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Immortals of Aveum's new motion capture tech was a pandemic pivot

Immortals of Aveum is making use of some neat motion capture technology—all because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

April 28, 2023

3 Min Read
A promotional screenshot from Immortals of Aveum. A magic user named Kirkan holds up her glowing arm.

The video game industry is still trying to find the right balance between remote work and in-office development in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. But like it or not, pandemic-driven tech innovations are reshaping how games are made.

Take the world of motion capture technology. In a pre-pandemic world, motion capture performers and technicians gathered on sound stages to film scenes while covered in dot-covered suits. It was a process that let game studios incorporate physical acting talent into their games, and it's led to great moments in games ranging from Halo Infinite to Apex Legends.

But with an airborne virus spreading around, that process became much more difficult. We've spoken with multiple developers over the last couple of years who had to grapple with set safety protocols, and found the very physical process to be more draining when you have to be masked and distanced for hours a day.

However, game developers are an adaptable group, and it seems that studios are finding new solutions for safe, efficient motion capture solutions. In a recent chat with Ascendant Studios CEO Brett Robbins, we learned that the Immortals of Aveum developer found new technical solutions that didn't just help with filming during COVID, but made motion capture more a more accessible process for the relatively smaller studio.

Immortals of Aveum is making use of the Xsens mocap suit

At the core of Ascendant Studios' new motion capture process is Movella's Xsens motion capture platform. The technology scales back how much equipment mocap technicians need to get reliable data, and works in a wide array of environments. It also doesn't require actors to be in a full bodysuit. Ascendant sent over video of performers capturing movement for Immortals of Aveum, and you can see the studio is working with just the basic shirt and shorts that the software is capable of tracking.

The system also works functionally on smaller stages (the Immortals team largely worked in a warehouse), or even in non-stage environments. Robbins noted that sometimes the animation team would sometimes have someone just "run down the street" to get the needed data.

More importantly, Robbins told us that executing motion capture like this allowed the studio to build a more "efficient" process for working with actors like Gina Torres and Darren Barnett.

Though Torres' character bears a resemblance to her real-life actor, the veteran actor only needed to wear a facial capture camera in a sound booth to achieve this effect. "It just sort of freed us up logistically," Robbins said, adding that the studio had more power "editorially" to get more scenes done at once.

"We have a huge epic story that we're telling with a lot of cinematics and we did it way cheaper than it would have cost to go a more traditional route," noted. "I really point to COVID—because of [the pandemic], we had to innovate."

Robbins wanted to emphasize that though this innovation was helpful, it wasn't just a silver bullet. As with all motion capture technology, the animation team still has to do data cleanup on the back end. But it's another indicator that COVID-19's forcing people apart just drove developers to find new ways to work together.

And like many other (but not all) companies, Ascendant Studios is still embracing remote work even as the pandemic takes a new shape. Robbins still sees benefits to that decision. "It forced us not only to work remotely, but hire remotely, which opened up hiring quite a bit instead of having to look for local talent in the Bay Area," he said.

"We look all over the country and all over the world...and suddenly my ability to hire has increased dramatically."

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About the Author(s)

Bryant Francis

Senior Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Bryant Francis is a writer, journalist, and narrative designer based in Boston, MA. He currently writes for Game Developer, a leading B2B publication for the video game industry. His credits include Proxy Studios' upcoming 4X strategy game Zephon and Amplitude Studio's 2017 game Endless Space 2.

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