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The new AKC Museum of the Dog in New York City isn’t just about dogs — it was made by them. Before you even enter, you’ll see digital dogs scampering across the top of the museum windows. But they’re not animated. They are real dogs whose movements were captured against a green screen on a treadmill.

One of the most interesting exhibits in the museum allows you to train a virtual dog named Molly. By standing in front of a screen, you can move your hands to teach Molly tricks.

When conceptualizing this exhibit, the museum worked with an experience design studio, AV&C and an architecture and design firm, Gensler. Both the AKC and AV&C decided portraying a realistic dog was important.

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“We pretty much knew early on that we would have to do motion capture because that’s the only way you’re going to capture the real movement of the dog,” says Mike Hansen, a producer at AV&C. “So when you see the exhibit you really see the dog moving like a real dog.”

Cameras pick up on the reflection of infrared light from tiny balls on the dog’s body. This allows the team to capture movements in 360 degrees.

Who is “Molly” the Dog?

Several dogs auditioned for the role of Molly. The AKC ultimately decided on a six-month-old Black Labrador Retriever named River. AV&C and the dog traveled to a motion capture studio in Los Angeles called House of Moves.

River’s owner and trainer helped her get used to wearing the motion capture suit ahead of time. So by the time River entered the studio, she was completely relaxed and used to it.

A series of cameras around the room filmed the dog’s movement in 360 degrees, capturing the infrared light bouncing from the white balls on the her suit.

“At the same time, we shot it in the cardinal directions with a regular camera so we could see what the dog was doing,” Hansen says.

The AV&C producers could see River’s movements captured in real time on their screens at House of Moves in Los Angeles.

River went through all of the basic obedience skills that the team wanted Molly to learn. The team also captured plenty of shots of River just walking around, chasing his tail, and playing. “To try to animate that would be impossible,” Hansen says.

The team says River was so well-behaved, she did most of the skills in one take. Although Hansen said she did have trouble with one trick — spin. In real life, the trainer had to lead River in a circle with a treat to get her to spin.

Try Training Molly, the Virtual Dog

When you try training Molly yourself at the AKC Museum of the Dog, you’ll know exactly how the exhibit was made. The museum is located at 101 Park Avenue and guests can enter on 40th Street between Park Avenue and Lexington Avenue. On Westminster weekend, the museum is open to the public from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. on Friday and Sunday and 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday and Monday. Regular hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday.