[In the second of Gamasutra's discipline-specific series gathering important tips and techniques direct from developers, Tristan Donovan delves into motion and performance capture. You can read his prior article on audio, here.]
Motion capture technology has come a long way in the past decade. Cameras are cheaper, the software is better, and even the challenges of tracking eye movements are being overcome. At the same time, motion capture has also become more commonplace in games -- so much so that it's more common to see motion capture than hand animation in most big-name console titles.
That's all well and good, but what makes the difference between a successful motion capture shoot and a mountain of useless data? What techniques allow you to get the most out of your actors -- and are there times you shouldn't even use trained actors at all?
In this feature we ask the motion capture pros behind games such as Halo: Reach, Fable III, Total War: Shogun 2 and Sniper Elite V2 for their nuggets of mo-cap wisdom.
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare
If there's one single piece of advice that everyone involved in performance capture agrees on it's that preparation is everything. "Of all the advice I have for successful motion and performance capture, this is the most important," says Kurt Nellis, the technical cinematic lead at Bungie.
"Before you set foot in the room with your talent suited up and the crew looking at you expectantly, know what you are shooting. It saves a tremendous amount of time, as you won't be caught with your pants down because you don't know the answers to the questions everyone will undoubtedly have on set."
Bungie's Halo: Reach
Pete Clapperton, motion capture manager at Creative Assembly, the studio behind the Total War games, adds that it's good to set out the rules of communication in advance, too. "During the shoot there's normally a lot of people, and it's always a good idea to make sure everybody knows exactly what role they are playing on the day, because you don't want three people giving directions. The main roles are the person working the system, the person watching for any markers that fall off, and the director -- there are other people, but they need to know when to shut up."
2. Save time with animation
When making Sniper Elite V2, Rebellion Developments waited until the game reached first pass standard before turning to motion capture. "This allowed us to fully explore the style of the animations and react quickly to the evolving design and code requirements as the project progressed," says lead animator Zsolt Avery-Tierney. This meant time and money wasn't wasted on collecting redundant or incompatible motion capture data and that the team entered the shoot with a clear idea of what they wanted.
"Everything in Sniper Elite V2 that we gained from our actors was initially defined and designed by our animators. This not only served better communication on the day but also ensured our animators retained ownership and remained devoted to the final delivery," he explains.
Another benefit was that because the content was already well defined, Rebellion could tell its mo-cap studio its exact prop requirements and measurements in advance: "This maximized time usage on the day, drastically reduced asset waste, and relieved the third pass burden on the animation team."