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Kara Offers A Glimpse At The Future Of Performance Capture From Quantic Dream

Day three of GDC was a special day as it brought us the extremely exciting reveal of Kara, the latest tech demo/glimpse of what Quantic Dream has been up to since the release of Heavy Rain.  Taking to the stage in a panel revolving around emotion in games and digital actors, Quantic Dream Founder/CEO David Cage revealed Kara – a tech demo showcasing the new technology the studio has devised which is focused on capture the true essence of an actor’s performance.

Opting to start from scratch for their next project, Quantic Dream has built an entirely new engine and approach to how they capture the performances of actors in their projects.  During the presentation Cage made note of the different mo-cap/animation techniques that Quantic Dream used since the company opened in the late 1990s and those used by big Hollywood films such as James Cameron’s Avatar. While Cage noted that the performance capture tech utilized in Avatar and most recently Tintin was in fact some of the best that has been created it is rather cost prohibitive along with not entirely being actor friendly due to a camera, which is merely used as reference material, placed in front of the actor.  But as Cage later detailed, Quantic Dream has found a new solution which combines advanced mo-cap techniques that doesn’t require a $200 million budget.

As Cage illustrated through the Kara video, Quantic Dream has not only upped their approach to visuals but how to capture the performance of an actor.  As opposed to Heavy Rain which did the audio/face capturing separate from the core motion capture, Quantic Dream has employed a new full performance capture technique that records all the movements, speech, and facial movements of an actor at the same time without using any micro cams or other objects. Using a new mo-cap studio with 65 cameras and is entirely soundproof, Quantic Dream can now produce thrilling material such as Kara, a short sci-fi film revolving around a female robot that suddenly becomes self-aware.  

Not entirely similar to Metropolis or other sci-fi projects of a similar nature, Kara is a rather striking piece of material as it’s entirely rendered in real time on the PlayStation 3. Featuring skin textures and facial mo-cap that is miles ahead of what was featured in Heavy Rain, Kara represents a huge leap for Quantic Dream but what was shown today is only scratching at the surface of what the studio has accomplished.  After debuting Kara to a stunned GDC audience, Cage revealed that the video was already a year old and only represented about half the features Quantic Dream plans on employing in their new engine, which is already on its third iteration as of now.  

Visually Kara was absolutely striking as it was showed one of those rare occasions in which the likeness of an actor was captured perfectly in a digital medium. The way Kara’s eyes moved and her face trembled with fear was incredible and seeing the raw mocap footage of actress Valorie Curry was equally impressive since her performance was literally what was shown in the final game video. As part of Quantic Dream’s strive to capture the true essence of an actor’s performance the studio is taking a new approach to how it edits mocap into game data as they’re trying to do minimal amounts of editing along with providing a shorter pipeline since the studio can’t process the same amounts of data a film like Avatar would produce.  Shockingly, a project like Kara would see Quantic Dream have a twenty-four hour turnaround from the initial mo-cap session to a near final in-game state, which is a stunning feat in itself.  The studio’s new Direct-to-Engine pipeline could in turn shorten the dev time for their projects which all around would be good news for gamers if it means we’ll see the next Quantic Dream masterpiece sooner rather than later.

I’ll have more on David Cage’s GDC 2012 presentation in the coming days but for now I’ll just say that good things are bound to come from Quantic Dream as the studio could have found the perfect solution to bring a level of emotion and performance accuracy to video games that was otherwise never possible.