University of Minnesota Duluth students learn ‘How to Fly’ with motion capture


When the Upper Midwest Film Office approached Lisa Fitzpatrick about providing motion capture for a project that the organization was consulting on, it highlighted a problem. The Viz & MMAD (Motion + Media Across Disciplines) Lab that she runs for the University of Minnesota Duluth has a motion capture setup comprising 12 Vicon cameras and licenses for multiple Vicon software tools. Professors at the MMAD Lab had until then mostly used its Vicon system for biomechanics projects with Nexus. However, the MMAD Lab had barely explored the animation side of the system using Blade.

Hundreds of working-hours later, Lisa Fitzpatrick, a team of undergraduate students and MMAD Lab video producer, Dan Fitzpatrick (no relation), had produced a whimsical, partially-improvised short film about two characters playfully soaring through the air. Accompanying it was the true focus of the project, a behind-the-scenes video displaying the process of making the film and the skills that the team had developed in the process.

It was a lengthy journey, however, during which the team had to reacquire lost institutional knowledge of how to operate the university’s Vicon system.

“When COVID happened, things really closed down,” explains Lisa Fitzpatrick. “As we were coming back, I got this request from the Upper Midwest Film Office here in Minnesota and they asked if we could do animation and motion capture.”

There was no current professor who specifically worked with the Vicon system and, over the course of the pandemic, any students who knew how to operate it had left the university and professors with biomechanics expertise had retired. Successive lockdowns meant that nobody had been able to come into the lab to learn from outgoing students, leaving no-one with a working knowledge of motion capture.

“I didn’t want to say, ‘Oh no, we can’t do that,’ because I wanted to see if it was still possible, despite the loss of institutional knowledge,” says Fitzpatrick. “That’s where Ethan (Schurman), Brendan (Rood),  Haeun (Lee) and Dan (Fitzpatrick) came in. I said, ‘Let’s relearn how to use this. Let’s do a fun project so that we can all learn.’”

The story doesn’t stop there, to read the full case study, you can download it below.


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