Dimensional Imaging CEO Colin Urquhart explains how the Glasgow-based firm is bringing the performance capture techniques from film to game development
Scotland has a worldwide reputation for creativity, reliability and gaming innovation. For a few months in 2013, thanks to the tremendous success of Grand Theft Auto V, Scotland was the focus of the global games industry – which helps to highlight other companies in the region that are having an impact on development.
Founded in 2003 and based in Glasgow, Dimensional Imaging supplies high-definition 3D facial image capture and 4D facial performance capture systems, solutions and services. We work with some of the world’s leading entertainment companies.
When we started the company, we realised fairly early on that if we wanted to succeed we had to embrace the worldwide marketplace and put ourselves out there as a global company. Although we’re based in Scotland, our customer base is truly international, with many customers located in the US, Canada, mainland Europe and beyond. Some of our first entertainment customers were Valve in Seattle and Electronic Arts in Vancouver.
Facial Likeness Capture
Laser-scanning (or ‘Cyber-scanning’) was first used for 3D facial capture in the movies in the mid-1980s for films such as Star Trek IV, The Abyss and Terminator II, and was still being used until quite recently. Structured Light Systems also started to be used for 3D facial capture in the early 2000s for movies such as XXX and Die Another Day. At the same time, these systems also started to be used on a larger scale for facial shape and appearance capture in sport simulation video games – for example, creating the player models in Major League Baseball.
In the late 2000s, DI’s passive photogrammetry solutions started to be used by Electronic Arts in video games such as FIFA, with the improved texture quality derived from using standard DSLR cameras and photographic lighting becoming a key advantage. The instantaneous nature of photogrammetric capture also made expression capture more practical, as Valve discovered when making Left for Dead 2.
Photogrammetric capture is now becoming the default option for facial shape and appearance capture for both VFX (for movies and television) and for video games. Its increasing use has also resulted in a dramatic rise in the number of real life people being cast for “likeness” that can be used as digital doubles in video games.
Facial Performance Capture
In the mid-2000s Robert Zemekis pioneered the use of marker-based facial performance capture in the movies Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol. Markerless facial performance capture was used for the first time on the Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
More recently, the facial performance capture of Vincent Cassel for the 2014 movie La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast) is one such example of how a 4D facial performance capture software has been used effectively, used to create the beast. Other examples include the BBC’s Atlantis and Merlin – which DI has also worked on.
4D in the Gaming Sector
We are now starting to see a level of graphic quality and realism in video games rendered in real-time that could previously only be achieved with offline rendering. As a result, we are truly entering an era of convergence, where the quality of both the assets and performances required in games will be much more on a par with those required for television and movies.
In terms of facial animation, the additional resources available in new consoles and engines will allow much more complex rigs that will be able to deliver more realistic animation and convincing performances than ever before. Traditional rig-based facial animation will also begin to be augmented or even replaced by vertex cache driven animation, detail maps and textures.
One of the key challenges the industry is facing is the spiraling cost of continually improving the quality of facial animation. How can studios create hours of facial animation at ever higher levels of quality and realism within reasonable budgets? I think the answer is in technology like ours to accurately capture the performance from real life talent, as demonstrated by Remedy for Quantum Break.
DI is in the process of developing a head-mounted version of our DI4D capture system, which will deliver the high fidelity of capture the company is known for, but also allow the acting talent to perform freely.