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Hollywood Takes Skateboard Guru Tony Hawk Digital

The film reportedly marks the first time motion-capture scenes were shot and dumped into computer files rather than onto video tape.
Canada-based Mainframe Entertainment Inc. had to create a few tricks of its own to blend more than 1,500 camera shots of professional skateboarders into one computer-generated action movie, says Animation Director and Editor Logan McPherson.

"Tony Hawk in Boom Boom Sabotage" is the first movie produced by Mainframe Entertainment completely in digital format. The task made production a bit more complicated.

For starters, professional skaters outlined their "trick list" to match the movie storyline. Ramps were setup in the studio to reflect the scenes. Cameras captured skateboarders doing tricks.

The skateboard tricks for the movie were shot and fed into the computer as digital files. Skateboarders who worked on the Tony Hawk movie and appear as characters are Alex Chalmers, Chris Haslam, Keegan Sauder, Russ Milligan, and Allison (Nuggett) Matasi.

Artists used a technique called "motion capture" to create the frames. They laid custom animation on top of the motion-capture data to blend together the shots.

"This the first time motion-capture scenes were shot and dumped into computer files rather than onto video tape," McPherson said. "We had a database full of skateboard tricks and it was up to us to select those we felt would fit in the sequence.

Each file saved separately in the database created more than 1,500 searchable tricks by skater, obstacle and more. It gave artists easy access to hundreds of skateboard tricks they could reference when creating the movie.

Artists at Mainframe Entertainment, whose more than 300 employees produce animation for gaming, movies and television, storyboarded the remainder of the movie with 3D software called MotionBuilder. Keeping track of the data and attempting to pre-visualize all the skateboard tricks so artists could blend together the shots also proved difficult.

Scale becomes an issue as companies increase the number of digital shots in a movie. Not enough network bandwidth will cause the infrastructure to stall as data moves through the pipeline from one server to another.

DreamWorks Animation SKG head of digital operations Derek Chan offered a pearl of wisdom. "It's important to make sure you have a balance between computing power and storage," he said. "If you have too much processing power your storage may not be able to keep up. And if you have too much storage you may not utilize your processing power."

Preproduction began last spring. The 70-minute direct-to-DVD, computer-generated movie is schedule for release through distributor FUNimation Entertainment Inc. to major retailers on Sept. 12. McPherson said using video tape would have cost another three months in production.

"If you're working with film, you send it out to be developed and sometimes it's difficult to get it back quickly," said Robin Rowe, studio technologist at MovieEditor.com. "Director Brian Singer considered shooting 'Superman Returns' in 70 millimeter film, but couldn't because there wasn't anywhere to process the film on location in Australia."

View the clip here, Morphing Tony Hawk

Editor's Choice
Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing