinematic Arts Park.

There are plans for a projection-based color correction room in the new animation building. "Projection-based color correction has taken off in the feature film world," said Furie. With innovative color adjustment features, Epson's Pro Cinema 1080 projectors can also be used for color correction, with a color isolation feature and ISF calibration. Rather than on a small monitor, color correction is now done on a big screen with a well-calibrated projector.

No matter what program or application, the oldest film school in the U.S. does not rest on its laurels. The USC School of Cinematic Arts is very much geared to the future of entertainment. Epson's PowerLite Pro Cinema 1080 projectors present an innovative way for its students and faculty to explore and expand the power of film, television and new media.

Source: Epson America