Thursday, December 4, 2008

Trafalgar Square lion 'brought to life' using digital animation

One of the famous stone lions that guard Nelson's Column will come to life on Friday thanks to a clever mixture of digital animation, projections and audio feed.
The event to promote London was inspired by the legend that the Trafalgar Square lions will come to life if Big Ben chimes 13 times.

The 141-year-old lion will tell visitors and Londoners about all the things you can do in the capital over Christmas and the New Year.

His voice was recorded by actor Shaun Escoffery, who plays Mufasa in Disney's award-winning musical The Lion King in the West End.

The animation was created by John Paul Harney who has also worked on the Hollywood film Babe, Pig in the city.

He started with photos of the stone lions from different angles and compared them to real-life lion images to gauge how the lion's face could move as it talked.

'I modelled and animated the lion using a software package, creating different mouth shapes for the various expressions and speech sounds of the lion,' he explained.

'I then set the important frames in the sequence and the software filled in the gaps to create the movement.'

John also looked at his own face in a shaving mirror to see how we move our mouths to make the 'ooohhs' and 'aaaahhs' of the English language.

'The lips go all the way round to the back of the head on a lion, so you use a little artistic licence,' he said.

A single projector directly in front of the statue will light up the lion with a three minute animation that plays on a loop for five hours.

But visitors can also view the light animation up to 120 degrees on either side of the statue.

The team has already brought the tourist attraction to life in two dress rehearsals.

'We had a very good response from the mayor's office after the dress rehearsal,' John said.

'Lots of people came and there were lots of ooohhs and aaaahhs - and some wows - so I think it was received pretty well.'

The lion statues, by sculptor Edwin Landseer, were based on moulds of a real lion provided by the Albertine Academy of Fine Arts in Turin.

They have witnessed key events in British history such as the VE day celebrations in 1945, but this will be the first time they have taken part in the capital's activities.

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