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Henson Contro system and CGI

Discussion in 'Puppet News' started by SesameKermie, May 21, 2005.

  1. SesameKermie

    SesameKermie Well-Known Member

    I brought this up in a thread a while back, and I got to thinking about it.

    I read about the Creature Shop trying to blend CGI and puppetry by using the Henson control system. I think the mosquitoes in MTI were performed like this.

    For those that are unfamiliar with it, the Henson control enables one puppeteer to work a character by coordinating the character's movements. For instance to get an animatronic character to frown before the system came about, one puppeteer would control the eyebrows (perhaps even one per brow,) one would control the mouth, someone else would wrinkle the nose, etc. The Henson system lets one performer move a joystick to a "frown" position, and then its computer coordinates the facial movements.

    Someone thought that since the computer was coordinating those movements, the signals could be sent to a cgi renderer and create a "live" cgi character that can interact with others (via a monitor.)

    So has anyone seen or heard anymore about it?

    BTW, Buck, how's your project going along this line?
  2. That Announcer

    That Announcer Well-Known Member


    All I know is that the Wizard incarnations in MWoO were performed via the system.
  3. SesameKermie

    SesameKermie Well-Known Member

    Cool! Does anyone know of any other characters that have been done that way?
  4. That Announcer

    That Announcer Well-Known Member

    Animatronic Control System (or the Waldo):

    Alien Gonzos (right at the beginning of "Celebration")
    Nearly all Muppets in full body shots
    Possibly the Doozers?

    Computer Control System:

    The only other thing I know of done like this is Kermit and Gonzo in the demo at Muppetfest. You can see some pictures of the characters in the Fest photo gallery.
  5. Buck-Beaver

    Buck-Beaver Well-Known Member

    The Henson Performance Control System (let's call it the HPCS) is the Creature Shop's high-end system that was originally developed for animatronics and is now used for CG as well. I've heard that they are starting to use it in video games, but I am not sure which ones.

    I suspect that most of the examples you mention were not done with the HPCS. I'm not sure how closely the waldos they use for the Muppets are related to the HPCS, but I suspect the underlying technology is very similar. The Doozers predate the HPCS and were controlled via very primative radio controls, like what you would find in a toy car. Most of the shots you see of full body Muppets are actually not animatronic at all; they're just puppets performed Bunraku-style against a greenscreen.

    There's a good article in the latest issue of the Puppetry Journal about puppetry control interfaces for computer graphics for anyone who is interested in the subject.
  6. That Announcer

    That Announcer Well-Known Member

    Thanks, Buck. Were the Doozers controlled by "Hoggle" radio control equip?
  7. MWoO

    MWoO Well-Known Member

    The Doozers mouthes moved using the radio control system. A performer put their hand into what looked like a puppet mouth and as the performer operated the larger mouth the smaller mouth would move. The same was used for the gorgs.

    Walso, on the Jim Henson Hour and in Muppet Vision was performed the same way as the Doozers only the controls went into a computer. They creadted a rough real time image on the performers monitors so while Steve did Waldo, Jim could make KErmit look at exactly where Waldo was on screen. Later they ran it through a computer that would give Waldo the full render treatment.
  8. That Announcer

    That Announcer Well-Known Member

    Gotcha. Thanks!

    Another question: Did Brian Henson have a hand in developing the RC and computer equipment? I know Faz Fazakas did a lot of it, but I've often heard of Brian operating RC stuff (Hoggle, etc.) and was wondering if he helped to invent it.
  9. MWoO

    MWoO Well-Known Member

    Well pretty much every one used it in a production at one time or another so I don't think that means he actually helped create it.
  10. Trimesh

    Trimesh New Member

    Heh, here's a serious piece of thread necro, but sinze I happen to know the answer, I guess I should post it in case anyone else is ever interested - the short answer is that many people had input into how these systems worked - Brian certainly did, since he was one of the original users (he used the first generation "SYNN" performance system used to control the dog on the Storyteller TV series).

    The primary contribution that Faz made was the hand controls, specifically the Waldo that was used to control mouth shapes.

    It's really quite hard to say who came up with what, since the development ran over a long period of time, and through various different generations of hardware, with ideas being fed forward at each step. This was all a while ago, so I may misremember some things, but it basically went like this:

    1st generation: SYNN (AKA "System with no name") - was certainly used on Storyteller, may have been used on other stuff too, but that was before my time

    2nd generation: "Small 1" - designed for TMNT1 - the underlying hardware was basically the same as SYNN, but repackaged into a smaller form factor with the keyboard/display being detachable. Along with this there was another board that was used to turn small DC motors into servos ("Motor 1"), which was also used on TMNT1.

    3rd generation: "Big 1" - this was designed mostly for TMNT2 - it was (as the name suggests) rather larger than the Small 1, but also much more powerful (the Small 1 used an 8-bit Hitachi microcontroller (6303?), and the Big 1 used an ARM) - there were also substantial functions added to the motor controller so that it could be used to establish operating limits on the R/C servos rather than just on the actual motors - this was designated "Motor 1a".
    This basic hardware carried on being used for quite a while - although the computer that was fitted to the puppet went through a number of hardware changes during this time, and was completely redesigned (using a different CPU) for Babe - at the same time there were some other changes made to the Big1 code to improve its operation with the performance editor.

    4th generation(s): This is where it starts to get confusing. There was a major development effort going on in LA to design a performance system that could be used both for digital and animatronic puppets - it was a big project, and had a rather extended development schedule, with most of the priority being given to the CGI part. At the same time, the CG department at the London CS were developing their own system since they had production deadlines to meet and it seemed increasingly obvious that trying to support a major production on the remaining stock of Big 1s was going to be a problem (by this time, they had all been bounced around the world a few times, and were not exactly the most reliable things) - we considered refurbishing them or making some more, but ran into the problem that many of the parts used were no longer available. On top of this, the next project that was coming up (a Hallmark TV version of Orwell's Animal Farm) was making heavy use of hydraulics, and the only way we had of interfacing them was the Big 1 DAC box - which we only had a small number of, and also used parts that were not available.
    So we decided to build a system based on off-the-shelf parts due to the time pressure - the result was a big blue box with a 19" rack PC system in it and a laptop used as a UI machine. It was a lot bigger and heavier than we really wanted - but we managed to get it completed in time for the start of the shoot (just!).
    So basically we ended up with 3 distinct set of development - both the London CG performance system and the BBBs just sort of got lost when the London CS closed down (I think the last thing they were used on was the 2005 version of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy), and AFAIK only the LA system is still in use.

    Wow, that was a lot of typing for a response to a 6 year old post. I hope someone finds it interesting :)

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