CHOPS & Associates Live Animation

Professional Actors Bring Out The Best In The Audiences

Highly talented actors and actresses can use the Digital Puppeteer easily, without a lot of rehearsal

Take a professional actor and put him or her in the driver's seat of the Digital Puppeteer - Crazy? No, it works, and it works well. The ToonMX software makes lip sync automatic. The rest of the controls consist of a digital tablet and a joystick to master, which only take a day or so of practice to get good enough to perform.

Bob behnd the scenesA recent innovation in our software has resulted in making lip sync very easy to accomplish, without the need for the Face Tracker gear we had used for many years.

Now, it is a much easier way to work, with the Dell Notebook and Toon MX. It just makes the performing that much easier, more fun and more relaxed for everyone. There's extra room in the booth for another performer, whose character can be on the screen and join in the fun. For example, Bob Kuchenmeister (right) performed as Genus with Gary in a two-person set-up at the Nevada State Fair, and brought along some music tools to play back samples and to play the drums with his footpedals, adding a great new layer of audio to the program. The kids in the audience really responded well to this live music feature. Behind the curtain, Bob controls his music deck with his left hand and the character with his right.

The CHOPS Control BoothYou might be interested in reading about how it used to be done, when we had a system that weighed 500 pounds and took four hours to set up. Here are some stories of our previous technology - with Geppetto software and using the Motion Analysis Face Tracker.

An important facet of live animation is the person who performs the character, so that their facial expressions, lip sync and voice are those of the 3D graphic character itself. In some cases, producers hire their own actors and actresses based on auditions, etc. in their hometown, and then meet us at the show. We've even had one client who wanted to be CHOPS himself!

Thomas Navaserro of HT Enterprises in Manila hired us to come to his city, and we puppeteered the show in the disco lounge of the Shangri La Hotel. When he put on the Face Tracker, his virtual alter ego came alive on the videowall center stage as the host of the cocktail party full of dignitaries. Navaserro's product launch brought the Philippines into the satellite age with a new telecom company. We modified Virtual Vinnie to fill the bill and what a night! Even the Ambassador didn't know who was in the back room, making Vinnie talk, until Navaserro came marching out, waving the helmet in his hand.

Chris and Kirk Wilson of Slauson Transmissions, introduced a high-tech web site a few years back at an APAA-related show., when we were still using motion capture (right). They put CHOPS up on a big screen TV monitor next to a RetroLite. Then Chris Wilson performed as CHOPS, and he was the right one for the job. He had designed the website he was promoting at the show and knew its contents intimately. But none of the customers knew that, and CHOPS amazed them with his knowledge of automatic transmission makes and parts.

Sometimes when complicated productions are planned for special events like corporate meetings, they still risk being boring. It's just the nature of the beast, that when people sit in auditoriums in the dark, their expectations go up. They want to get emotional and informed and inspired, all at the same time.

Making that happen with high production values requires a team of directors, video and audio systems and professional crew, staging people, projectors and projectionists, plus a whole bunch of other specialists, all working in perfect sync with each other. They do more than just get along with each other. They get acquainted, help each other out, learn the cues, eat a few meals together, and do a couple of shows, before they scatter off in separate directions. That's the way the business is, and most of the time, it works, because everyone is professional and cooperative.

When you thrust a "cyber human" into the mix, things could get a little strange. We show up with road cases, looking like one of the stage crew. After setting up and connecting the Digital Puppeteer to the "video village" and doing a couple of sound checks with the audio engineer, it's time to run through the show. In order to come to the venue better prepared, producers will often hire their own actor and rehearse the lines, weeks before the show is to be done. Then the actor is quickly prepared to use the tablet, which automatically follows his most subtle facial expressions. If the actor has trouble, Jesch is there to either teach or take over the operations of the computer.

When we did the Hewlett Packard show in Beijing, China, our producer hired a Chinese American marketing executive in his 30s with a second home in California. The gentleman spoke English like a native, and also spoke Mandarin Chinese, the official "formal" language of China. His natural bilingual ability made it easy for me to understand him and give him the idea of the Digital Puppeteer, which he quickly learned. Then he spoke as CHOPS (with dark hair and eyes localized for Beijing) in such rapid fluent Chinese, that we had to remind him to slow down a little.

After doing a stage show in the morning, we moved over to an adjoining room in the hall, and appeared on a big videowall in the exhibition hall. You just can't imagine the look on the faces of those students and computer professionals when CHOPS said hi to them, and started up a conversation. He even gave away a few T-shirts (totally American!), with the help of a sharply dressed assistant.

But that is the essence of peformance animation - it's fun, spontaneous and makes people stop to look.If they don't stop this time, they probably will the next time. Everyone reacts to the CHOPS experience a little differently. Each person relates to it in a different way because it is a new artform brought about by computer graphics technology. Doesn't that make the future of this technology exciting?

Air fare (one person, round trip, 21 day advance) $150-$800
Excess Baggage fee $100-$200
Rental car (2-3 days) $100-150
Hotel & meals (2 days) $250-$350

CUSTOM CHARACTERS ARE AVAILABLE - Custom characters can be created on request, by quotation. Price depends on the level of complexity, amount of artwork that needs to be created, need for selecting, training and compensating talent and the amount of time necessary to set up the Digital Puppeteer control system. On receipt of payment in full, CHOPS & Associates delivers all rights of ownership, copyright and title to the customer. If payment is not received in full, CHOPS & Associates retains all rights as artist and creator, and all performance rights. In all cases, CHOPS & Associates will retain the right to use the customer's artwork in self-promotion materials, even after all rights have been delivered to the customer.

BOOKINGS AND CONFIRMATIONS - It is CHOPS & Associates' policy to guarantee all bookings on a first-come, first served basis. All contracts and agreements should be finalized two to three weeks prior to the appearance or presentation. Late-notice services can be provided in some cases, subject to availability.

Audio visual equipment needs vary from one performance to another. The computer system will be hooked up to video presentation equipment that already exists, or we can help you rent what you need.

Once written estimates are furnished, clients will be asked to pay a 50% deposit to hold the performance date. You will receive a written confirmation from us that CHOPS or another character will perform as requested.

CANCELLATIONS - Cancellations are permitted up to 20 working days of the scheduled date with a full refund (less any prepaid expenses). Cancellations within 3-20 working days are subject to a service charge of 15% of the performance fee deposit, (plus all expenses incurred to date) and when cancellations occur within 3 days of the first day of the scheduled performance, the deposit will not be refunded (plus the client will be billed for expenses incurred to date, such as changes in airline tickets & lost deposits).

Additional paperwork for CHOPS performances or performances by other characters may include:

  • Scope of Work - description of show, time & location, setup information, schedule of performance, services and tasks to be performed
  • Schedule of Rates and Payments - description of rates, charges, estimated expenses, fees, terms & conditions
  • Progress Reports - when appropriate, where multimedia content is layered into show, or where character development and training is needed
  • Expense Reports - Detailed form, showing expenses actually incurred
  • Confidentiality & Non-disclosure Agreements - in cases where sensitive material is handled by talent and/or CHOPS & Associates staff or contractors
  • Rights - description of works and their legal owners, and rights licensed
  • Travel Itineraries - full description of arrival and departure times, accommodations
  • Tax forms - W-9 forms will be completed on request