Motion Capture Technology: Where Can We Possibly Go From Here?

Motion Capture - Beyond: Two Souls at Artistry in Games

Video games used to be just that….games. Today, with so many advances in technology and the seemingly endless creativity of developers, the visual aspect of games are much more interesting than ever before.  Even video game titles are designed to intrigue gamers and entice them into playing. What I enjoy most about today’s video games is their artwork and the characters’ detailed life-like movements and facial expressions because these details give a sense of realism to the games.  This realism is made possible through a technology called “motion capture.”

Motion capture is a process that starts with actors wearing full-body suits with motion sensors attached. They then act out a scene in a room surrounded with at least thirty strategically placed cameras. These cameras capture the actors’ each and every subtle movement. Rise of the Robots was the first game to utilize motion capture technology to present its characters in the most realistic manner possible, in 1994.

Although motion capture has existed since 1994, it wasn’t until the 2011 Rockstar hit L.A. Noire that developers actually used facial recognition software in addition to motion capture to track actors’ movements. L.A. Noire was the first game produced that utilized thirty-two surrounding cameras to capture detailed facial recognition. However, this game captured the face and body through two separate processes, which proved quite lengthy and inefficient. Actors first acted out the scene in a motion capture suit.  Later, they had their hair and makeup done to prepare for, and shoot, the face and voice capture.  Sometimes, the actors in the first shoot were not always the same actors who provided the character’s face and voice, thus lengthening the process.

Naughty Dog’s entire Uncharted series used motion capture however the actors provided the body capture and the voice capture at the same time for the main characters, unlike L.A. Noire.  This process meant developers only needed facial animation for the supporting characters. After Uncharted 3’s success, Naughty Dog created The Last of Us.  This title used motion capture as well, but used special animation to capture each and every facial muscle individually, resulting in stellar and realistic face capture as opposed to capturing the overall face as one unit.  The final result is more realistic looking characters whose actions are realistic looking as well.

These companies and their associated titles have pushed the boundaries of creativity with their character graphics, enhancing the gaming experience to a whole new level.  However, one game has gone above and beyond and pushed the boundary off a cliff: Quantic Dream’s 2013 hit Beyond: Two Souls. BTS is truly a revolutionary title and my favorite motion capture game to date. Along with its unique storytelling, BTS has taken gaming to new heights with its breathtaking visuals. Quantic Dream went all out and hired A-list actors Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe and put them in a world that looks and feels real using motion capture.

Similarly as with other motion capture games, the actors in BTS wore a full-body motion capture suit. However, there was one major difference between BTS and other motion capture video games: facial, voice, and body capture were all done at the same time. Actors went through the motion capture process while wearing face marker dots. Combining face, voice, and body capture with Page and Defoe’s outstanding acting resulted in one of the most stunning games of all time.

Using revolutionary motion capture technique begs the question: does detail make the gaming experience that much different? This is a loaded question. While countless titles focus on the “gaming” or action portions that are not necessarily the most detailed, these same titles allow gamers to become emotionally attached to and have feelings for the characters and their emotional hurdles.  BTS’s use of motion capture allows gamers to clearly see the raw emotion in the characters’ faces and life-like glare in their eyes faces which connects the gamers to these “real” characters and have a vested interest in the game’s outcome. While gamers can become emotionally attached to a game which does not use motion capture, this technology adds to their experience, drawing them in without even realizing it.

Thanks to today’s advancements in video game graphics, they are more realistic and movie-like in quality. Only time will tell what video games will look and feel like in the future as the next groundbreaking development software is just around the corner.  Whatever lies ahead will certainly build on the amazing feats accomplished so far.  One thing is certain; the future for graphics looks bright.


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