A perfect motion capture prop

an interview with Filip “Don Scolari” Dominik, a motion capture prop designer expert

The final looks of a set design or a prop that we can see in a game, movie, music video or animation does not necessarily need to correspond to what we imagine it originally looked like. Preparation of a prop often takes way more time than filming and calibrating its usage. It’s not just a typical prop – it cannot reflect lights, if it’s larger, it should be transparent, it should be light but also create the impression of its realistic weight.

Filip Dominik ,Prop Design Expert at Bones Studio

Bones Studio team includes a professional prop master who specializes in motion capture prop design and construction. Continue the lecture to find out what Filip “Don Scolari” Dominik, Bones’ prop master has to say about building perfect props for motion capture.

Q: Filip, in a short while you will have worked at Bones for a year. During this time you created props and designed sets for some famous titles such as Medium, Green Hell, Ghostrunner, Twin Mirror. Where does your interest for prop building particularly for motion capture purpose come from? How does it differ from traditional props?

A: It’s a complex question, but I think that building a prop that may represent more than just one object is a bigger challenge, which I enjoy. While a traditional prop needs to be built precisely for the purpose of a specific element of a set, motion capture offers me more freedom, my prop may stand for more than a thousand objects – in the end, its final outcome is up to an animator’s creativity and imagination.

Q: What’s the crucial aspect you must take into consideration while designing and building props? What conditions does a prop have to fulfill to become fully functional during a motion capture session?

A: When designing a motion capture prop, it’s crucial for me to know its scale, purpose and assumption of what it is supposed to reflect. Also I need information whether the prop must change along the shoot and, thus, if it must be rebuilt. Working with a client I need to understand the director’s or animator’s vision of a prop in order to create its skeleton, core.

Q: If you were to tell what prop in your career has been the most difficult to build, what would it be?

A: During my career, I’ve built many sets and props such as cars, buses, trucks, tanks, even the whole 2nd World War villages including restaurants and bakeries. However, in motion capture, it is always the most difficult to create elements that can be easily installed on stage and do not limit the cameras’ view. When it comes to one specific prop, in fact each one has been a challenge in its own way.

Q: How impressive! A village? Tanks? I assume not every mocap specialist may boast such imagination and experience. Is there any prop or a set design you are still dreaming of creating?

Yes, surely. My dream is to create a system to build set elements. It would be mechanically connected to animatronics elements, which would allow me to manipulate them and improve my technique.

Q: You create real-world-elements while working on motion capture sessions. Do you also play games that are created with your input? If so, do you happen to think “oh, I could have solved it differently”?

A: We can definitely say that I’m a total games freak. They inspire me and let me develop my skills in terms of set and props design. Playing games that I did not participate in professionally, I always wonder how they were produced and what could be improved in my own work to make the production and post-production process more smooth.

Q: What has your favorite prop been so far? Do you use any tools that are a complete “must have” for motion capture?

I really like a turntable that I constructed in its realistic size. At the same time I made it fully functional so you could change the vinyls. One of the biggest challenges I remember was a weapon that the actor had to be constantly changing and modifying during the recording session. It was composed of many elements which, in different configurations, became different types of weapon. My “must haves” are definitely all the materials which do not reflect light and which are light and soft so that nobody on set gets hurt. At the same time I choose the materials that let me reflect the looks and scale of a desired element. 

It seems that creating set designs and props that need to be imagined by actors in the process of recording requires amazing skills and creativity. Not only is motion capture a system of recording a movement but it also involves a big dose of artistic work. Many thanks for this discussion.

Author: Marta Frankel-Dominik
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