Performing remote motion capture for games at OnPoint Studios
We live in an increasingly-connected and global world, and one that has brought both challenges and opportunities, particular in the development and use of technology. Where once processes were slow, cumbersome, and restricted by geography, the harnessing of the internet’s power for developments such as cloud computing has connected us in ways that were unprecedented twenty years before.
Media production has been one industry that has seen the brunt of this. Whereas years ago, productions were kept in demarcated lanes — film, television, videos — it has become increasingly common to see these boundaries as permeable, with the end result often blurring and straddling several genres.
The technical side of this is represented by remote motion capture, a specialty of OnPoint Studios, based in Berlin.
Remote motion capture is when actors have their performances captured onsite, while those performances are simultaneously shown to the director, who can be anywhere in the world as long as they have a stable internet connection. This means, for example, that motion capture can be done in Berlin while the director sits at an office in London, Los Angeles, or Tokyo.
What are the advantages of working remotely?
OnPoint achieves this with a three-camera setup that allows the director to see and guide performances. This content, which is streamed live, can also be augmented with the live motion capture data so the end result is seen, onscreen, as the finished product—or a rough version of it. This is an option not generally available in other studios. The director also has the option to view the scene through virtual reality.
Remote mocap with Another Coffee (right monitor)
There are numerous benefits and advantages for companies that want to take advantage of remote motion capture. Cost is an important issue as it means that expenditure on travel is lower, given that everybody is communicating over an internet connection. Preparation costs fall, too, since there is less wasted time with people coming into the studio for an entire day when their presence is needed only for a couple of hours. This feeds into reduced production time as many involved can perform other duties on the same day rather than allotting huge blocks of valuable time for something that takes them out of circulation, and leaves them unable to do anything else.
Remote motion capture also means that reshoots can be done easily and quickly, since the director has a good idea during production as to what the final product will look like. This prevents having to call back cast and crew in order to redo work. Instead, second, third, or fourth takes are done on the fly.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has pushed many companies into adopting remote motion capture. According to Niklas Bothe, head of motion capture at OnPoint Studios, many have begun to shift to working this way in order to keep productions going in a period of social distancing. “We are seeing an increasing interest in this area,” says Niklas. “And that interest is growing than we expected at this point last year. But the nature of what we do is rooted in being adaptable.” The result is that we are seeing a real-time, working the mother of invention.
How OnPoint worked over Europe with Another Coffee
Recently, OnPoint Studios performed remote capture for Spanish games company Another Coffee for their UMI title. The game is an online multiplayer game where people fight on inflatables on the sea.
The two companies first ran into each other at Gamescom in 2019. Says Niklas, “When we started out, we knew we wanted to do a lot of things differently to set us apart from other studios. Back then, almost nobody did remote shoots so we started looking into it and had our first prototype demonstration at Gamescom where we met Another Coffee.”
The initial contact was between OnPoint Studios animator Kevin Clare and Tomé Costa, co-founder at Another Coffee. “Kevin came to our stand and asked about our pipeline,” says Tomé. “He asked about how far we were into development and if we needed some help to finish all the animations. At the beginning, we were not planning on doing mocap for UMI due to its cartoon and stylized nature. But after a talk with Kevin, we found out we could combine Motion Capture with animation retouching and obtain the results we wanted.”
Actor getting instructions over the video chat.
The three-hour shoot was done at the motion capture studio in Berlin at the beginning of the year, with Tomé’s contributions coming over the phone from Madrid. Tomé was continually in the loop through a VR headset. In Berlin, Niklas had the honor of performing full-body motion capture. “The Berlin team,” he says, “was made up of Marian, Kevin, and myself. Since this was not really a classic acting gig but more about finding the right timings, silhouettes and movement style that would work well with UMI’s toony style, it seemed like a good idea to use a character animator since we generally tend to have a pretty good understanding of these things. On UMI’s side, we mainly talked to Tomé who was watching my performance in live VR. He was in Another Coffee’s studio during the shoot so we were able to meet some members of this awesome team via the video chat.”
Initial feedback has been positive. Says Tomé, “The final results and product were suited to what we wanted for UMI‘s style and vision. We were looking into having animations that we could use for all the characters, and with the power of mocap and one animator, we successfully achieved what we wanted. The fast way in which we managed to get all the animations running would not have been possible without OnPoint Studios, so we are very happy about that.”
For Niklas, the key takeaway has been that the planned workflow does have application in a real-world scenario. “In hindsight,” he says, “I’m really glad that we had this opportunity to test our tools and pipelines with such a cool project. Having spent a good amount of time as an indie dev, I’m super happy to support smaller studios like Another Coffee.”
It has become part of the production process at OnPoint Studio that something is learned every day and with every new project. The work done on UMI was no different. Says Niklas, “We learn something with every shoot, remote or local. Motion capture technology and Virtual Production are evolving so fast and new workflows are basically created every few weeks. We really do our best to stay as up to date as possible and find the best solution for each of our clients.”