Obstacles to animal motion capture in video game development


In our never-ending quest for more realism in video games, motion capture technology has long been used to create smooth and precise animations to bring our favorite characters to life. But it’s not just humans that are employed in the mo-cap, we also use our four-legged friends to create both domestic companions and wild animals in video game development.

Marvel Games and Eidos-Montreal recently partnered with WeRateDogs Twitter account to show two motion capture dogs that have adapted for the next one guardians of the galaxy Game. Diego, a golden retriever, helped create animations for Cosmo, the telepathic space dog, while his terrier boyfriend, Gretel, lent his acting expertise to the reach of space puppies. by Cosmo. The dogs were put to the test, instructed in behaviors such as barking, jumping, crawling, digging, turning and playing fetch.

Faux-Pas mode

It sounds like a lot of fun and games for dogs, but mo-cap animals present unique challenges for animators and developers. For starters, human actors will typically wear spandex coveralls with reflective markers on their joints and other body landmarks. But we had to find creative ways to dress the dogs for the role.

Zach Volker, the main host of Call of Duty: Ghosts, worked with two German Shepherds, Colin and Ruger, and a Belgian Malinois, Rico, to create Riley, a playable military working dog. They started with a wetsuit for dogs with skin conditions, but Volker said Colin “gets hot really quickly so we could only work in 20 minute increments.” Mo-cap supervisor Kristina Adelmeyer added that the dogs originally wore special rubber slippers with markers stuck on. Their movements turned out to be stiff and unnatural, or, as Volker put it, Colin “was walking around like he was on molasses.” To remedy this, they removed the slippers completely and used inconspicuous reflective tape on key points instead of a full suit.

Vida Starcevic, Community Manager for Remedy Entertainment, revealed that during mo-cap experiments with a Staffordshire bull terrier, Uuno, they first tried using a surgical recovery suit for dogs. Starcevic reported that “the thickness of the fabric made it [Uuno] feeling uncomfortable and weird. They also used duct tape that would come off easily to make Uuno more relaxed.

Clothing aside, being able to place markers in the right places to form a fuller picture is another difficulty when recording mo-cap animals. Digic Pictures, a Hungarian studio that has made cinematographic work for major franchises such as Assassin’s Creed, Final fantasy, and War hammer, recorded a video of cats banging toys, spinning for a delicious treat and jumping over hurdles. You will notice that cats do not have any markers on their tail. Presumably, this is because cats use their tails for balance and communication, and placing markers on them would have made them frightened, uncomfortable, or moved abnormally.

Contextual challenges

Even after giving the boot to the slippers and discarding the suit, you still end up with an animal that has no idea what you’re doing or why you’re doing it. Ruger’s trainer Chris Connell, who worked with the Shepherd to provide Riley’s moves, described this complication: like, ‘Dude, I’m still in the same studio and I don’t understand the context of what’s going on. to be different. ”“ For Ruger and his colleagues, they’re not pulling a helicopter pilot out of his seat, they’re just tearing up the well-padded human bite bag like they’ve been trained to do.

In March 2021, Expansive Worlds presented the Bloodhound DLC at theHunter: Call of the Wild. The DLC offers you a canine companion to assist you in your hunting expeditions. In an interview, game designer Arshak Ardeshir discussed the challenges of working with dogs on set: “… unlike human actors, you can’t tell a dog to” do this one more time, but stop. first on your left foot, please. ‘ It was therefore difficult to predict how the actions would unfold from one moment to the next. Quite often though, we ended up getting things we needed in places we weren’t expecting, and sometimes things that seemed simple just didn’t happen. “

A hunter stroking his bloodhound companion in theHunter: Call of the Wild

Note that in each of these motion capture sessions, the developers tended to use the same breed of dog or a breed similar to the one they were trying to represent. It may not be necessary, but it’s probably much easier to get attack sequences from a German Shepherd or Belgian Malinois, who are often trained to do police and military work. Likewise, the dogs employed in theHunter: Call of the Wild appear to be a pointer breed and a certain type of hunting dog, believed to have natural inclinations to engage in roaming, tracking, and recovery behaviors.

Ardeshir said another problem was “creating the dog-player interactions”, which arose from “technical hurdles regarding the alignment and timing of multiple characters”. This highlights the importance of being able to capture animal interactions with humans, rather than recording the data separately and trying to adjust it after the fact.

Simon James, head of the motion capture department at Traveller’s Tales, echoes this sentiment about capturing a horse and rider together: “… He has a different weight with a rider. So when the Rider performs combat movements, just as the horse moves, it must shift its weight and balance quite differently. ” Bounces, hand and leg cues, and other subtle movements would not line up if rider and horse were captured in different sessions.

Fight against shortage

When horses are involved, there is another complication when using motion capture for video game animation. They are much bigger than dogs and cats, it’s harder to find one with a good temperament for the job, they require more complicated setups to register, and you need skilled riders and handlers to avoid them. injuries. The development team of The Last of Us Part II Originally wanted to rent an equestrian center for their horse motion capture, but instead decided to use a studio at Sony. Jeremy Yates, the game’s main animator, joked in a tweet that “about the entire current world supply of rubber mats [sic] were ordered for the floor. “

Ellie on horseback, Shimmer, in The Last of Us Part II

While Sony might have a studio barely big enough to record a horse jump, if you don’t have the funds to do your own mo-cap project, you have to rely on data collected from independent studios. There is no guarantee that they will have what you need. Simon James noted: “There are very few stunts available for horses… falling, rearing, rider attacks.” Indeed, Neil Druckmann, co-president of Naughty Dog, the developer behind The Last of Us Part II, admitted that Naughty Dog shared his horse capture data with Sucker Punch Productions to create a horse animation for Ghost of Tsushima. A shared job is a job divided by two.

There seems to be no shortage of complications in animal motion capture. But as video games get bigger and bigger and developers strive for more precision, it’s clear that the need for technology is going nowhere. Fortunately, developers, animators, and animal groomers are constantly coming up with smart solutions to streamline the process and get the data you need. Let’s just hope our quadruped colleagues are still happy with their hourly rate of treats and back scratches.

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