Creative Assembly’s motion capture manager Peter Clapperton discusses opening its own mo-cap studio
The Total War series has complex and varied requirements for motion capture which have only become greater as the series has matured. As a result, we’ve had our own Vicon Motion Capture Optical system in place for well over a decade now.
In the early days, this was just a handful of cameras that used to come out of a cupboard once a year. We had no capture space of our own, so we’d set them up in the local school hall to capture as much as possible in summer.
However, our current set-up bears little resemblance to those early days. It’s a dedicated facility, the largest studio-owned in Europe we believe, featuring 48 cameras, ranging from four to 16 mega pixels, and a generous 128m2 volume that we use daily.
It’s taken a long time to build up to this sort of capacity, but having a system such as this under our control is priceless.
It’s a five-minute walk from our main development studio in Horsham, and there’s a constant flow of animators venturing over to grab anything from a simple half-hour capture for a short cutscene, to complicated full-day shoots; from standard locomotion sets to live, real-time streaming within specific environments. Given the volume of projects that Creative Assembly has on the go at any one time, and the fact that we expanded our client-base to other studios under the Sega banner, we’re kept pretty busy.
The benefits of having our own system – as opposed to outsourcing – are twofold. First is the ease of accessibility and the quick turnaround of data we can achieve. Our animation and cinematics teams utilise the mo-cap studio for pre-visualisation work, and are able to rapidly prototype animations without any of the concerns of throwaway data. You can always come back and do it again.
As an example of our ability for a quick turnaround of data: one morning we set up an environment in MotionBuilder for Alien: Isolation, calibrated the system and actor, captured the required scene and provided
the animation team with 12 minutes of clean data before lunch.
The second benefit is the general, overall reduced cost of having our own, dedicated mo-cap studio. It’s in constant, full-time use, and has essentially paid for itself already, so we feel it’s been a wise investment.
Chris Southall, lead animator on Alien: Isolation, states: “It allows you to be really flexible with your ideas and means you can try and try again without the expense of sourcing actors and a venue. An animator can just put on a suit and get what they want almost instantly. It also allows you to experiment with new ideas in motion capture performance, without the hard deadlines and the overall cost of external motion capture studios.”
Total War lead animator Greg Alston adds: “The benefit of an internal mo-cap studio is the turnaround time; you can go from conception, to capture, to implementing it in-game on the same day.”
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Having our own studio also enables us to devote some time into R&D for future projects and allows for a dedicated team to focus on making streamlined pipelines tailored to our projects. The skillset of the team is such that there is a nice blend between character set-up, motion capture and animation, and the teams can work together to generate best practices.
We also have dedicated actors and fight performers that we use on a regular basis who work closely with us on specific fight sequences and styles in preparation for a shoot.
Preparation is everything, along with a passion for what we do. And since the update to Blade 2, the latest version of Vicon’s proprietary software, we have seen a dramatic increase in the use of real-time streaming to aid the director’s vision, working with live characters within their own environments.