Going through the â??motions

Going through the â??motions

By Develop

December 5th 2008 at 10:43AM

The motion capture process is slowly changing from a disassociated model â?? motions, facial capture and voice all done seperately â?? to a model where itâ??s all done at the same time. We caught up with Audiomotionâ??s Mick Morris to talk through the benefits of â??full performance capture'â?¦

Audiomotion sells itself on ‘full performance capture’ - what are the benefits and drawbacks over other techniques currently being employed by developers?

There is a widely held belief that meaningful, emotional, communication is made up of three parts: Seven per cent is said to be the spoken words, 38 per cent is tone of voice and a hugely significant 55 per cent is body language. For effective and believable exchanges, these three parts of the message need to support each other in meaning - they have to be ‘congruent’. In case of any incongruency, the receiver of the message will be irritated by two messages coming from two different channels – or so said Albert Mehrabian in the 1960’s.

This, in a nutshell, is the beauty of full performance capture. It’s the process of capturing facial expressions, final audio, fingers and full body simultaneously – everything is recorded in one sitting: the delivery of the lines, the subtle facial expressions, those gesticulating hands and the all important body language. Interaction between up to five actors is as it should be, eyelines are correct and the actors are free to move around the volume. No restrictions like video cameras in their faces – the freedom to get into character and perform their parts. Trying to do these separate elements at different points in time with different processes cause problems that only detract from the experience.

Is it difficult for the performers to get used to the process?

The actors who we work with on these cutscenes using full performance capture really enjoy it. 20 minutes after the markers are applied, they hardly know they are wearing them. They are then free to get into character and focus on the job in hand. Compared to TV or Film there’s no make up, no costume changes, no close ups, no lighting, no intimidating camera in the face. Head mounted cameras are considered particularly intrusive, along with their cables and batteries.

To quote Andy Serkis talking about his role in Heavenly Sword: “When you're directing and creating a world in the digital realm there are no restrictions. The wonderful thing about motion-capture is how liberating it is for actors because you're allowed to go anywhere. Digital characters don't exist without the soul of the actor bringing it to life.”

For character animation it’s very difficult to capture the essence of this using any other technique. Not to mention the chemistry which occurs when you have multiple actors in a scene – when they really click it’s almost palpable how close we can get to injecting real emotion into the characters.

Surely it must take a lot of equipment to capture all those elements simultaneously?

They aren’t the easiest of motion capture sessions to set up – a lot of time and patience is required to get the setting up of the 80 cameras just right. When complete though it’s a real-time process, we keep recording until the actor and director is happy with the take and then onto the next one. Again, the number of cameras or the technology isn’t of concern to the actors.

It can be a daunting task for clients working with us to embrace this new working practice. It works best when we do these over four or five day sessions. Having scripts and storyboards locked down for the shoot means it’s challenging for the developer. Changes can’t be implemented until later on pickup shoots. However working this way removes the problem of cast availability. Actors are going to be much keener on taking the project if they can put two or three five day sessions in their diary rather than a day here and a day there.

Do developers and publishers that have their own in-house mocap facilities still use you, or are you in competition with them?

Pretty much all of largest publishers – many of whom have their mocap facilities – have used our services in the past 12 months. I think it’s because we do a lot of motion capture outside of games – we get exposure when working on Hollywood features such as Prince Caspian and The Watchmen, and we bring the benefits of experience to projects that perhaps internal mocap teams don’t get. It’s certainly a turnaround from a few years ago when it was the done thing for people to bring their motion capture in-house. Some elements of a production, games or film are best outsourced.