Countdown to LGC: Vicon

Ahead of his talk at London Games Conference, Vicon’s product manager Phil Elderfield tells MCV about the firm’s new technology and the role facial capture will have during the next-generation of games development

So what is your LGC talk about?

In the context of the increasing emphasis on story and character in and the apparent on-going alignment of games and film production techniques, the talk will look at facial capture as a key factor in delivering that performance. The imminent arrival of next-gen and the fidelity it promises only increases the need to ensure the captured motion fidelity exploits the possibilities.

Tell us about new technology.

Cara is the first out of the box facial capture system to include everything required to capture and process data up to 3D points.

It consists of a head rig, four high resolution 720p cameras running at up to 60fps, a body work logger onto which captured images are recorded, a battery and two pieces of software.

The key is its modularity and flexibility. Cara is not intended to force users down any particular route. It is essentially a mini, video based motion capture system and, while there is an end to end path available, it can be used in any way that fits the need.

Why is it important for developers to pursue this level of realism?

Enabling the player to become immersed in the game world and engage with the characters means making them real and believable. So much of communication of emotion and state of mind is visual and happens through facial expression. Fully connecting with these characters and the story requires very high levels of realism.

Can good character animation be the difference between a good game and a great game?

In narrative-based games I personally think that story and characterisation are the most important things. It is possible to have a good story and strong characters with simple graphic representation and animation but presenting a world in which the player must really live while playing needs the animation to excel. It’s arguably best when the animation quality isn’t noticed because it’s simply natural. Bad animation can hurt, good animation can make a good game incredible.

What does this technology offer video game marketers?

There’s a great deal of interest amongst players in the technology used to produce a given title, so using state of the art and cutting edge technology can generate interest and provide hooks for a given campaign. However, it’s the production quality, narrative and characterisation in the title which is the most compelling marketing story for me. The technology provides the tools for developers and producers to continue raising the bar in these areas and producing content the like of which has never been seen. The technology doesn’t make a good game – the producers and developers do that. The tech enables them.

Is this tech only the proviso of big-budget studios?

Definitely not. One of the design goals of Cara was to create a system which enabled performance capture for smaller studios and budgets.

To get good 3D data in performance capture with current techniques usually requires a high number of high resolution cameras. With the Cara head mounted system, performance capture is possible in small volumes with lower numbers of lower resolution cameras which makes is much more accessible in terms of practicality and cost.

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