“The Polar Express” by Zemeckis

  • ©Robert Zemeckis



    The Polar Express





    This selection showcases ImagemotionTM, the proprietary technology developed by Sony Pictures Imageworks for “The Polar Express,” an all-CG performance-capture feature film. The production required a system that would allow Tom Hanks to perform as multiple synthetic characters, including the main role of a young boy. A primary creative goal was to preserve the actor’s performance by capturing the facial and body motion together in a single session. The fidelity of this capture data would need to be at a level never before attempted. Previous incarnations of motion capture techniques have recorded body and facial data in separate sessions that are combined to create a performance. Often the result looks stilted and artificial, because it lacks the natural unity of face and body while the actor is performing.

    Imageworks created a capture volume that could simultaneously record high-fidelity facial and body motion for up to four performers. This involved ganging a high density of motion capture cameras positioned to provide 360 degrees of recording coverage for the four performers.

    Other processes were also developed to create this presentation. A unique virtual camera system was created to allow a live-action camera operator to choreograph camera movements on the digital characters after motion capture was applied. This system allowed for a more cinematic feel to the movement of the camera. Significant advancements in digital cloth, effects animation, lighting, and com- positing also contributed to the unique look of this piece.


    HARDWARE: Motion-capture technology using Imageworks’ proprietary Imagemotion system. Multiple systems including Dell, IBM, HP, Apple, SGI, and others; many with NVIDIA graphics cards. Rendering farm: Thousands of CPUs (primarily Intel).


    SOFTWARE DEVELOPER: Used custom tools developed specifically for the show, including Imagemotion technology, a proprietary motion capture system developed by Imageworks, combined with internally developed facility tools and off-the-shelf software. OS: various.

Additional Contributors:

    Senior Visual Effects Supervisors: Ken Ralston, Jerome Chen
    Visual Effects Producer: Craig Sost
    Animation Supervisor: David Schaub
    Motion Capture Shoot Supervisor: Demian Gordon
    Environment Model Supervisor: Kevin Hudson
    Look Development Supervisor: Cliff Brett
    Character Pipeline Supervisor: Bert Van Brande
    Simulation Supervisor: Sho Igarashi
    Matte Painting Supervisor: Ivo Horvat
    Digital Production Managers: Katherine Concepcion, Mandy Tankenson
    Visual Effects Executive Producer: Debbie Denise
    Digital Producer: Chris Juen
    Computer Graphics Supervisors: Rob Bredow: Mark Lambert, Alberto Menache, Sean Phillips
    Motion Capture Integration Supervisor: Albert Hastings
    Character Model Supervisors: Edward Taylor, Marvin Kim
    Character Technology Supervisor: J.J. Blumenkranz
    Layout Supervisor: James Williams
    Effects Supervisor: Daniel Kramer
    Pipeline Supervisor: Rob Engle
    SIGGRAPH 2004 Presentation Contributors: Ralph Cooley, Joana Cruz, Amanda Morrison, Jake Morrison, Brad Simonsen

Additional Information:

    Motion capture blended with keyframe animation. Rendering tech- nique used most: Various third-party and proprietary techniques. Average CPU time for rendering per frame: N.A. Total production time: approximately 24 months. Production highlight: Advanced performance-capture technology and techniques to deliver realistic human performance in a fully CG feature movie.

Animation / Video Overview: