When I was asked what I wanted my “digital avatar” to look like, my response was “can I have jet packs?”.

The answer was yes.

I also got a shiny neon-lit spacesuit.

Why? Because I was about to be digitally shrunk to the size of a pinhead, so that I could be pooped on by a ladybird, and swallowed by a worm.

My new digital avatar and I were about to embark on a fairly weird adventure, for a new animated children’s show for ABC Education, called Minibeast Heroes.

Before I started the project, my understanding of motion capture (MOCAP) technology was almost entirely based on a behind-the-scenes snippet showing how Gollum was created for Lord of the Rings.

I got to see exactly how cinema-quality productions like those were created when I arrived at Deakin University’s Motion Lab in suburban Melbourne — the space used to film the new series.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-03-02/learning-how-to-get-my-avatar-to-fly/9500240

“The main thing we do is capture the movement of people,” said Peter Divers, the CG/animation supervisor at Deakin Motion Lab.

“We have adapted that by adding real-time facial capture — so, capturing the movement and the emotion of people’s faces.

“We’ve taken that one step further by also being able to capture props, and show real-time visualisation using game engine technology.”

To see my avatar smiling down at me from the screen when I smiled was pretty eerie.

Watching as “I” interacted with giant, life-like insects in the computer-generated landscape was even stranger.

 

The virtual environments and the insects were animated beforehand, so we could see how my avatar would have to move around them.

Then director Stefan Wernik used a “virtual camera” with full lensing capabilities to shoot the various scenes.

“This is like a MOCAP shoot and an animated show all fitted together,” Mr Wernik said.

“It is a different experience because you’re working with an actor, live, for performance — and you’ve got all these other things to think about.

“No-one’s really done this kind of thing before. All of these bits have got to fit together, and I think it’s really amazing how it has all fitted together,” Mr Wernik said.

Alongside the six-part series, created and produced by ABC’s Research and Development team, there are also some great tools for school kids — including this rotatable diagram of a bee.

 

These remarkably life-like bugs were constructed using a combination of traditional 3D modelling and a technique called photogrammetry.

Instead of getting an artist to draw each model, thousands of photographs were taken of each insect, at every angle.

 

The data in the photos was then stitched together to make each model.

“We can see enormous potential in the way that this animation pipeline allows directors, producers, almost anyone who has some experience in thinking about the moving image, to step in and create animation dynamically,” said Astrid Scott from ABC R+D.

The team used the same filming technique to make a 360 video that introduces the six insects in the series.

 

Minibeast Heroes is available on ABC Education, and via iView.