Emotion capture

Emotion capture

By Stuart Richardson

April 15th 2010 at 10:49AM

Heavy Rain star Pascal Langdale talks motion capture and the future of gaming

Pascal Langdale, the actor most famous within the gaming industry for his portrayal of Ethan Mars in Quantic Dream’s title Heavy Rain, has launched a motion capture company called Motives in Movement.

Langdale says the business will offer a new and more efficient method of motion capture that could save studios money while increasing the quality of the product they receive.

He spoke exclusively to Develop about Heavy Rain, David Cage, Motives in Movement and the future of interactive entertainment.

So Heavy Rain recently passed the 1m sales mark. How do you feel about being involved with such a popular title?

I think here I will echo something David [David Cage, studio head, Quantic Dream] has always said  - we all took a risk with Heavy Rain. Nobody really knew what the reaction to it was going to be. The fact that it has now done so well is proof of a desire that is out there for narrative-based games.

David calls them interactive dramas, but I’m not sure that fully covers it. I tend to talk about empathy games, because that’s really what’s going on. Eventually we might see that name used for things like [upcoming Lionhead Studios ‘emotional AI’ title] Milo and Kate, or any game that requires that the player holds an emotional range of attachments to the characters in them.

Are you happy with Heavy Rain as a product?

Absolutely! I think it was a phenomenal achievement. We have been working on this game for a hell of a long time, going up against development problems that nobody else had ever really come across before. We were all frontiersmen.

At the moment, I’m getting quite a lot of feedback from players, and it seems that they are really getting into the emotional worlds of the characters. That’s where the reward is for them, I think, and I find that very refreshing.

It was interesting to see the outcomes of the motion capture process for me as well. I had absolutely no idea how it worked. I would act out situations like opening a fridge door, and I knew that it was supposed to be a horrible little fridge in a scummy hotel room, but I was just a man in a mo-cap suit in a studio. I couldn’t see how that would end up as Ethan Mars looking into a nasty fridge. To see the end result was fascinating, though. You don’t see me and the suit, you see Ethan and the room.

What what your involvement with the development process of Heavy Rain?

The shooting process was quite segmented. For the first few months we were doing general motion capture action sequences and those that weren’t really attached to scenes. Later on we went into the facial animation studios and performed 350-pages of scenes. That was a fair amount of work.

After this, you would perform the scene again, with your recorded voice being played back at you, as well as those of the other actors, who may or may not have been in the room.

You would have to react to David, who was in the booth, and then he would edit all the voices together so it sounded like they were reacting to each other.

It was all quite weird. I would say the major work with that kind of acting is to make sure that you held everything together. For instance, I didn’t want  my body to be doing one thing and my face to be doing another.

What was working with David Cage like?

He’s a maestro. He is the man at the studio. David is head of all departments, with his finger on pretty much everything. He is without doubt a firm director, but he also has a very playful, with an almost childlike side, which is what you need.

Will we be hearing your voice in any upcoming DLC for Heavy Rain?

Well, I’ve had my availability checked, but I don’t anticipate that I will be a part of that, no. I would be very surprised.

What do you think Heavy Rain has achieved?

I think it has pushed the envelope just that little bit further. Actually, to be honest, quite a lot further.

It’s now possible for game and, to an extent, film developers to think about narrative games as a future medium. I would imagine, and I’m sure many other people are imagining as well, that the future of downloadable, episodic games is just around the corner.

Gaming and narrative elements will, ideally, become even more mixed together. As a wild example, Star Trek could include downloadable episodes that the user could play through, every week. That’s the future I think we are heading towards, a convergence between film, TV and games.

Do you hope to be involved in that convergence as an actor?

Absolutely, yeah. I think actors have a very unique roll to play in the future of these games, for a variety of reasons. For example, animators are great, and some of them phenomenal, but the amount of time it takes to animate a complex expression that may shift between one moment and another is inordinate. It also requires an understanding from the animator about what should be there, rather than an experiential understanding of what is there. In this repect I think actors will have it. They can provide sequences, libraries, scenes and expressions with more efficiency, I think, than animators can.

What will kind of service your new mocap company, Motives in Movement, provide?

Basically, if you look at the way film and TV are edited, you find out what is going on in a scene when someone talks, and you find out how characters feel by their reactions to that information.

My behavior library, which is what Motives in Movement is providing, supplies those sorts of clips; all sorts of behaviors that can be placed into any narrative sequence.

It that sense it is very different from a generic motion or facial kit, because it is categorised in a completely different way. A much wider range of behavior can be put in, and it is the kind of material that you need for these empathy games.

What do you think will be the ideal market for this service?

In terms of games, DLC. I think that is the future. A library, saving money each time you use a clip from it. If you use 50 percent of the library more than once, you’ve made your money back. If you use the library for an episodic serial, you would be making money all the time.

People use recycling kits to some degree already, but the difference between using a library and not can equate to around 47 percent of a scene. You can almost always build 30 percent of any scene from a library, making savings not only on the original mocap process but also on post-animation.

A minute of post-animation can sometimes take two or three days to put together as well.

Standard mocap kits also don’t cover the range of expressions that a library can. Take a scene, say, set in a meeting room. A man is waiting to be told something important. A library could cover any potential outcome of the news he receives, if he has been hired or fired, or even if he has walked into the wrong room. A standard kit can’t do that. They are based around the speed of motion, not the complexities of it.

Would the libraries need to be filmed before general shooting started on a project?

Well you can create a library with existing material, if you have already made a game, say. Even material left on the cutting room floor could be used.

Ideally, however, you would look at an individual actor’s role in a piece beforehand, define the areas that could most likely be reused in the process of filming, and then record that library with that actor. The material is then ready to cut in to the main project.

Of course that is another thing current libraries don’t have, the ability to accurately reflect the movements of individuals. Different skins can be put on one model, and then everyone will move in the same way. My library is actor-specific, it relies on the fact that actors bring something idiosyncratic to a role.

I noticed this in Heavy Rain. When an actor walked across the studio in a mocap suit, you could look at the frame-dots on screen afterwards and even though it was just dots, you could see the person in the movements of those dots. You knew how they walked. That was translated to their character.

What are you hopes for the future of your company?

I love acting, and with the feedback I am getting from players of Heavy Rain is that they loved playing as Ethan Mars. That really excites me. That is what I do as a profession. The fact that these games can draw somebody in to their world is amazing, and that is what I want a part of. That entertainment revolution.

With all the possibilities that are out there for mocap, we can definitely create a revolution here. We can really deliver some very special games and films, very much unlike that which has gone before.

This is also a way for Sony to bring their console back into the front room, and I hope they see that. It’s losing out to other platforms left right and centre. Heavy Rain made people buy the PS3. There is clearly a desire for more of these kinds of games, and that is what my company is prepared to make happen, to make possible.