Gorgeous Visualizations Of Athletes In Motion: Felix Deimann [Q&A]

If you have watched any sort of behind the scenes footage of CG-heavy films like The Avengers or the recently released Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, or games like The Last of Us (possibly my favorite game ever), you have no doubt seen actors clad in black leotards dotted with dozens of tiny spheres. Over the last decade or so, real-time motion capture (also called performance capture) has become a staple for filmmakers and game designers who need to breathe realistic movement into their digital creations. Long before computers were used to record human motion, it was being done by hand through a process called rotoscoping. The process was fairly simple, but extraordinarily time consuming – actors were filmed as a template or guide and the footage was then traced over a single frame at a time to create the final character. Filmmaker Ralph Bakshi used this technique on several films, including Heavy Metal, American Pop and, ironically, his animated version of The Lord of the Rings, which predated the Peter Jackson version by twenty years.

Felix Deimann had long been fascinated with how movement was portrayed in art. For his graduation project, he has created a beautiful exploration of human motion using performances by some of the top athletes in recent history, including Nadia Comăneci, Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. In developing his film Citius, Altius, Fortius (“Faster, Higher, Stronger”), Deimann wanted to explore how the motion of these athletes could be visualized and how far that visualization could be abstracted while still connecting with the viewer. The resulting film (with a terrific score by Kreng) is a wonderful homage to the mechanics of movement. I recently had the opportunity to ask Felix a few questions about the project, which you’ll find below.


F&B:You wrote that this is your graduation film. Where are you going to school and what are you studying?

I studied at the Fachhochschule Dortmund, University of Applied Science and Arts. I now hold a Bachelor of Arts in Design Media Communication.


How did the idea for the project come about?

Because of evolving technologies and the fast growing interconnectedness in our days – smartphones, tablets, e-reader, digital billboards etc. – motion becomes a more important aspect in graphic design. So, I wanted to explore how motion and form interact to communicate with the viewer. How can motion be visualized and how abstract can it get?

I did some research on how motion was visualized in the history of art. From ancient Greece to the futurism in Italy and modern days there have been different approaches to illustrate motion and to generate dynamic in paintings and sculptures. Sport is an often used motive throughout the history. Its basic principle is motion, so I took sports as a starting point.

Famous athletes are the heroes of our time. Great moments in sports stick in the collective memory because they are replayed all over the media again and again. Every person has a sporting moment they remember. And because it’s easier for the human mind to recognize things it has seen before, I decided on using original footage of famous athletes.


Can you talk a little about how you digitized the motion data from each of the athletes? What was that process, how long did it take to render, etc…

I first did a rough cut with the original footage. Then I tracked the camera motions automatically or by hand depending on the quality of the footage. I imported this data in the 3D program Cinema4D and built a realistic scaled enviroment (like the pool for the swimmer) and a character with all important joints (feet, knees, hip, shoulders, arms, hands, head). I then projected the footage over the enviroment and put the puppet in the right place in space and made it overlap with the athlete in the footage. I moved the character frame by frame and made it overlap. That’s how I got the original movements in 3 dimensions. With this data, I drove the motions of the abstract forms. The basketball sequence is a little different – it’s driven by the contacts of the players with the floor and the ball.

Render times were between two and 10 minutes per frame. The overlapping semi-transparent materials don’t really like to be rendered.


What software was used for the project?

Cinema4D, After Effects for post, and some Illustrator and Photoshop.


Were there other versions/iterations that didn’t work or that you just decided not to use?

About other versions. Yes, there are many tests I did before finding a look that worked. But there are no other sports I tested.


How did you come up with the “look” of the animation for each of the athletes? 

I wanted every sport to look different so that it could stand for itself but all sports still to form a unit. So I decided to work really graphically and used similar materials on every sport. Also all scenes take place on some kind of stage. With a spotlight and the athlete really in focus. Almost like in real life where all eyes are on the competitors as well.

The look of each sport is a result of research and my personal feelings about the characteristics of that sport. The gymnast for example is a very slim and gracile person, but has still a unbelievable body strength. Every centimeter of her body is connected. And she always knows where she is in space. So I decided to connect the joints and create connections with her environment. The swimmer is quite self-explaning. He moves through the water and creates “wave tunnels” behind him. Basketball is a really fast sport. Everywhere there are contacts, shoes with the floor, the ball dribbling. When you watch a basketball game you have all of these short noises which are triggered by the contacts so I tried to visualize that aspect of the game. The runner needs about 92% of his energy just to overcome the air. His movements are really straight forward. In the animation, the joints are only moving on two axes because in real life all runners try to avoid movements of the joints to the left or the right. His look is quite similar to aerodynamic tests of cars in wind tunnels.

To see more from Felix Deimann, check out the his website.

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