Category Archives: motion capture

Just the Laughs, M’am: L.A. Noire and the Gag Reel

Featured in today’s post is a video fascinating to me.  It was released by Depth Analysis, the Australian sister company to Team Bondi, developers of L.A. Noire for Rockstar.  DA was formed to do the ground-breaking motion capture work for the game.

L.A. Noire was a great title released in 2011, a third-person police procedural set in 1940′s Los Angeles.  While it appears on its face to be a historical version of an open-world game in the style of  Rockstar’s flagship Grand Theft Auto series, the guts of the game actually harken back to classic dialog-tree games such as Accolade’s Law of the West.  While the gamer does find themselves tooling around L.A. in classic cars chasing cases, once a suspect is approached the game moves into an interrogation mode where questions are posed by the player.  Depending on the attitude tack chosen with each question, those being grilled either clam up or spill the beans.

While the interrogation scenes may have reminded one of games of yore, the facial capture technology on display was a look into the future of gaming, startling in its realism, and not just another pretty face.  Dubbed Motionscan, it played a key role in gameplay, allowing the subtle ticks or stoney stares of the actors’ performances to give clues to the player about guilt or innocence.  To achieve the effect, actors were put in a chair surrounded by a rig of cameras capturing their performance; not just the front of their face, but all around and even from above and below.  All this tech allowed for a perfect 1 to 1 recording of facial movements without any subsequent processing needed to complete the look in the game.  The actor’s emotions are wonderfully exposed via this technique, and as I said it is startling to behold.  Before we get to the main event, the following is a short video on the process, produced for the game’s release:

Team Bondi unfortunately went belly-up in the later part of 2011, having burned their bridges with Rockstar during an incredibly long development time, and accruing a large amount of debt through owed bonus and payroll to the staff.  I lament the loss of Team Bondi; they created a new, original IP that has great potential.  It reminds me of the case of Red Dead Revolver.  This was another Rockstar game set in a historical period, this time the old West, released for the Playstation 2 and original Xbox back in 2004.  It was a kind of on-the-rails shooter that also harkened back to earlier gaming days, and was met by a middling reception from critics and gamers.  That game did, however, spawn a sequel:  the astounding Red Dead Redemption, for my money one of the greatest video games of all time.  Team Bondi’s IP has been picked up in liquidation by a multimedia firm co-founded by Mad Max creator George Miller, so something interesting might happen there, but it seems unlikely we’ll get a game sequel based on the material akin to an RDR blockbuster.

On a lighter note, however, we are still left with a great game that helps bridge the gulf between real life characters and computerized ones, with a slight detour into the uncanny valley.  At this point in this article, a lot of people right now might be thinking that the real mystery is when is this guy gonna get to the video in the title!?  Well, here we are, a blooper reel of the game’s actors flubbing their lines during facial capture sessions.  The spontaneity on display here is perhaps the best demonstration of what happens in the attempt to inject as much humanity as possible into video game characters.  It is both wonderful and weird at the same time: