An­i­ma­tion di­rec­tor Chris Stone is plan­ning a per­for­mance-cap­ture ses­sion for Kevin Spacey. “This is go­ing to be our third epic shoot,” he says. “He’s def­i­nitely the big­gest name I’ve ever had the luck to shoot with.”

Stone was Vis­ceral’s an­i­ma­tion di­rec­tor for eight years, but per­for­mance cap­ture tech­nol­ogy has come a long way since he joined the Dead Space team. “I’ve been shoot­ing mo­tion cap­ture for prob­a­bly go­ing on 12 years now. It started out re­ally rough, painful – you’d have to imag­ine what it was go­ing to look like. But when we shoot per­for­mance cap­ture now, we have the vir­tual sets there that the talent can see while we’re shoot­ing. Our cap­ture tech­nol­ogy is brand-new HD cam­era tech that they came up with in this last year, and it’s what James Cameron is go­ing to be us­ing in Avatar 2.”

Sledge­ham­mer has cap­tured each ac­tor pulling a pre­s­e­lected range of fa­cial ex­pres­sions to build a work­ing mus­cle frame­work for each face. The range started with a few dozen, but now runs to well over 200 – more in Spacey’s case. “These fa­cial scans look at ev­ery sort of mus­cle crease, ev­ery ex­pres­sion that he could pos­si­bly make,” Stone says. “With tra­di­tional per­for­mance cap­ture, you can move points on the face, but there’s never a way to have a swelling of the lips or a vol­ume change. The beauty of the mus­cle sim­u­la­tion is ev­ery sin­gle point on the face moves, not 30 or 24 or any ran­dom [ar­bi­trary] num­ber; it’s ev­ery sin­gle part of his face mov­ing.”

The stu­dio will fall back to a pr­eren­dered so­lu­tion in be­tween-level cine­mat­ics, though, be­cause for all the power of new con­sole hard­ware, it still can’t match a ren­der farm. “We’re go­ing to avoid any sort of dis­con­nect, be­cause our char­ac­ters will look the same [pr­eren­dered],” Stone says. “It’s mostly about res­o­lu­tion. Game con­soles still aren’t ren­der­ing for hours to make a sin­gle frame. Un­til game con­soles get to that point, there’s al­ways go­ing to be things we can do [pr­eren­dered that we or­di­nar­ily can’t.]”

So nos­trils will flare, eye­brows will raise, and fore­heads will wrin­kle, but will any­one no­tice? “It’s funny, be­cause I think if you ask some­one, they might not be able to sit down and tell you it was the crease in the cor­ner of his eye that made it look real… I think most play­ers don’t nec­es­sar­ily know what’s wrong when it’s not right, but they know when it is right.”

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