Its proudest achievement so far, the real-time animation of Hana-Barbera's famous Top Cat character in a talk-show format pieces with TV Superman Dean Cain, Slash and Joe Barbera himself, is due for international airing on the Turner Cartoon Network.

"It was a three-camera video shoot, essentially like shooting a live show," says Walker of the co-venture between Mr. Film the Swedish outfit Trash Television, and Craftsman Productions for Hanna Barbera. Face/voice actor Tom Kinney (wearing the facial tracker and body suit) and Dr. Little on the tweaker joystick, simultaneously and instantaneously animated Top Cat. While Camera 1 is looking at the interviewee, Dean Cain or Joe Barbera, Camera 2 was our wide shot showing the interviewee and Top Cat. When the interviewee is looking at Top Cat he is seeing on an eye-line true monitor 4 feet behind the felines virtual location, the full composite. "so he could see how he is relating to Top Cat" Walker says. "Camera 3 was close on Top Cat."

Having, (with Top Cat), achieved his short-term goal of providing producers with a cost-effective way of doing talk shows and game shows, Walker can address a long term goal. "We're interested" he says "in doing full-on dramatic scenarios with multiple characters and virtual backgrounds - without sounding grandiose, basically replacing what's called Saturday morning television with full-on 3D projects."

"Faster and faster!" could be the anthem of Chris Walker, the 39 year old head of Venice, California, based Modern Cartoons. "I went into Rhode Island School of Design as a sculptor and came out an animator," recalls Walker, who cites Johnny Quest and classic Disney as influences. Walker's post RISD wanderings-including a "Crazy" year in the Indian film industry in Bombay, where he built an optical printer; and started but never completed, the Disney program at Cal Arts - plus his laid-back delivery, give little hint of his work ethic.

It was while working at Bo Gehring and associates in 1984 that Walker was hit in the face with CGI. "I was director of animation on an ABC station ID campaign and creative director on a CBC station ID campaign, computer graphics being relegated to mostly logos in those days. But I knew eventually we'd be doing characters with this, and I knew I had the choice of doing them by hand on these huge stacks of paper or working on a computer." He opted for the computer's speed, leaving Bo Gehring in 1987 to found Mr. Film to do CGI effects and character animation on film, as the company name suggests.

Indeed Mr. Film has, for example recently created Johnny Storm for New Horizon's "Fantastic Four the Movie" and a double stereo witch's head made of fire for Busch Gardens "Haunts of the Old Country". But a Mattel project that came in three months after Mr. Film opened its doors effectively pushed Walker into unforeseen and, once again, faster channel.

"It was several minute long segments spearheading the new launch of He-Man and Skeletor toys," Walker recalls, "Because we were animating in normal key-frame style on PC's, it was a slow process - rendering took about 45 minutes a frame. I thought that the inherent process of doing this in the computer could be automated - 3D real-time performance animation became the goal"

The goal was attained in increments over the years, finally resulting in the trademarked Plug and Play motion-capture bodysuit and facial tracker. The bodysuit, with proprietary data-translation software designed by Mr. Film's chief scientist Dr. Frank Little, was unveiled at Siggraph 1995. So was the moniker Modern Cartoons which reflects the increasing proportion of the company's performance-animation work.

 

Top Cat interviews Joe Barbera, thanks to Modern Cartoon's performance animation work.

 
 

 

 

     

Chris Walker: Figuring it Out