MATC student J.P. Winkowski wears the motion capture suit as eight cameras film his movements.
This is used to model the "skeleton" of the animated character "Woody."
When Burlington, Wis., screenwriter/producer/director Ron Kolman was searching for a way to bring his dreams of a first-of-its-kind television show to fruition, he was fortunate to find the help he needed close to home - at Milwaukee Area Technical College. The owner of RK Media, LLC, Kolman worked with MATC students and staff to produce the TV pilot "Woody's World" - sharing the adventures of an animated wooden spoon named "Woody." The host of his own cooking show, Woody interacts with humans, making "Woody's World" the first television series ever to combine live actors and scenery with motion-capture animation.
MATC is believed to be one of just a few colleges in the country with motion capture animation equipment, and programs in both animation and television production. James MacDonald, associate dean of MATC's School of Media and Creative Arts, said that students and instructors were very excited to be able to provide most of the production work for "Woody's World," including all the animation, renderings of Woody's appearance, as well as some camera work, sound and editing.
"It's been an incredible experience for our students and instructors to be in on the ground floor of such a unique and professional production," MacDonald said.
Producer/director/screenwriter Ron Kolman (in red sweater) gives feedback as
MATC animation students work on creating 'Woody' from motion capture data.
Kohlman has worked in the entertainment field more than 40 years, as line producer, production manager, director and writer for feature films and television as well as multi-media productions and live events for communities and corporations. As an actor, his work includes more than 100 television, film, theater and radio productions. His list of credits in production includes such well-known projects such as the pilot and five seasons of "ER," the pilot for "Chicago Hope" and the films "Rudy" and "Sleepless in Seattle."
"We've collaborated with a renowned producer and director on a revolutionary new approach to a television show," MacDonald said. Working with Ron has been a tremendous experience for our students."
MATC Student Provided "Skeleton" for Character of Woody
Motion capture animation has been made common by Pixar and is responsible for the special effects used in the blockbuster film "Avatar." The character of Woody was created by using sophisticated equipment, including eight cameras trained on MATC student J.P. Winkowski, who wore a specially configured suit. The cameras recorded Winkowski's movements, which then became Woody's "skeleton." Using specialized programming, student animators dropped "skin" over the skeleton and created facial expressions and appropriate movements for Woody's mouth as he speaks.
All the actors in "Woody's World" are from Wisconsin, with the exception of Gary Puckett (of the popular 1960s band Gary Puckett and the Union Gap) and his wife Lorrie Haimes Puckett. Gary Puckett provides the voice of Woody. The human actors were filmed at the Bristol 45 Diner in Bristol, Wis. MATC television production students worked alongside a professional film crew, gaining hands-on practical experience.
"I'm thrilled with the results. The students have been great and really creative. We encourage them to bring their own ideas to the project, and the instructors have the know how to guide them through the process." -- Ron Kohlman
The pilot was created on a shoestring budget, with the actors providing free labor. Singer/ songwriter and multiple Grammy award winner KebMo also donated the show's theme song.
"It's been a real collaborative effort. I never knew there was so much talent in Milwaukee," said Kolman. "It's been a phenomenal experience. I'm thrilled with the results. The students have been great and really creative. We encouraged them to bring their own ideas to the project, and the instructors have the know how to guide them throughout the process. Instructors Brian Mennenoh, Tim Decker, Glenn Riley and Kevin Pulz, and Associate Dean Jim MacDonald have all been enthusiastic and helped make "Woody's World" a reality.
MATC television production students worked alongside a professional film crew while shooting the
live action with the human characters of "Woody's World." It was shot at Bristol 45 Diner in Bristol, Wis.
Culmination of a Dream
"'Woody's World' is culmination of a dream for me," Kolman said. The storyline is based on a cookbook and subsequent recipe column Kolman wrote years ago called The Lazy Person's Guide to Cooking. A family-oriented show, "Woody's World" focuses on high principles and self-reliance. Each episode includes lessons in life and in cooking. Recipes are based on wholesome food, with a multicultural appeal.
"I'd describe "Woody's World" a kind of combination of "Alf," "Home Improvement" and "Martha Stewart Living," Kolman explained. Private investors are currently considering financially backing the project and it is being presented to industry professionals to determine their interest in syndication or distribution rights.
"We all have high hopes that this pilot will be picked up by the television industry," MacDonald said. "Imagine how wonderful working on the ground floor of a hit television show would look on our students' resumes."
The skeleton of Woody as gathered by the motion capture equipment is displayed on a computer screen.