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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Poetry in Motion: How Does Motion Capture Benefit Gaming?

I recently read an article about the making of developer Naughty Dog’s latest game The Last of Us, a post-apocalyptic survival title that features two protagonists who must work together to overcome the various dangers and obstacles they encounter, and I was struck by one particular element of the development process: their use of motion capture. Now obviously using motion capture (or “mo-cap”) to help render animations and movement for video game characters is nothing new but that didn’t stop Naughty Dog from experimenting with the limits of what mo-cap can do and in the process finding some amazing results.

  Motion capture had not only allowed the game’s characters to come alive through movement, but also through speech and facial rendering. Normally it’s common practice to have separate actors doing the mo-cap, recording basic movements and actions, and another group of actors to handle the voice-work, dialogue, and sometimes even facial animations. However Naughty Dog wanted to make the experience in The Last of Us feel as visceral and cinematic as possible so they opted instead to have the same actors perform the motion capture for movement and combat as well as facial recognition and voiceovers all in one go.
 Being no strangers to the cinematic approach of game development with their popular Uncharted series, the folks over at Naughty Dog have worked tirelessly to inhabit the hauntingly beautiful and desolate world of The Last of Us with characters who move, look, and feel just as real as actual people thanks to the seamless blend of voice-work, facial recognition, and, of course, motion capture. The technical and cinematic achievements they’ve accomplished by streamlining the process of motion capture will hopefully be a trend that catches on as I feel it has the potential to completely redefine how developers go about bringing their characters to life.
It can also have an equally important impact on the actors themselves as fusing the various acting talents required to give life to these characters doesn’t really seem that different from acting in a blockbuster movie or big-budget theater production. It’s one thing to give a digital character your voice, it’s quite another to slip into a mo-cap suit and give them your voice while also fighting, running, vaulting, and shooting in a digital landscape.
  It seems every year we’re able to make new breakthroughs in the ways we enjoy media entertainment. Video games have become so much more than something to play while sitting on a couch on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Thanks to developers like Naughty Dog, video games can convey emotional and cinematic experiences that easily stack up against big-budget movies and best-seller novels and that is thanks in no small part to the innovations they have brought to the world of motion-capture. With all this to consider, I’m sure it wouldn’t be so hard to believe that in a few years maybe we’ll be playing movies instead of watching them….

Find out more about how Naughty Dog used new motion-capture techniques to bring the characters of The Last of Us to life in this video courtesy of GameInformer: http://bit.ly/wTweYi  

Follow me on Twitter at @NateHohl and check out my other work at vgutopia.com, hookedgamers.com, and explosion.com

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