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Sunday, November 2, 2008

ETEK trip, day 4

And here's what happened last Wednesday...

The first stop was Electronic Arts. We got a tour of the facility, which follows the Microsoft model of corporate life: all the amenities are provided on-site, including a cafeteria and a rec center, the latter of which looks down upon an open stretch of grass, which provides the field of play for EA's "Medieval Fight Club," an occasion where employees wallop one another with foam axes and bludgeons.

We got a peek at production art for the new title "Red Alert 3," and before we left, the students got access to the company store, where they were able to buy titles at employee prices.

While waiting for the students to emerge with their discount booty, I played one of the games in the EA lobby, Burnout Paradise, driving a car in reverse at 80mph, sideswiping buses, flipping over anything that might resemble a jump or a dropoff. I stopped when I became aware of some nervous expressions on the faces of onlooking students; I was the one driving the van today.

House of Moves:

House of Moves is a high-end motion capture studio -- they've done mocap for many games, as well as doing mocap for Beowulf, Monster House and Polar Express.

Here's Yoshi, a performer who works for HoM, all suited up, existing in both real space and virtual space.

The balls on his suit are made of reflective material, that bounces back the infrared light the Vicon mocap cameras beam out into the space, allowing the position of the markers to be spatially triangulated. When you take a picture with a flash, the reflectors flare out like christmas lights.

Here Gabor follows Yoshi with a virtual camera, which beams footage in real-time to a large screen set above the stage. When Lee followed Yoshi into a virtual tunnel, Yoshi got a little modest, thinking his butt was featured a little too prominently in the shot.

It's not necessary to use the apparatus for capturing the data; a scene can be recorded without such a POV camera, simply recording the performance in its three dimensions, the camera virtually inserted into the scene afterward, at any position the director may desire. Evidently, Robert Zemeckis doesn't refer to any real-time POV footage at all, preferring to concentrate on the actors; when James Cameron has used the system, he keeps his eyes glued on the viewscreen, focused entirely on what's in his frame.

Here's an example of the kind of tracking that was necessary for doing facial capture. In shooting Beowulf, there were issues with the actors sweating, and the markers sliding around on their faces, so that the corner of a mouth, for instance, would melt down to the bottom of the chin, or even end up on the floor. One system they used to track eye movements (since markers, obviously, couldn't be glued to the eyeball) measured the electrical current that passes through the eyeball as the optical muscles move it around; one problem with that system was that, if the actor knocked down a few drinks the night before, that would change the pH of their skin, and the baseline readings would be thrown out of whack.

Since physical props can be replaced by virtual ones in the final production, the toys the performers have at their disposal can be pretty rudimentary -- here's a video camera, made out of wood. House of Moves is so high-tech, they get to be low-tech.

We finished off the trip with a look at two sound mixing studios, Margarita Mix and 48 Windows. I'm always amazed, on these ETEK trips, how open and welcoming people tend to be, taking time out of their day to show us their process, and give some insight and advice.

We got into Reno pretty late -- our flight was delayed, and we hit the Reno tarmac at about 1am. We were so late, in fact, that we were locked in the airport -- going down to the Baggage Claim, the hall was blocked by a large metal grate. The situation was resolved quickly, though not before people were up against the grate, fingers woven nervously through the metal lattice, and Keith blurted out: "Was there a &#@%ing zombie outbreak or something!?"

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