Creating cutting-edge special effects for film and TV

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Peter Divers loved art as a child, but when he saw Jurassic Park and The Matrix, he became hooked on the idea of fusing art and technology. With that he began plotting a career in motion capture. It was a wise move, too. Little did he know then that these visual effects would become a key component of many future Hollywood blockbusters. Now he’s living his childhood dream, working as the virtual productions lead, for The Third Floor in the UK, a production company that develops effects for film and television shows such as Game of Thrones. Here he shares his journey to becoming one of the world’s most in-demand motion captures specialists, and explains what it takes to get into this competitive profession.

University connections can help you land your first job

Peter studied a Bachelor of Arts (Interactive Media) at Deakin University, learning all aspects of computer animation and film production when Deakin was in the process of opening its Motion.Lab, a space to create movement-based art and technology. Just a week after graduating he was employed at the Motion.Lab, which has now been operating for a decade. ‘The Motion Capture Studio was an amazing resource to have access to. This started me down the path of motion capture and how it could benefit productions,’ he recalls. Through Deakin’s Motion.Lab Peter had the opportunity to undertake his first big commercial job, the Tooheys Extra Dry ‘nocturnal migration’ ad, in which a herd of deer roam through a city. Creating motion capture deer for the assignment was no easy task. ‘We had to develop a way to capture a four-legged creature, and as we had never done that before, it meant studying motion reference and animal anatomy,’ Peter says.

A motion capture career means travelling around the world

These days Peter is working in virtual production, using motion caption and other tools to help directors realise their visions. The projects he’s worked on, I,Frankenstein, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies and Kingsman: The Golden Circle have taken him to New Zealand, the UK and LA. No two jobs are the same. ‘For The Hobbit trilogy, we motion captured stunts, worked with animations on a per-shot basis, and also developed a Virtual Camera system for Peter Jackson, so he could film in the virtual world on the motion capture stage,’ Peter explains.

'For The Hobbit trilogy, we motion captured stunts, worked with animations on a per shot basis, and also developed a Virtual Camera system for Peter Jackson, so he could film in the virtual world on the motion capture stage'

Peter Divers,
Motion capture specialist and Deakin alumnus

Working behind the scenes isn’t as glamorous as walking the red carpet

To produce the level of quality required, Peter says an incredible number of hours go into every production. ‘There is a lot of overtime, which can mean a lot of stress and sometimes minimal sleep, too,’ he explains. In every assignment, there is extensive problem-solving required and every day on set usually involves three days of preparation. In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the actors’ motions were captured on-set on-location, so many issues that were created as a result of weather and environment had to be dealt with during post-production. ‘You see a problem and break it down into tasks and just slowly work through it until you reach the end goal. The end goal is constantly changing, as a creative project does,’ he says. And the standards are constantly rising. Increasingly the levels of realism in digital productions requires more work. ‘With 3D films and 4K High Resolution TV’s you can see skin detail, so the work needs to constantly evolve to stay on top of this,’ he adds.

But seeing the end result makes all the work worth it

‘Every day we are creating creatures, people, environments that have never existed, it’s pretty amazing,’ Peter says and admits that despite the hours and stress he’s lucky to love what he does. ‘I get to work with the best and most talented artists around – people who turn up each day and love what they do,’ he says. And then there’s the moment when he sees his work on a big screen. ‘The most magical experience was seeing The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug at the cinema. It was the first huge VFX film I’d worked on. The animation team all went together and different people would cheers as their shots came up, that was a pretty crazy experience,’ he recalls.

If you want a job in motion capture, prepare for the competition

According to Peter, the international motion capture industry is incredibly competitive. ‘I had applied three times before I got my first big gig at Weta Digital working on The Hobbit films,’ he explains. When he didn’t receive responses, he kept developing his show reel and persisted until they took notice. His advice for those aspiring to work in the industry is to develop a razor-sharp understanding of the field. ‘Learn everything you need to, specialise in a certain area – something you really enjoy – but also have a good general skill base so you can collaborate with other departments.’

Interested in a career in motion capture? The first step is a Bachelor of Creative Arts (Animation and Motion Capture) at Deakin.

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