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Singapore team behind Emmy winner

The stunning cinematography that saw sci-fi movies like Star Wars: The Force Awakens (right) and The Martian starring Matt Damon (above) secure critical acclaim and success at the box office was made possible with MotionBuilder's photorealistic anima
The stunning cinematography that saw sci-fi movies like Star Wars: The Force Awakens (above) and The Martian starring Matt Damon secure critical acclaim and success at the box office was made possible with MotionBuilder's photorealistic animation capabilities.PHOTOS: WALT DISNEY, 20TH CENTURY FOX
The stunning cinematography that saw sci-fi movies like Star Wars: The Force Awakens (right) and The Martian starring Matt Damon (above) secure critical acclaim and success at the box office was made possible with MotionBuilder's photorealistic anima
The stunning cinematography that saw sci-fi movies like Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Martian starring Matt Damon (above) secure critical acclaim and success at the box office was made possible with MotionBuilder's photorealistic animation capabilities.PHOTOS: WALT DISNEY, 20TH CENTURY FOX

Developers here keep MotionBuilder at the top of the game in animation software

A team of software programmers in Singapore has made vast improvements to a piece of animation software called MotionBuilder, which won a Technical Emmy this year.

MotionBuilder enables a process whereby sensors are attached to live human actors to capture their motion, which is then edited onto animated characters to create photorealistic movements.

It has been used to produce box office hits such as The Martian and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and popular video game The Witcher 3.

The software won in the pre-production visualisation system category at the 67th Annual Technology and Engineering Emmy Awards, held last month in Las Vegas.

Major developments to MotionBuilder in the past five years have come from software maker Autodesk's local research and development team, established in 2011. Singaporeans make up about half of the 350-strong team at Fusionopolis.

In an interview with The Straits Times, Autodesk senior product designer Soheyl Mohammad, 32, said: "Artists draw and design models, and what you do in MotionBuilder is give them life, animate them."

Major updates to MotionBuilder that have proved popular in the industry include flexible motion capture and plug-in support for Microsoft Kinect.

With the addition of flexible motion capture, animators have a larger number of markers for more precise movements and more realistic animations. Previously, there were restrictions on the number and exact spots where sensor markers could be placed.

The Kinect plug-in was developed last year to give indie game developers, film-makers and students access to motion capture capabilities at a fraction of the cost.

Instead of using specialised motion capture cameras, the plug-in gives direct support for a Kinect device that works as an affordable and convenient motion capture camera.

"MotionBuilder is like being a DJ for animation," said Mr Matt Dewees, Autodesk's industry sales manager for media and entertainment in the Asean region.

"Someone has played an instrument, recorded it and produced it - that's the animator's job, to create a library of animation. When you get to MotionBuilder, you're a DJ - you're sampling this and that, mixing all the things that the animators have drawn," he said.

Early this month, Autodesk announced that it would lay off 10 per cent of its global workforce, affecting 925 positions. It is not known how many staff in Singapore will be affected.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2016, with the headline 'Singapore team behind Emmy winner'. Print Edition | Subscribe