Motion Mixture

My sequence from the project. Click to play.


In 2016, VFX company Digital Domain in Playa Vista, California, contacted me about animating some cinematic sequences for the science fiction game Gears of War 4. The project was to use a mix of key-frame and motion capture techniques. Being an animation purist, I normally avoided such gigs that involved motion capture because the process is not artistically satisfying; however, this project was to be different. Not motion captured but rather animated, the faces of the characters required an animator’s touch, and the opportunity to create some emotional facial performances caught my interest. Additionally, the gig was scheduled for only six weeks, so I figured, “Why not?”

Game cinematics are not part of actual game play. Instead they are storytelling mini-movies that occur between game levels. The actual game, Gears of War 4, was produced at Microsoft’s Coalition Studios in Washington but they farmed out much of the cinematic work to Digital Domain, which hired me. Microsoft's Cinematic Lead Brian Whitmire provided all the assets and guidance we needed for the project. The character rigs had all been beautifully modeled and rigged. There were five animators on our team, and we were able to choose the sequences we wished to animate. Immediately, I was attracted to the finale, a horribly tragic scene where the character Kait discovers that her mother is attached to a parasitic alien life form.

The goal of the job was to merge the body motion capture, recorded dialogue, and facial animation into wholeness. Because the motion capture performers and voice actors were different people, all recorded separately, the body motions needed augmentation to be in sync with the dialog. Even the breathing motion was added. The hands, hair, equipment, and various dynamic motions all needed to be animated. Any form of bodily contact required extra consideration. That included integration with the environment such as conforming the feet to the irregular ground. For me, the most satisfying part of the process was working on the facial animation, which brings the characters to life with the intent being to animate the faces as realistically as possible. Our supervisor, Matthias Wittmann, was very particular about the facial movement, especially the eyes, the windows of the soul. In animation, there is always the danger that realistically animated human-like characters will give a creepy feeling, known as the uncanny valley, to the viewer. In this case, I thought that the characters were caricatured enough to avoid that “too close to human” appearance, and the setting and rendering gave an illustration look rather than an implied reality, so I was very pleased with the final outcome.

©2018
Gears of War 4 ©2016 Microsoft Studios

Back

A look behind the scenes of art-making and other musings by .

fractal picture

See More Articles:

Howie and pumpkin from The Nightmare Before Christmas
Skellington Incident

Pillsbury doughboy baking a pie
Stop-Motion Doughboy

Aliens from Encounter movie
Making ENCOUNTER

mouse riding motorcycle
Stop-Motion Field Trip

nimslo camera
Anaglyph Technique

Frog as a knight
St. Frog and the Dragon

Mother and father Umblebum
Meet the Umblebums

Carrot puppets from Red Riding Hood and the Well Fed Wolf
Fairy Tale Surrealism

3 cavemen
Sculpting Cavemen

A reindog and elf
The Red-Nosed Reindog

Disney popsicles
Making Mickey's Parade

Freddy nightmare
Nightmares Made Real

tattooed lady
Tattoo Parlor Diorama

face of fire dancer
Painting RING OF FIRE

face of Night Scorp
Gigantic Scorpions

face of Night Scorp
Chroma Key Animation

bodybuilder Frank Zane posing
The Living Body as Sculpture

Man runs in a sewer movie set
Starting at the Bottom

Animated bottle cap character
Zippy the Cap

Stone Giant stop-motion puppet
The End of Dynamation

Candy on a boys face
Eye Candy

Dancing figures
Lucid Dream

Talking deer and moose hunting trophies
Wacky Trophy Heads

Handstanding figure over river valley
Making THE WANDERER

Portrait of man made of fruit
Creating a Fruit Man

Colorful mandala design
Mysterium Mandala

Portrait of Jack Skellington
Nightmare Still Photos

Spacecraft Wreckage
Spaceship Junkyard

Closeup of a robot
Models and Props pt. 1

Watch shaped like a mouse
Models and Props pt. 2

“Train
Models and Props pt. 3

“Face
Young Iguanodon

“ice
Lively Kisses

“shopping
Making Mall Mania

“powerful
Extreme Heroic Poses

“face
Earth Mother

“The
Motion Mixture

“Clay
Pee-Wee Christmas Title

© 2006-2018 Joel Fletcher
contact