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New Scanning and Morphing Technologies Bring London Characters Alive In Sony's The Getaway
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April 16, 2002


28-01.jpg (5745 bytes)LONDON, U.K. Imagine yourself as a professional bank robber, leading police on a high-speed chase through the foggy streets of London. Or, you could be on the other side, playing the cops chasing the bank robber. The people around you and the scenery are so real, you feel as if you're in a movie.

32-01.jpg (5857 bytes)This is what computer gaming fans can expect to see this Christmas in The Getaway from Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE). Taking advantage of the graphics power of the Playstation 2 combined with live actors, motion-capture technology, and unique 3D scanning and morphing systems, SCEE developers have created perhaps the most realistic game to date. The more than 100 life-like characters and elaborate scenery would have been impossible to create in a timely manner without the help of new gaming technologies.

scrn02-01.jpg (6574 bytes)"We'd still be building the characters well into September 2078 if we had to make them from scratch," says Dave Smith, character artist. "All the characters in this game have such a high level of detail. It would take too much time to do this by hand."

Unprecedented Realism

30-01.jpg (6675 bytes)The characters, from the main actors to pedestrians, drivers and work crews on the street, are one of the most important aspects of The Getaway. Each character's face and actions appear as in real life, complete with blinking, breathing and emotional expressions.

39-01.jpg (6761 bytes)The realism of the characters is matched by the city of London, which could almost be considered a character itself. The Getaway's production resembles that of Guy Ritchie's popular cult film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Developers have created "a living, breathing London" in which players interactively wander around the underbelly of the city.

35-01.jpg (6776 bytes)SCEE recreated more than 31 square miles of London by taking digital photographs of every building, then modeling them and creating the textures for the game. Within this scenery, players have the option to be a former professional bank-robber who is pulled back into a life of crime to save his son from a mob boss, or an embittered police detective who has an old score to settle.

03-01.jpg (6869 bytes)Players will be able to interactively explore the city on foot or by car, entering and exiting buildings. They can steal a car and get into high-speed chases with police. If anything is damaged during the chase, the game's evolving environmental structure will show that area cordoned off for repair the next time the player passes by.

Reality of a Theatrical Film

According to Smith, one of the most difficult and time-consuming parts of developing the game is creating the characters. SCEE wants to create the realism of a theatrical film within the interactivity of a 3D game.

"You have to have the proper realism to fully project emotions," says Smith. "We want the player to be able to see the expression on that character's face and to empathize with him. You can't do this by hand. You could never be that accurate."

22-01.jpg (6899 bytes)SCEE developers achieved that accuracy by digitally recreating real actors and their clothing. Eyetronics' ShapeSnatcher Suite 3D scanning and modeling system allowed SCEE to scan the actors' faces, and real-time motion capture put the finishing touches on the characters' movements.

"ShapeSnatcher provides us with a great start to our in-game models," Smith says. "The scans are quick and accurate -- too accurate, in fact. The detail level in the scans is far too high for us to run in real time on a Playstation 2. Consequently, the character artists will use the scan as a template and build a lower-resolution model from that."

17-01.jpg (6910 bytes)Where the developers hit a wall in the process is in sheer volume of work, Smith says. All of the more than 100 characters have to be modeled, rigged for animation, and set up with SCEE's proprietary facial animation system. Then they must all have their facial expressions modified to match the video reference of the live actor being modeled. All of this has to be done four times for each character to take into account one high-resolution cinematic model and three in-game levels of detail.

"It's a hell of a lot of work, and that's not taking into consideration the characters' bodies," Smith says.

Same Model, Different Face

18-01.jpg (7958 bytes)Another Eyetronics software package, Liquid Faces, enabled Sony to shave weeks off of the character modeling process, according to Smith. Liquid Faces automatically morphs scanned faces to Sony's custom template.

SCEE developers use a facial skeletal system developed in-house to make the template. The system uses joints to simulate the actions of muscles in the face, and by combining the muscle movements, the developers can produce smiles, anger, shock or any other emotion.

"This presents us with a problem, however," Smith says. "Everyone's face has different proportions, and we need the simulated muscles to line up under the skin in the correct positions, or else very strange things happen."

That's where Liquid Faces comes in. Not only does it change the shape of the character's skin, it aligns the joints into their correct positions to match the scanned actor's face to the template.

scrn01-01.jpg (8172 bytes)"We have a single face template model, which has the required level of detail, facial skeletal system, and all the basic expressions and speech shapes ready to use," Smith says. "Liquid Faces takes the raw scan data and this template and morphs the low-resolution models to match the high-resolution scan. Then, viola, one in-game character head. We just add hair and tweak the animation to match the actor's and it's ready to go."

The software has allowed SCEE developers to go from initial scans of the characters to a completed model in a day and a half. Without Liquid Faces, it would take two weeks or more to model them from scratch, Smith says.

Character files are then transferred to Alias|Wavefront's Maya 3D animation software for final rendering. Actors' motions are captured with an Ascension motion tracker and brought into Kaydara Filmbox, a software program that integrates the motion data with the 3D characters for real-time display.

An Immersive Experience

scrn06-01.jpg (8796 bytes)The result of SCEE's process are characters and scenes so real that the player is absorbed into the gaming experience, according to Smith.

"This project would have been a game without characters if it wasn't for the ShapeSnatcher Suite," he says. "Liquid Faces then allows us to have a consistent pipeline for our character head generation, which is so important when dealing with the amount of work required for a game of this size."

The mix of Playstation 2 hardware power, real-time 3D graphics, and 3D scanning and motion capture has enabled Sony Computer Entertainment Europe to create a game unlike anything that has come before it. Once players boot it up on the Playstation 2, however, they aren't likely to care too much about the technology that makes The Getaway possible. They'll be too immersed in the streets, characters and action of gritty, East End London.

Press Release


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