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New 3D Technology In 'The Getaway' For PS2

by Thomas on Nov. 21, 2002 @ 3:47 p.m. PST

Computer gaming fans can expect to see one of the most realistic games to date when Sony Computer Entertainment Europe releases "The Getaway" on December 6. The long-awaited Playstation 2 game promises high-speed chases, fires, explosions and gun battles that make players feel like they're part of an action-packed film. The setting is a 30-mile section of the foggy streets of London so realistic that players can see the cracks in the pavement. 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 3D scanning and facial morphing technologies.

Unprecedented Realism

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.

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 Dave Smith, character artist, one of the most difficult and time-consuming parts of developing the game was creating the characters. SCEE wanted 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 wanted 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."

SCEE developers achieved that accuracy by digitally recreating real actors and their clothing. The ShapeSnatcher Suite 3D scanning and modeling system from Eyetronics (www.eyetronics.com) allowed SCEE to scan and model the actors' faces, and real-time motion capture put the finishing touches on the characters' movements.

"ShapeSnatcher provided 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 was far too high for us to run in real time on a Playstation 2. Consequently, the character artists used the scan as a template to build a lower-resolution model."

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

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

Same Model, Different Face

Another Eyetronics software package, Liquid Faces, enabled Sony to shave weeks off of the character modeling process, according to Smith. Sony used Liquid Faces to automatically morph scanned faces to Sony's custom template.

SCEE developers used 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 presented us with a problem, however," Smith says. "Everyone's face had different proportions, and we needed the simulated muscles to line up under the skin in the correct positions, or else very strange things would happen."

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

"We had a single face template model, which had the required level of detail, a facial skeletal system, and all the basic expressions and speech shapes ready to use," Smith says. "Liquid Faces took the raw scan data and this template and morphed the low-resolution models to match the high-resolution scan. Then...viola, one in-game character head. We just added hair and tweaked the animation to match the actor's and it was ready to go."

The software 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 have taken two weeks or more to model them from scratch, Smith says.

Character files were then transferred to Alias/Wavefront's Maya 3D animation software for final rendering. Actors' motions were 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

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 allowed 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.

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