Motion capture technology has changed how movies, games, and television shows are created and we got to speak with Marla Rausch, CEO of Animation Vertigo. The company has worked on Call of Duty games as well as Heavy Rain and Much more. We talk about the industry as well as what the pending Playstation 4 may allow.
How did you get into the industry?
Getting into motion capture was quite by accident I was pregnant and waiting for my husband to get done with work at his studio. I watched as he worked on some motion capture data and got curious and asked about it, I got hooked. I learned how to track and clean up motion capture data and when Spectrum Studios and Sony needed trackers, they would hire me as a freelancer.
How has it changed from when you first started out until now?
When I first started, having more than three actors on stage, with finger data and facial data would have been a tough if not impossible thing to do because at that time, the hardware (cameras) weren’t that robust to handle all that marker information. These days, due to the popularity of Avatar and other motion capture movies, full performance capture is possible – facial and body data of more than six actors is possible and the data is pretty stable. This also means however that the workstations need to be stronger though with bigger memory and RAM sizes.
What have been some of your biggest challenges and success stories in your career?
I suppose like every person in business, the start is always a tough time. I think this is more so when dealing with an outsource management company – trying to determine a vendor’s business practices, level of trustworthiness and professionalism is tough when the country you are going to work with is so far away. The biggest challenge I faced was early on in my business, working with a company that supposedly could handle the managing of manpower – the HR, taxes, government requirements, etc. You expect the level of competency and professionalism to be something like you would encounter here at home. But it was a wake-up call that I shouldn’t really assume things like that – contracts could be ignored and completely disregarded, going to court is very different from here, and dealing with conflict is made more difficult being so far away. Unfortunately, I had to fire the entire company in the middle of working on a couple of my clients’ projects and had to cover all that work with a smaller, new group.
Being able to survive the big changes, continue to deliver on time and within the quality standards and re-train people with the pipelines was definitely my success story. We remained strong in the marketplace, our clients’ confidence in us was never affected and our reputation and integrity remained intact. I credit the relationships I’ve built throughout the years with our clients – just being open and honest with them and the hard work and effort the team brought to meet the expectations.
How much time does it usually take to record and capture an actor for a game?
Depending on whether the actor is the main character or not, the shoot usually begins with a breakdown of the motions that will be needed in the game; it could be in-game motions which include navigational motions, or cinematic where the actors act for the game play. Shoot days are booked and depending on the schedules of the actors (especially if the actor was hired specifically for the game), it can be completed in two weeks to staggered shoot days within three to six months, all of which depends on stellar pre-production work. Some pick-up shots might still be needed after the initial shoot days, in case the game team realizes they needed more or wanted to change/add things to their game.
Can you explain the process of how you work with game companies to obtain the footage and what happens to the footage after you record it?
Once the shoot is done, the developers or production houses send us the data from the motion capture stages. We work with Vicon’s motion capture software, Blade, to track and clean up optical data and deliver it either ready for integration into the character or ready for animation.
What are the benefits of motion capture vs animation and is there a big difference in cost?
I think this question can be misleading because truthfully, motion capture animation and keyframe animation works best together. They both help develop realistic and artistic elements in animation. It was an old discussion where these two processes are made to compete against each other, but it is now better understood as working on the strengths of each process that amazing results can be produced.
Motion capture is fast and most especially in bipedal animation, capable of producing realistic motions.
Keyframe animation adds the emotion and artistry in the animation. An example of this is a walk cycle, it would usually take keyframe animators a day to a week depending on the type of walk you are doing; whereas in motion capture, a walk cycle is captured on stage, reconstructed and ready within hours. By capturing the walk cycle through motion capture and applying animation on top of motion capture data, the process can be streamlined and be able to produce great animation.
The cost can been seen in different ways, there are cost savings in terms of hardware purchasing when dealing with keyframe animation as a motion capture stage can run up to several thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars especially if performance capture is required. On the other hand, software and manpower cost gets to be high when talking about traditional keyframe animation. Finding a workable middle ground between both will enable a company to produce great work.
What innovations did you bring to the company and how did you get your work noticed in the early days?
The needs of our clients are simple, speedy work and quality data. We were able to meet these expectations by working 24/6, without sacrificing the home life of our team. I brought trainers to the Philippines who were involved in Hollywood level production and they were able to train the team to identify and recognize the level of quality that is expected as well as the timeframes, which can be challenging, that are demanded. By being able to produce the work our client needs quickly and in the same level of quality as it would have been if it had been done in-house, clients recognized us early and appreciated our services.
Does the studio always provide motion capture actors or do you?
We are actually a post-production motion capture service provider, we don’t have our own motion capture stage, so we don’t provide motion capture actors.
What are some of the games that you have worked on and what do you have upcoming?
We’ve worked on Call of Duty Black Ops 1 & 2, Call of Duty Modern Warfare, Heavy Rain, and a few more titles. Guardians of Middle-Earth is a project that was released lately and we were happy to be a part of this cool game. Unfortunately, we can’t mention what we are currently working on, except to say that they’re all pretty exciting and we’re pretty proud to be working on them!
Is it harder or easier to capture for a game compared to a show or movie?
I think both have their own challenges and can be very similar as well. Some games can use well known celebrities and film is the same – even more so because it’s more actors and their schedules. Depending on the type of motions, both games and film may need to prepare elaborate sets and wire rigs for the shoots. Although I think in terms of time, games have a shorter timeframe to produce and when changes happen mid-project, the pressure is on to still meet the deadline set by the producer or developer. On the other hand, while film has a longer timeframe to produce, the pressure is still pretty intense as there are several factors involved in the development of the film and any changes mid-shoot would probably cost much more than the cost of a game. Bottom-line is, it is really a matter of complexity of the whole project – directors, actors, schedules, sets, stories, etc. that impact how a shoot can go.
What are the biggest challenges in the industry you see going forward?
I think trying to match expectations that people have on games and meeting those while also keeping costs down and budgets reasonable is a big challenge. With the release of Playstation 4 and other consoles which promise better graphic capabilities and other amazing features, it is up to the developers to produce games that will take advantage of these features and provide for the market a game that is beyond what they see today. Trying to do that and stay within budget is a challenge and trying to produce a game that people would be interested in is definitely a bigger challenge.