A Pittsburgh film studio has made deals with the creators of the computer animation used in the movie "Avatar" and other groups to open a new motion-capture production facility that is the first of its kind outside of Hollywood.
Chris Breakwell of The 31st Street Studios announced the deal that involves "Avatar" animators Knight Vision, Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center and Paramount On Location, a division of Paramount Studio Group that moves lighting, rigging and other movie-making equipment to remote shooting locations across the country.
Knight Vision creates computer animation by having humans wear costumes fitted with digital markers that computers can use to transfer the person's motion to an animated character. But the company's innovation is that filmmakers can see the digitally-created characters where they will appear in the film frame instead of having to imagine where they will be added using computers after the fact.
"We're going to do things no one else is doing anywhere," said James Knight, the company's founder. He's creating a new company, Knight Vision 31, that will employ technology even more advanced than that used to animate the 2009 Oscar-winning "Avatar" for Breakwell's Pittsburgh studio along the southern shore of the Allegheny River.
Knight said state tax credits and the chance to work with Carnegie Mellon University were keys to the Pittsburgh deal. The state offers up to $60 million in tax credits annually that filmmakers can put toward some production expenses, provided at least 60 percent of a film's total budget is spent in the state.
CMU's entertainment technology students will work with Knight Vision technology and hopefully become skilled enough to work for the company or do their own similar work.
"This is the way of the future," said Anthony Daniels, an actor and visiting professor at the Entertainment Technology Center, who is best known for portraying the cyborg C-3PO in the "Star Wars" movies. Daniels quipped that the studio deal is a "great coming together of the forces."
Movie productions have injected about $300 million into the Pittsburgh area in the last three years, including "The Dark Knight Rises," the new Batman sequel starring Christian Bale, and the Tom Cruise thriller "One Shot," both filmed in the city last year.
"Pittsburgh really is becoming the Hollywood of the East," Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said at Monday's news conference. But even more exciting than having Bale and Cruise come to town is economic growth, Fitzgerald said.
"What it really means to us is jobs," he said.