The Xbox One’s most widely discussed launch title is undoubtedly Crytek’s Ryse: Son of Rome. An action experience that sees the player enter the role of Marius Titus as he matures from ambitious child to general in the Roman army, Ryse: Son of Rome is a videogame fuelled by a quest for vengeance charged with both aggression and passion. And all of this is possible thanks to the maturing motion-capture technology powering modern videogame development.
Created using Crytek’s own proprietary engine, the latest version of CryEngine, Ryse: Son of Rome presents some of the most realistic character animation yet seen in a videogame. This is partly due to the increasing capabilities of videogame hardware, but also the scalability of motion-capture techniques. Ryse: Son of Rome boasts more than a dozen performance captured characters and for this Crytek turned to the UK’s own The Imaginarium, a motion-capture specialist studio founded by Andy Serkis. The Imaginarium has contributed to many blockbuster entertainment productions, including Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and in Ryse: Son of Rome the studio is pushing the boundaries of what was thought possible in a videogame. At last week’s Bradford Animation Festival (BAF) key members of the motion-capture team delivered a workshop with Vicon, motion-capture development specialists, detailing the Cara system and its use in Ryse: Son of Rome.
Vicon’s Cara is a new motion-capture system that goes against the grain of the accepted norm. Using four high-definition head mounted cameras Cara can track the movement of facial muscles in real-time simply through the application of small dots of makeup as 2D tracking points. Previously facial movement would often be recorded through traditional performance capture techniques, but here actors can relay expressions through the lightweight headset and the results can be analysed in real-time by the tracking team. This technique was ably demonstrated by the team from The Imaginarium at BAF, live in the University of Bradford’s own small volume.
Two performers were coached by The Imaginarium’s Bren Jordan, Rebecca-Louise Leybourne and Aaron Urquhart as their actions were tracked and displayed in real-time on a monitor for the audience. One performer wore the Cara headset throughout the presentation, with her facial expressions relayed on a separate monitor. It was an impressive demonstration of the technology, but never more so than when the team showcased the techniques used alongside Cara to drive the performances in Ryse: Son of Rome.
In an instant the team were able to add simple skins to the performers’ on-screen skeletons, representative of the attire seen in Ryse: Son of Rome. Furthermore, a high-definition texture backdrop was dropped on screen, presenting depth of space and allowing a director to view the action as it would be within the videogame itself. This goes far beyond the outdated blue and green screen capturing, with actors and directors able to work within a fully 3D environment representative of the real world as opposed to a simple 2D backdrop. Jordan revealed that part of the image used was actually a texture map based on photographs of a real world location, and given the highly detailed presentation of the images you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the map and the real world objects.
The team talked about the realisation of more complicated requirements, such as adding a box to represent rocks, and even added a sword into the volume that was instantly recognised by the software and relayed on the audience monitor relatively accurately in near real-time. It’s technology such as this, coupled with the continuing innovation of motion-capture specialist studios such as The Imaginarium, that continue to push the boundaries of what is thought possible in videogame animation. L.A. Noire was cited as a landmark for character animation on current-generation consoles, but here at the dawn of the next-generation we have a new champion in Ryse: Son of Rome, and with the technology developed by Vicon and the techniques presented by The Imaginarium, the future looks bright for the digitisation of actor performances in videogames.
Update: Since the publication of this article Electronic Theatre has been contacted to clarify some of the content included. ‘Cara’ was not used for the production of Ryse: Son of Rome but rather has undergone significant beta testing with the team at The Imaginarium. Instead, the facial performance of actors was captured using Standard Deviation Head Mount Cameras and subsequently adapted for CryTek’s facial rigs by Cubic Motion using their Solving and retargeting system. Electronic Theatre would like to apologise for the error.