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Gaming

How an in-house motion capture studio brings horror realism to game design

Directed by Sean Dacanay. Produced by Justin Wolfson. Edited by Jeremy Smolnik, with Billy Ward. Click here for transcript.

We’ve watched the gameplay. We’ve heard the terrifying noises. We’ve seen the scary sights. Now, in the final part of our peek behind the scenes of Glen Schofield’s upcoming horror sci-fi adventure The Callisto Protocol, we’re examining how the characters move—and how the more motion capture you can do, the better your characters will look on-screen.

As Glen notes in the video, Callisto Protocol makes heavy use of a technology called “motion capture”—actors dressed in special reflective suits act out the motions you want your characters to make, and computer-controlled cameras capture hundreds of frames per second as the actors do their thing. When done well, “mo-cap,” as it’s called, can drastically reduce the time it takes to animate a game’s characters. Rather than having skilled animators meticulously hand-animate every frame of a character’s movements, the raw performance data and movements from the actors are mapped over digital models. While hand-animating can lead to beautiful results, it’s impossible to beat the performance one gets from motion capture—since it’s an actor actually pantomiming, the resulting movements come with all the grace and subtle nuances with which living beings imbue their motions, nuances that animators have to create manually (and often at considerable time and expense).

Glen notes that Striking Distance actually invested in its own on-premises motion capture studio, which is unusual. Most studios instead choose to simply rent mo-cap time from an existing facility, which saves money but constrains how often and to what degree motion capture can be used in-game. If you only have five days of mo-cap time and later think of a cool new animation you want your protagonist to do, your options are limited; if you’re like Glen, you just walk down to your mo-cap studio and grab the performance you want. This gives you a tremendous amount of flexibility—and, more importantly, it can make your game better.

“This,” says Glen, “is about quality and iteration.”

What comes next? The game comes next!

Ars is grateful to Glen for his personal invitation to come out and shoot this series on Callisto Protocol. It’s always awesome to spend time in the Schofieldverse, with its dark corners and tentaclular jump scares, and we’re excited about getting to play the release version of Callisto soon—the full game comes out this Friday!

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