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Poetry in Motion

Audiomotion's Mick Morris on the evolution of motion capture.

Audiomotion's work in the field of motion capture, like outsourcing in general, has grown to become a standard part of games development. In this interview, managing director Mick Morris talks about the evolution of the technology.

He reveals why animators who once saw it as "cheating" have now come to embrace it, and why good mo-cap is about much more than catsuits and ping pong balls. How has motion capture advanced in recent years, and what does Audiomotion do with the technology that other motion capture studios don't?

Mick Morris: When we started ten years ago, we were using 17 limited cameras which could only run at 60 frames-per-second, creating a very small volume in which to capture performers.

Now we have a 50 camera setup, the largest of its kind in Europe. This latest generation kit enables us to shoot in huge volumes such as the 35 meter volume created on ice for the Citroen Skater commercial.

We also have the capability to produce full performance capture in that we can record fingers, faces and fullbody with multiple performers. We are currently the only studio in Europe offering this service on a large scale.

Other developments in the software has meant that a team of six can now do what it took a team of 12 to do all those years ago.

Why are more and more games companies embracing motion capture technology? Is it something that can only really be put to use in games that use realistic human movement or are there other ways of utilising the technology?

There are very few companies left who havenât embraced motion capture when it comes to needing realistic movement. Thereâs an argument that it should really be called performance capture as opposed to motion capture since its really the performance of a talented actor or sportsman or dancer or whoever that is being recorded.

Gamers are demanding ever more realistic animation in keeping with the advances in graphics that todays consoles can deliver. As a result, developers know that itâs the only way to produce large volumes of quality animation in a relatively short timescale. Each time we are in the studio, we records hundreds of movements. Some of our current titles require well over 3000 animations.

Some animators donât take too kindly to mo-cap since they consider it "cheating" and are taught as much on their courses at university. Thankfully, most of the animators who work with us realise itâs simply another tool and when utilised properly yields great looking results.

Like all artistic processes and tools, mo-cap has its place and application just like tradional animation does and some times they work incredibly well together. Some obvious examples of this are recent movies such as King Kong, Gollum in Lord of the Rings and Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean.

What are the key differences that motion capture can make to a game?

At Audiomotion we have high aspirations of the art of performance capture. Itâs never a case of sticking someone in a suit and recording them running around. Its about good casting, finding the best talent, its about how good the director is at getting his vision across.

Our guys dealing with the resulting animation do so with animator-like knowledge of weight and timing and as a result deliver consistently high-quality work. Ultimately, this all adds to the quality of the gaming experience. When executed properly its wonderful to see those results on both the large and small screen.

More specifically, there are particular jobs we do which would be incredibly difficult to keyframe - capturing a gymnast on a full size Olympic sprung floor, speed skating and jumping horses are just a few examples.

Why is the cost of motion capture worth it?

Itâs not so much that itâs a very cost effective way to produce large volumes of animation in very tight timescales - its worth can be measured in more important ways. When we book an ex-SAS man for a first-person shooter, the developers learn so much about his craft during the recording process.

These guys have an encyclopedic and practical knowledge of strategy, tactics, and logistics of defence and war. Itâs priceless what can be learned from a professional on any given day in the mo-cap studio.

Is Audiomotion concerned about the growth of developers building their own motion capture studios? Why should a developer outsource this part of a games' development?

So many developers spend valuable time concentrating on areas of their business that could be handled more effectively by an expert third party-organisation. Thatâs the key to outsourcing. An influential US management specialist once said, "Do what you do best, then outsource the rest."

Developers and publisher outsource their animation to mo-cap studios for all of the same reasons they outsource music or localisation. They want a trusted partner to take care of that aspect of production for them. They want quality results, flexibility and cost effectiveness. And for the most part they donât want the cost of having that on their books in-house.

As budgets go into eight figures and pressure on team sizes increase, outsourcing becomes a clever way to keep costs in check. The smart players know that outsourcing is an investment that improves profit margins.

We currently work with some of the biggest names in the entertainment business and most of them have no interest in setting up their own motion capture divisions. Some have, and then realised that they soon need the space for additional staff or find that itâs really about having incredibly talented staff who know the process intimately.

Mick Morris is the managing director of Audiomotion. Interview by Matt Martin.

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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.