French game developer Quantic Dream is a pioneer of ‘interactive drama’, in which storytelling and action are cleverly intertwined to produce emotive, engaging videogame experiences. For its newly-announced game Detroit: Become Human, Quantic Dream turned to IKinema to help produce the 50-plus hours of linear animation and maintain the high levels of realism it requires.
IKinema proved a key asset in solving issues across the entire pipeline, securing useable results first time, helping to reduce the number of reshoots and easing the burden on animators forced to clean up poor MoCap.
Animation Director Jan Erik Sjövall is responsible for overseeing the quality of the data and he works closely with the Set Director to ensure the performance captured on stage is replicated in game. “I make sure the visual quality is up to par with the benchmarks that we set for visual quality and [the director’s] expectations,” he explains. “I have a team of animators – facial animators, body animators, a MoCap team, a shooting team… with these people, we try to achieve those goals.”
With Detroit: Become Human, he says: "There is a ton of animation and I would say 80 to 90% is MoCap. When we started planning for this massive production, we looked at a strong partner for the retargeting and solving part of the pipeline. Given the data comes from the MoCap studio, we needed a strong process to get the setup onto the 3D meshes that we use in the game.”
Retargeting is a key element for Quantic Dream, not least because of its use of known actors, such as Willem Dafoe and Ellen Page, who starred in BEYOND: Two Souls. The actors aren’t always readily available, so for certain scenes they use body doubles or stuntmen. “Because the actors are scanned – we scan the bodies, we scan the faces – it becomes necessary to have a really strong process in the pipeline for this step. To get the data from the marker cloud and MoCap to the final data on the 3D mesh we test the solve from the MoCap, and then retarget from that onto the final skeleton, for the final character.”
Sjövall describes how Quantic Dream used to shoot its own MoCap and send the data away to outsourcers specialising in motion capture data treatment to be cleaned, solved and retargeted, but found the results sometimes inconsistent. “The costs were relatively high and the results often spotty,” he confesses. “We were an extremely interesting client for some of these companies because we had a steady flow, for a year-and-a-half, of MoCap that we were shooting three to four days a week. As you can imagine, it’s a ton of data that comes through.”
He goes on to explain that when data comes in at a low quality, it falls to the animation team to give him what he needs – although that’s not the best use of an experienced animator’s time or skillset and causes its own problems: “The animation is there to enhance the performance,” Sjövall asserts. “Not to change the performance. Not to create something different. But if the data comes in that dirty, that problematic, then the animators fix the data; they fix it until it works, and then it’s not the same performance.”
The solution was to form an in-house team within Quantic Dream’s MoCap group. Initially they tried a software featuring solving and retargeting capabilities, but it still wasn't up to the standard required. “Internally we created the same problems that we had with the outsourcers,” admits Sjövall.
Truest motion delivered
Fortunately he was already familiar with IKinema. “I knew about it, and I knew it had different solving and retargeting capabilities. It was one of the first [apps] that allowed for custom rigs,” he recalls. “For example, quadrupeds – like animals – are a huge problem when you work with other software. At my last company, we were thinking: maybe we can take a look at IKinema?”. So, on Sjövall’s recommendation, the Quantic Dream team evaluated IKinema.
“The results were quite amazing, actually,” he declares. “There were some issues that we had to deal with, that come with new software, but the results we had were so much truer to the actual result. I could see on the video reference in the MoCap studio that every subtle move, everything would just be transferred over perfectly. Other things, like extreme posing such as touching my toes or bending backwards – or especially stunts where people roll – were always better with IKinema.”
Outsource versus in-house
Even though the results proved impressive, there was still resistance to cancelling the outsourcing and moving to a new workflow so late in the project. However, Sjövall knew what it would cost to get the data retargeted and when the estimates came in from the outsourcers it was clear they should handle the MoCap data in house using IKinema.
Initially the task fell to the animation team but Quantic Dream is now building a dedicated retargeting team says Sjövall. “We’re recruiting for a very specific profile – a junior animator with a bit more technical aptitude, who we believe we can train in the art of IKinema solving and retargeting.”
The end result of moving to IKinema has been not only a significant increase in quality but a “dramatic” saving in time.
“Data comes in so much cleaner, and therefore the animators can concentrate on just brushing over the data as needed,” Sjövall explains. “The initial performance is already there so they can concentrate on things that haven’t come in, like for example, hands or the head controls. I would say the overall quality and happiness of the animators working with this data has gone up quite dramatically."
Not only that, artists and directors are happier with the results too. “The worst thing an actor could say to me is ‘I don’t move like that!’. Sometimes I have to say, ‘yes you do’ but that’s another problem,” Sjövall says wryly. “To me, it’s really important that the animators concentrate on the work that animators do. That’s why we went to IKinema.”
Deliver stunning animation from quality MoCap
Action for Maya and Action for MotionBuilder incorporates IKinema’s core rigging technology to solve motion capture data delivering stunning animation every time. Match live actor performance to virtual avatars with greater realism, and eliminate post process work by automatically resolving inaccurate data, gaps and noise. Fluid spine, neck and shoulders are easily achieved while maintaining solid lock to floor.
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