If you watched the trailers for Death Stranding, you noticed how realistic the characters look in the game, how much they have live animations and facial expressions. All this requires tremendous work on the part of developers and actors, but the efforts were worth it - comprehending the multi-layered plot invented by Hideo Kojima is much more pleasant when you have not plastic mannequins on the screen, but living people. Of course, in the video game industry, quality facial animations are not unbelievable, but Kojima Productions employees have raised the bar for quality to a whole new level. They clearly showed that the heroes of the game can be in no way inferior in terms of demonstrating emotions and experiences.
How exactly did the developers of the studio create a fascinating story with realistic cut scenes and literally lively characters? To do this, they needed the multi-faceted story of Hideo Kojima, professional actors and the most modern technologies for capturing movements and facial expressions. However, let's first find out what it really is and where it came from, and then move on to the benefits that allowed the animations in Death Stranding to be so realistic.
It all started with a movieMotion capture technology was invented long before the advent of video games. Back in 1915, an American animator with Polish roots first introduced a new apparatus called a rotoscope into the development of cartoons, which made it possible to make the movements of the drawn characters alive and real. The principle of operation of the device is quite simple - a glass is placed on the front panel, on which a sheet of paper is placed. From the back, a film is projected frame by frame, and the artist redraws the movements of the characters, after which the drawings are “glued” into a full-fledged cartoon.
The technology allowed to make cartoons more realistic, smooth and natural, and the characters instantly stopped moving torn and twitching. Soon the Disney studio will start using the cartoon rotoscope to take the animation to a whole new level. It’s a long way to video games, but film studios already invested decent money in the development of this area, because capturing human movements makes it possible to make not only cartoons, but also films more attractive. True, while the pillars of the film industry were redrawing films, science went further.
"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", drawn using a rotoscope
In the early 1980s, scientist Tom Calvert decided to fix a string of equipment on his body in order to track body movements and convert this into a digital signal. However, the accuracy of reading movements was very low, and it was difficult to move in such uniforms. The technology was noticed by employees of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and decided to improve it. To do this, they created a more advanced system based on LED markers, which is very similar to what they use today.
Tom Calvert is testing the first prototype
Cameras were installed in the room at different angles, which read out the movements of the LED markers on the human body, after which the software “finished” the missing frames. Only ten years later, this technology was noticed in the film industry, and the first film using the capture of human movement was “Remember Everything” with Arnold Schwarzenegger. True, for the entire film we were shown only one scene with a metal detector, but this was enough for large film companies to massively use motion capture in their projects.
Motion capture in the movie "Remember Everything"
Over the next ten years, cult films of the time went on release - Jurassic Park, The Mummy, Mortal Kombat, and Gladiator. All of them were shot using the aforementioned technology, which allowed the director to demonstrate incredible things on the screen. And in 2002, Peter Jackson made a revolution by releasing the Lord of the Rings in the second part. Gollum, completely created on the basis of the recorded movements of the actor, literally turned the film industry upside down. True, soon one revolution was followed by a second, much more powerful one.
Gollum raised the bar for the quality of modern cinema
James Cameron decided that simply capturing motion was too simple and significantly improved the technology. He began to record not only the movements of the actors' bodies, but also the facial expressions of their faces, and even in real time. This allowed him to view scenes on a computer and edit them directly on the set, and special reflective markers were now applied on the faces of the actors so that the camera could read facial expressions in front of their faces and transfer it all to the computer. Cameron’s work paid off with interest - Avatar collected so much money at the box office that only the Avengers final with double boxed rental could earn more after ten years.
Avatar looks incredibly advanced even ten years later
How it worksNow let's digress a little from the cinema and discuss how motion capture works in the modern world. It is worth saying that the recording process has not changed much since Tom Calvert, except that cameras have become more modern and computers have become more powerful. To begin with, the actor, whose movements will be capturing, is dressed in a black suit. This is necessary to “hide” it from cameras, which skin or clothing may interfere with when recording. Further, marker balls made of reflective material are attached to the black suit. It is needed so that cameras placed at different angles can accurately record movements in space.
