Why mo-cap isn't just reserved for triple-A console games and blockbuster movies

How mobile developers are utilising motion capture

Since throwing in the towel as a mo-cap supervisor and accepting a promotion to CEO of Centroid, I now spend much of my time attending industry conferences – and the myriad of accompanying parties – looking for new business opportunities.

You would have to either be: a) new to the industry, or b) hell bent on spending your expenses and time in the same bar, to have failed to notice there has been a significant change in the type of developer attending gaming conferences. There has been a huge increase in mobile developers matched by a rapid decline in those working on console games.

Increasingly, I find myself meeting developers who are creating realistic animations for their games and when asked if they’ve considered using a motion capture pipeline for their characters, I am often faced with one of two answers.

The first is: “We only have a small budget and therefore can’t afford to use an optical motion capture pipeline”. The second is: “It’s a mobile game and therefore we don’t need to use motion capture because you never see the animation up close”. Of course both of these reasons are valid.

A small percentage of these developers could save themselves both time and money through exploring mo-cap pipelines to a greater degree, dispelling the myth that optical mo-cap is reserved for triple-A console games and blockbuster Hollywood movies. A myth that I believe in this decade simply isn’t true.

What is true – and is important to acknowledge – is many developers are already experimenting with alternative, commercially available motion capture systems, such as the Kinect and PS4 camera. Some developers have achieved great things with these more experimental mo-cap approaches while others have not been quite so fortunate.

Motion capture pipelines have developed over the last decade. Most VFX movies now rely heavily on capturing every nuance of an actor’s performance, as is the same for cinematics in triple-A console games.

Centroid and mobile devs

Motion capture has evolved into full performance capture, but this is just one facet of the technology. Mo-cap is still very much a tool for creating and achieving large volumes of realistic human animation in a very short space of time.

Centroid’s motion capture studios, working closely with major industry clients, regularly capture 200-plus pre-designed locomotion body animations in a day. Once the client’s data selections have been made, we can process and deliver these animations, retargeted to digital characters, back to the client within a couple of days. A turnaround time which I firmly believe would be highly competitive to most small character animation teams.

I have never been of the opinion that motion capture will replace traditional animation. I do believe, however, that as a cost and time efficient solution to recreating high-quality realistic human movement, there is no better option.

Centroid already has a tried and tested pipeline for mobile developers. Two companies keen to push the boundaries of mobile production were NaturalMotion and Distinctive Developments for whom we captured sports such as american football, ice hockey, rugby and football. Shoots such as these aren’t always straightforward, regardless of the intended final platform.

It goes without saying that our production approach to capturing data for a mobile platform is the same for a console game. Where things differ slightly is the post-production pipeline; we retarget data to a character rig which has a reduced number of bones, and so far this has proved to be easier.

As the animation requirement for a mobile game is less than that of a console title, it may not be economically viable to employ motion capture production on a daily rate. To address this, Centroid has developed an online application allowing clients to direct shoots remotely.

This technology has drastically cut the cost of motion capture as a production tool while maintaining the high levels of quality and service that our clients have come to expect.

The age of armchair mo-cap production for the masses is upon us.

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