TV Creative Agency ZDF Digital adopts Real-time Animation Tools for Network Production

ZDF Digital

ZDF Digital develops advanced television and design products for national and international clients. They create immersive and interactive experiences and products for TV, web and social media for national and international customers.

At their offices in Mainz and Berlin, they bring documentary reports, TV magazines, TV shows, corporate and advertorial films, transmedia productions, apps, e-books, interactive and broadcast designs, animation and visual effects to life.

With have over 70 experts – developers, editors, concept designers, 3D, VR, motion, corporate and sound designers, performance managers, editors / cutters and subtitlers working together on projects, they have recently delved into adopting real-time creation and animation tools, like Character Creator and iClone, in their network pipelines to speed up production while maintaining quality.

“Now we use the Reallusion software on a daily basis, for all kinds of high-end projects to create much more, and better output at the same time.”

Mario Hill – Motion Designer | ZDF Digital – Germany

Q: Welcome Mario and Christian to the Reallusion Feature Stories. Please tell us a bit about your background, your team, and your work at ZDF Digital.

Christian Michelmann – Head of the Motion Design Department

Christian Michelmann

Hi, I’m Christian a German-based 3D artist and motion designer, and I have realized CGI and design projects in fields of on-air & broadcast design, film & TV advertising. I am also the Head of the motion design department at ZDF Digital.

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Mario Hill – Motion Designer

Mario Hill

I am a German-based VFX and motion artist, passionate about everything 3D and fluid simulation. I have 10 years of experience in different industries like automotive, food and advertising. Also, Motion Capturing has been an integral part of his workflow for more than 4 years.

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Q: ZDF is a German public-service television broadcaster that has created many successful TV programs including the recent ‘Meine Wende – Unsere Einheit?’, which was produced by ZDF Digital. Kindly share with us the purpose of this series, and which episodes utilized Reallusion software? What other software did you use?

The project Meine Wende – Unsere Einheit? started as a crowdsourcing podcast in which regular users could tell their personal stories and perceptions about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany 30 years ago. Using an online tool, anyone could submit their perspective on the history, and 50 podcast episodes were created with personal stories from German contemporary witnesses from East and West Germany. The stories are powerful, sometimes funny and often sad. https://www.zdf.de/filme/das-kleine-fernsehspiel/meine-wende—unsere-einheit-100.html

At the end of the project, some of the podcast episodes were created by various animation artists and motion designers as an animated short film series for TV and online. The idea was to give each story an individual, thematically appropriate look and style. Half of the films were produced in-house by ZDF Digital and the other half together with freelancers and artists to get a wider variety of styles.

Our team used iClone and the Character Creator for the episode: “Maul aufmachen”, “Blick nach vorn” and “Ich muss hier raus”.

For the first episode, “Maul aufmachen“, we chose a simple style to get used to the workflows, since we didn’t know how fast we were going to finish it. Also, we were in the middle of the Covid-19 lockdown and most of the team was working from home office. Even the mocap recordings with the Xsens suit simply took place from home and were then passed on to the other team members.

When we realized how quickly we made progress, we tried to raise the quality of the look from episode to episode. iClone along with the Mocap recordings had taken enough work off our shoulders in terms of character creation and animation that we had enough time to put into other parts of the project. Suddenly there was enough time left to put even more love and detail into the design and creation of the environment. That, of course, increased the quality of the animation films as a whole.

So our pipeline always starts with recording the mocap data. In parallel, we developed the storyboard and character concepts. With the Character Creator, we could quickly get the desired result and try out different character prototypes. We were also able to easily replace existing animations with subsequently changed characters with just a few clicks.

Then we exported the characters and imported them in Cinema 4D, which we used to build the environment.

In C4D we created all the camera animations we needed for the final animation. The advantage of this is that once the setting, environment and character animation are in the 3D software, we have countless options for camera angles and settings.

Q: In the last few years ZDF Digital has accelerated character animation and motion capturing. Today, how long does it take your team to create a fully animatable character with Character Creator? What are the biggest advantages of using CC in your workflow?

The first time we used Reallusion software a few years ago, we were in the middle of a project that required character designs. We had our first experience with Mocap data, where we had used little animation and bullet-time like effects, to get to the goal quickly. Now we use the Reallusion software daily for all kinds of high-end projects to create much more and better output at the same time.

“A variety of character types and concepts are created within a single day and we can customize it to our liking with just a few tweaks. The nice thing about working with iClone and the Character Creator is that we can still change and customize the character in a running project and with one-click, transfer customized avatars directly to the existing animations. Therefore, we are flexible and can react quickly to later adjustments or wishes of the client.”

Mario Hill – Motion Designer | ZDF Digital – Germany

Many processes are simply taken over by the software. Processes that are not so much fun in the daily business as a 3D artist, if you want to get a creative result quickly. Rigging, weighting, UV-ing. It’s all done by the software and we can focus more on the creative side of the project and worry less about technical stuff. This of course helps to bring the quality of the animation to a higher level.

Q: In regards to motion capturing – ZDF Digital has adopted iClone’s Motion LIVE platform that simultaneously connects to Xsens inertial body suits, along with Manus finger tracking gloves. How does streaming everything into iClone save time, and what are the benefits of using this platform?

With a small setup like a laptop with Reallusion software and the Mocap equipment, we are fully mobile and can go directly to the set, a studio, or any other location.

As we are no longer bound to the traditional optical mocap studios. We can immediately see on location how the characters behave and can get directly involved in possible challenges of the animations while we are recording.

Also the client, and especially the character actor, can see how the performer will look as a digital avatar. The actor can get more involved in his/her role and adapt movements to the characteristics of the character.

Or the other way around: we can adapt the 3D avatar to the actor to preserve his/her natural movements. It’s also much easier to respond to the client’s or director’s wishes directly on set when everyone can immediately see the results and we don’t have to wait for post-production.

Q: Besides ‘Meine Wende – Unsere Einheit?’, what other animation projects is ZDF Digital using real-time animation tools from Reallusion?

Currently, we use many character animations for digital reenactments. Historical characters are brought back to life to retell historical scenes in a digital world and not traditionally on set. In normal TV program these are visuals that are not often seen there. Of course, virtual production is also a big topic for us that we will integrate into our pipeline in the future.

Recently we have worked a project for our VODAFONE client, where they showcase cooking through an Augmented Reality cooking app – Giga AR. In this project, celebrity TV chef Steffen Henssler was created and animated using the Reallusion tools; Character Creator and iClone.

https://www.vodafone.de/newsroom/digitales-leben/vodafone-und-nreal-machen-kochen-zum-kinderspiel/

Learn more about ZDF Digital:

Website: https://www.zdf-digital.com/

Network: https://www.zdf.de/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ZDFdigital/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/zdf_digital

1 comment

  1. Hi There..Ara here from Blueye Productions Malaysia..would like to know if we can collaborate on a project. Its a full length 3 d animated film.

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