13 Mar 2023
Game development is as vast a landscape as the boundless worlds, characters, and globally connected communities that production teams create. Whether online, on mobile, console, or through a VR headset, the process of creating applications for gamers involves a large team of talented engineers, designers, producers, and much more.
It is a competitive field, but one which requires both technical and creative minds to take initial concepts into a fully realized gaming experience. Breaking into a game development role allows a rare and exciting behind-the-scenes hand within pre-production, and can springboard a career within motion capture: a technology that continues to evolve rapidly and assist multiple industries.
Gaming accessibility has seen a rise in players around the world. This makes it a lucrative market; PwC has estimated that the global gaming industry could be worth $321 billion by 2026. Greater demand means greater need for talented production team members.
Much like any video game, a career in game development is engaging, challenging, and an organic learning experience all in one go. There are misconceptions about what these jobs entail; knowing the ins and outs of various computer softwares, applications, website builders or being well-versed in coding languages certainly suit those with computer science backgrounds. But companies also require people with artistic or theatrical abilities and interests that may be unaware of adjacent ways into the industry.
Many colleges, technical institutes and universities offer skill-development courses that can progress into a degree or career in games development. These environments boost creative endeavors – story building or character development – and teach the practical and technical requirements needed to be a well-rounded asset to any games production company.
These skills, whether individual or combined, are transferable to motion capture jobs. 3D animation is one medium through which game developers utilize mocap to craft imaginary worlds. It goes way beyond the misnomer of a person moving around in a lycra suit, and requires a number of hands and brains to bring imaginations to life.
The body suits, covered in 3D tracking sensors, need to be filled by the mocap actor. Responsible for real-time body movements and facial expressions, they provide the actionable human backbone for model skeletons which later become animated graphics. Now, more lightweight and affordable motion capture systems are available without the need for a full suit.
Much like any film, the mocap director is responsible for ensuring the actors are well informed to perform actions correctly, but also to oversee all teams for the day-to-day set operations, mocap camera setup, and the processing of data for the post-production animation team.
Animation teams require pre-visualization model skeletons for characters before movement tracking can begin, to superimpose computer-generated imagery (CGI) onto during the post-production stage. Rigs need to be set up to determine how many markers are needed, depending on levels of movement. The mocap technical manager or capture technician is responsible for ensuring that the tracked data is all captured correctly, by calibrating the markers, cameras and rig. The Cortex system consists of two skeletons: one tied to the actor’s mocap markers, the other matching the animator’s rig, and can solve skeletons for a number of body or facial structures.
The more motion capture cameras in place, the more accurately the captured tracked movements are. Given the high-spec of this kit, the role of mocap cameraman is paramount to handle the equipment safely and efficiently.
Any actor’s sensor-tracked data is transformed from moving geometric shapes to animated special effects in post-production.
3D animators are responsible for taking the skeletons generated in pre-visualization and building out the 3D graphics – humans, animals or monsters – onto them, bringing them to vivid life. Even more detailed, texture artists are responsible for making CGI surfaces look realistic, whether that be surfaces of an alien world or a bear’s fur. Animation software, such as the popular Maya or MotionBuilder, is used for computer processing techniques: real-time modeling, rendering, and texturing.
Footage editors are also required to fit animated clips together with the director, creating the cutscenes players can view in-game.
A practical example of how motion capture for 3D animation works can be seen below to craft animated gameplay for Titanfall. Notice how the actors are fitted with sensors, surrounded by tracking cameras, production workers, tech operators and directors, all working together to create the final product.
Every visual aspect is thought out by specialist game art designers: landscape design, building concepts and architecture, and character voices and outfits. Producers are also responsible for the slick, collaborative organization of each department; leadership roles can be learned on the job throughout a career in games development alongside creative endeavors. Whether applicants in the space have a practical knowledge and passion for computer animation or concept art, all contribute to the production.
Of course, this is not limited to a gaming context. Film and television production crews look for similar mocap capabilities for 3D animation. A few prominent examples of this work include Gollum in the Lord of the Rings franchise, or for dragon-riding in Game of Thrones, with the latter building on the first’s cutting-edge mocap techniques.
Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality require the construction of computer-generated worlds by 3D animators. Creative directors and concept artists are all instrumental in bringing the new frontier of the metaverse to life. Capture technicians and mocap software operators are needed for careful drone tracking, enhancing sport performance, adapting industrial facility training and ensuring safety, crafting virtual environments for broadcasting and so much more.
It couldn’t be a better time to build a career in game development or motion capture. Equipment and software is becoming more affordable and adaptable to many different industries, opening up endless career options in the future. It may be tough to break into the burgeoning gaming industry, but for technologists and creatives alike, the possibilities really are endless — some of which we do not even know to exist yet.