What does Gollum, “Avatar,” “The Avengers,” MIT and UMD all have in common? A motion-capture studio.The Motion and Media Across Disciplines lab is a 3D motion-capture and high-definition video production studio near the Ven Den that provides interdisciplinary collaboration and research opportunities for the professors of UMD, as well as their students. Equipped with 12 Icon motion-capture cameras, three high-definition video cameras, a green screen infinity wall and a sound studio, the MMAD lab serves as a space for those interested in animation, acting, exercise science, theatre, audio recording and computer science to come together. Not often do people come across this unusual overlap of life science and art in the focus of a studio according to Lisa Fitzpatrick, director of the MMAD lab and Viz lab. Fitzpatrick served as the main initiator of the studio. Fitzpatrick mainly focuses her work on keeping ahead of new emerging technology and future trends, along with considering how people can collaborate to make things happen. “The MMAD lab is a research space enabling people from different disciplines to come together to solve problems and create beautiful work,” Fitzpatrick said. In 2011 Fitzpatrick, along with a team of five other UMD professors, was awarded a Research Infrastructure Investment Initiative grant from the University of Minnesota to create the motion-capture lab that doubles as the first video studio at UMD to provide an area for future research. Bob Feyen and Pete Willemsen from SCSE, Tom Isbell and Joellyn Rock from SFA, and Morris Levy from CEHSP all worked with Fitzpatrick to develop the MMAD lab. Construction of the MMAD lab began last fall and finished in September. “We are basically finished, but we will continue to make it the best it can be,” Fitzpatrick said as she waved a calibrating tool in front of the infrared cameras, allowing them to sense different markers and pick up motion. Once the cameras were calibrated, Logan Sales, a graduate student in computer science, walked in front of the cameras holding a baseball bat bearing infrared markers. The markers are placed on specific joints of a certain individual, and they look similar to pingpong balls. The motion cameras capture the reflection of the markers and the movement of the individual. As Sales swung the bat, a small stick figure of the bat swinging back and forth appeared on a computer screen, mimicking the motions made by Sales. When people step in front of the cameras with markers placed on their joints, the cameras collect data of their motions to create 3D stick figures, which were then used for animation. A prime example of the interdisciplinary opportunities the MMAD lab presents lies in exercise science professor Morris Levy’s ballet study to analyze the basic movements of dancers and compare statistics taken from the beginning and the end of the semester to see progress made and areas for improvement. Each dancer wears a suit with markers on it so the cameras can track and recreate their motion, and force plates on the floor act as large scales used to analyze the dancer’s weight distribution. Sales, who has been training with and learning about motion capture since August, serves as the technician. Levy conducts the research and decides what data to analyze, while ballet professor Laila White of SFA figures out what movements the dancer should make. Computer science, exercise science and ballet all join together to understand movements of the human body and how to improve a dancer’s abilities.
BY MAKAILA MILLER Staff Reporter