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L.A. Noire: Beyond the uncanny valley

I recently got a chance to sit down with Brendan McNamara, co-founder of Team Bondi, the Australian developer working with Rockstar Games on L.A. Noire, to sit through a demo of the tech behind the facial animation of the game which the company claims goes "beyond the uncanny valley."

L.A. Noire uses Depth Analysis' MotionScan, a 32 high-definition camera set-up that films an actors performance at 30 frames per second. In development for over six years and currently only focused on the head and neck (it would require 150 cameras for full-body capture), the results are somewhat stunning.

McNamara reckons this MotionScan tech has nailed the problem of the uncanny valley, allowing videogames to finally add realistic human performance.

Before: MotionScan doesn't use any intrusive paint or markers, leaving the likes of Fringe actor John Noble to perform more naturally.

"It's the first time we can get real human performances into videogames," McNamara told me. "It's an area that's been holding games back. People have been able to build cars, buildings and guns for a long time but haven't been able to do performances that people can emphasise with. With our game you can tell exactly whether people are lying or not. What it does is a bring a level of humanity.

"There's no uncanny valley any more. What you see is what you get. We've come out the other side. It's a big step."

Rockstar, forever controlling of its content and work, hasn't shown a great deal of L.A. Noire beyond a few trailers and screen shots, and Depth Analysis and Team Bondi is waiting on its partners to sign-off on captured video comparisons, but for it to be good enough for such perfectionists speaks volumes.

McNamara, who previously worked at Sony London on The Getaway and SingStar, has been happy to take a methodical approach, and likens Rockstar's Dan and Sam Houser to visionaries of the old Hollywood – willing to make products based on instinct as much as business smarts.

After: The in-game 3D model loses something as a static shot, but gives some impression of the level of detail.

"We did a hell of a lot of pre-production. But Red Dead Redemption was a lot of pre-production and the results are great, it's proven itself and they've now got another major IP. Hopefully we can do it again [with LA Noire]. Rockstar has proven that there are other things out there that people are interested in other than space marines.

"They're different to everybody else but that's why they're successful. They have an English mentality. They're impresarios, which I like. It's not just business and nuts and bolts. I compare them to studio heads back in the Hollywood days that are willing to do things on gut instinct. Plus, they're hands on."

Depth Analysis has been fielding inquiries from the game and movie business, and once L.A. Noire hits the shelves don't be surprised to see the company get significant investment or even brought in-house.

"We're looking for investment now," confirmed McNamara. "We've had lots of interest and lots of offers but it's about who we want to work with."

L.A. Noire is currently set for release on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 before the end of this year.

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Matt Martin avatar
Matt Martin: Matt Martin joined GamesIndustry in 2006 and was made editor of the site in 2008. With over ten years experience in journalism, he has written for multiple trade, consumer, contract and business-to-business publications in the games, retail and technology sectors.
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