For cutscenes in a typical AAA game, a voice-actor provides dialogue while a performance artist does the motion capture. Finally, animators handkey the face and cameras. It can take between 30-40 artists to stitch all the cutscenes together. Meanwhile, Ninja Theory’s Hellblade is being developed using just 13 people, but is still using motion capture for its animation work.
Like Ninja Theory’s previous games, Hellblade’s performances and voice-over work is done simultaneously by the same actor. This technique, dubbed “performance capture,” was first adopted by the studio for Heavenly Sword and is still rarely used in games today, since the perception is that it’s simply too expensive. In a new development diary, Ninja Theory discuss how they’ve managed to use the technique anyway, while managing to keep costs low.
This process began by homebrewing together different kinds of prototypes for motion capture equipment. After the initial prototype failed to achieve the desired results, Ninja Theory got in touch with Vicon, a motion-capture company, and acquired the use of their “Vicon Bonita Capture System”—12 small cameras meant for mocap purposes. This gave the studio the mocap data they needed for body performances, but left the team with the problem of how to acquire facial data.
For facial capture, instead of using expensive studio lights to provide a well-lit environment, Ninja Theory purchased LED Panel Lights off of Amazon. Then, using a Cricket helmet, umbrella wire, and webcam, they homebrewed a custom-made facial capture camera prototype (above) together. This combined with more Vicon equipment allowed the studio to put together a cost-effective mocap system.
Hellblade is in development for PC and PlayStation 4. You can view the full details of Ninja Theory’s custom-rigged motion capture system in the dev diary above.