Typically, markers are attached to the places where the limbs are bent - on the hands, elbows, shoulders, knees, and so on. It is necessary for the computer to understand that this limb and it can bend or unbend. If you look at photos from the shootings for films or games, you will notice that there are always markers on the knees and elbows of actors, but the rest of the body can be completely without balls. This means that the project developers need to capture only the limbs, and they will finish the rest on the computer themselves. In some situations, this is more effective.
Now on-site cameras with infrared emitters are turned on and the actor does everything according to the script - runs, jumps, whirls, fights, shoots with a bow or machine gun, climbs the rope. All this time, the computer records human movements in the skeleton format, which is needed for further processing. Movements are passed to animators who, in software, “pull” the character’s skin onto a pre-recorded skeleton. That is how realistic smooth movements appear in games and films in those scenes in which it is either impossible to draw animation on a computer, or too expensive and long. Traffic capture can significantly speed up the process and make it cheaper.
The facial expressions of the characters are recorded in a similar way, which has recently become extremely important in the gaming industry. Drawn facial expressions absolutely always look plastic, inanimate and boring. A completely different thing is the capture of the facial expressions of a real actor. To do this, dots are painted on the person’s face with reflective paint, and a special helmet with a camera on a long rod is put on the head. She looks directly at the actor’s face and reads his facial expressions, writing it all down into the conditional skeleton of the face. Further steps are the same as with the capture of movements - the material passes into the hands of the animators, and they “pull” the character's face on the actor’s facial expressions.
Currently, in the gaming industry, motion capture and actor facial expressions are used in virtually every AAA game to create beautiful cut scenes. Developers, with a good script, manage to add a lot of chic videos to the game, which are not inferior in terms of graphics to expensive animated films or even films. For example, literally every scene from Death Stranding looks as real as possible with the current level of graphics. And if you glue all the cut scenes from the new Kojima project, you can get a full-fledged movie several hours long.
A good actor is the key to successModern technology allows you to accurately capture the facial expressions of the actor’s face, his gestures, complex movements, even gait features. This led to the fact that game developers needed professional actors with extensive experience in the cinema or theater, because only they can express the emotions necessary for the stage quite expressively and correctly. And if you look at the cast of Death Stranding, it becomes clear why the trailers for the game are so attractive, and the plot is so good. Naturally, we boldly shift the lion's share of success to the ideas and ideas of Hideo, who came up with this whole story, but the acting also played a role.
Norman Reedus, for example, even in The Walking Dead demonstrated his ability to convey the emotions of the protagonist without further ado - he just needs to look with his penetrating gaze so that the viewer on the other side of the screen understands everything. The same trick also works in the cut scenes of the game. Sam Porter Bridges, the protagonist of the project, to whom Norman "gave" his appearance, is not generous in vivid emotions, and his participation in dialogs usually comes down to a couple of phrases. However, the acting game of Reedus is so chic that you literally from the first frame will empathize with the hero, understand his emotions, motives, resentment, anger, detachment.
The same words of praise can be said about the rest of the actors who had a hand, or rather the body and face, to create Death Stranding. Mads Mikkelsen, Guillermo del Toro, Lea Seydoux are world-class professionals who have conquered us in films and TV shows with their acting, facial features and the ability to transform into the most complex characters. Now they are doing the same thing, only in a video game, showing us the versatility of the virtual world invented by Kojima. The heroes they play transmit to the player’s head those emotions that are necessary for understanding the atmosphere of what is happening on the screen, immersion in the plot and the history of the world after the disaster.
It turns out that the ideas of the game and the process of creating the game itself are very similar. At the heart of Death Stranding is mutual assistance and networking between people in the virtual world. And when creating the project, the interconnection of modern technologies for capturing the movements and facial expressions of a person with the excellent acting game of world-class cinema stars is used. Technologies help to transfer the facial expressions of the actor into the game, and the actor helps the game to be interesting, exciting and lively.