Ubisoft opens new performance capture studio in Toronto

Ubisoft opens new performance capture studio in Toronto
Matt Hartley | Sep 13, 2012 @thehartley
Ubisoft Entertainment SA is opening a new state of the art studio designed to help the French video game giant incorporate more realistic actions and emotions into the video games it produces at its Toronto studio.

The 2,000 square-foot studio located in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood was unveiled during a media event on Thursday morning and will provide the two-year-old studio with a new dedicated space designed to help with motion capture animation.

With the new studio, Ubisoft Toronto is hoping to become a leader in performance capture technologies, and Ubisoft officials expect the company’s other studios around the world will be calling up to use the space as well.

Founded in early 2010, Ubisoft Toronto is the fourth major studio for the French video game publisher in Canada — with flagship Ubisoft Montreal is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year — and its more than 200 employees are currently building the latest iteration of the popular Splinter Cell game franchise, Splinter Cell Blacklist. Previously, Ubisoft’s performance capture work in Canada was done in Montreal.
Virtual production, specifically performance capture, is a critical part of the experience we provide to players around the world,” Yannis Mallat, chief executive of Ubisoft Toronto and Montreal, said during the press conference.

“It contributes to storytelling in our games and delivers narrative and interactive gameplay to maximize immersion for the player. Games are not films. Games, like films, are about telling stories, but with a fundamental difference: interactivity. And the technology and the tools that we provide our team to create the best interactive experiences out there are of Hollywood calibre.”

The studio features 80 Vicon T160 motion capture cameras which can measure and record the actions of multiple actors in the studio, thanks to motion markers on the clothes of the actors. As well, the studio has a handful of wireless helmet cameras which are designed to capture facial expressions which can be synched in real time with the voices of the actors and their body movements.
During the press conference, Splinter Cell Blacklist cinematics director David Footman directed a group of actors in a scene from the new Splinter Cell game — which is due to launch late next year — before showing the audience the rendered animation footage from the scene on a screen almost immediately afterwards. (Check out our video below)

For directors like Mr. Footman, capturing various elements such as facial expressions, voices and body motions at the same time enables scene editing that is more akin to the way a video editor would put together a movie rather than the traditionally more complicated process of coding a video game.
“What we’re doing is making editorial the centre of our pipeline, which is different for animation,” said Mr. Footman, who spent 12 years in the movie business as an assistant director on films like I, Robot before joining Ubisoft.

“What that does, it allows us to have a performance centre for all of the animation, so instead of looking at numbers and frame ranges, when I sit down in a room to look at a scene, I’m just looking at video, and at a scene cut together. It’s a really easy way to validate that we’re getting the performance and the right quality of performance out of a scene.

In addition to the more than $500-million Ubisoft plans to invest in its Toronto studio, the company’s home in Ontario’s largest city will also receive $263-million in investment from Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government, under a deal that was signed in 2009.
Ubisoft’s Toronto expansion came shortly after Ontario announced it was boosting its interactive digital media tax credit to 40% from 25% of labour costs, in line with Quebec, which offers subsidies of up to 37 cents on the dollar for labour costs.

As part of Thursday’s announcement, Ubisoft officials said the company has inked a new research partnership with Toronto’s Sheridan College and its Screen Industries and Research Training Centre (SIRT). As part of the new partnership, Ubisoft Toronto plans to share expertise and knowledge with game-related programs and Sheridan students.

“The main thing for us at Sheridan and for the next generation of students is to recognize that it’s about storytelling,” said John Helliker, director Screen Industries research and training centre at Sheridan college, who said that in addition to the schools’ gaming graduates, 50% of the schools’s animation graduates are finding work in the video game industry.

“You want to learn these processes, but it’s really about … finding ways of working with actors, performers and telling stories in a way that is making the technology transparent. So you want to teach them the technologies and the processes and that’s key ro our relationship with Ubisoft is that having this facility here, to be able to engage students at Sherdian across the province and really understanding what cutting edge is in terms of technology.”

Brad Duguid, Ontario Minister of Economic Development and Innovation, was also on hand to help introduce the new studio.

“This is an exciting day for Ubisoft and the video game industry in Ontario, demonstrating what can be accomplished when we collaborate and work together,” he said.

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